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First bus route construction plans

There, in Town Hall Square, under the lamppost,
to where the buses all flock like bees to honey,
at this place of meeting and melding for a quarter of Tallinn,
you feel like you are surrounded by your aunts, godparents, and mothers-in-law.

Newspaper Päevaleht, 1928, issue No. 227

The first plans to establish bus routes came about quite early in Estonia, even when there were no regular bus routes as yet in any of the major Western European cities. The following is based on records collected by historian Valdeko Vende.

1899: Newspapers reported that a public limited company was being set up in Riga with plans to establish a number of bus routes in the Baltics. The plans apparently never came to fruition, however, or at least no permanent bus route ever reached Estonia.

1903: At a meeting, the city councilmen were suddenly presented with a completely unfamiliar matter. Georg Block, the owner of a haberdashery, applied for permission to open a bus connection between Tallinn and a number of summer resorts near the city next spring. Long and heated disputes ensued, but in the end, the city council approved the application. However, Block must have been either discouraged by the annual fee planned by the city government or advised to put the project on hold by someone wiser, as next year there was nothing but silence on the matter.

1906: The next attempt came from a company of men from Saaremaa, who were planning to set up a bus connection from Kuressaare to Kuivastu, and from there a longer route: Virtsu–Pärnu–Riga. The men did not content themselves with just words either, as a large truck and a 24-seater bus were actually brought to Kuressaare for test drives. However, the first longer test drive already had to be abandoned at Saare Manor due to blown tyres. A new set of tyres was wheeled in, but the second attempt was equally unsuccessful, ending after only 55 km were traversed over five hours – slower than mail delivery by horse. Thus, the venture was abandoned and the Kuressaare–Kuivastu bus connection was declared unfeasible. The intended great step closer to Europe remained a dream.

1909: Enthusiasts Johanson and Uusmann got a step further in Tallinn. They took a Charron automobile, which had pneumatic tyres and a chain transmission, and a slightly larger Ariès automobile with solid tyres and fitted them with new bodies (the Charron could carry 18 passengers and the Aries 32 on four longitudinally positioned benches). The buses were then sent out on the same routes as the horse-drawn bus in use at the time – to Kopli and Kadriorg. After only a couple of days, however, indignant passengers complained that while the horse-drawn bus had run flawlessly, the motorbus had failed to even reach the monastery gate on Suur-Kloostri Street the day before, despite the passengers pushing it in a concerted effort. The regular connection could not be sorted out and the bus fleet ceased operations in autumn the same year.

1908–1912: From this period there are a number of reports about the establishment of bus connections in regional centres (Rakvere–Võsu, Põltsamaa–Jõgeva, Narva–Gdov/Oudova). It appears that, while some of these routes managed to be kept in operation for some time, they were still seasonal in nature. There are also some indirect reports of an attempt to set up a bus connection between Tallinn and Pärnu. On the first test ride, it took six hours for the bus to make it to Pärnu, after which the passengers announced that they could not bear to ride the bus back to Tallinn, and decided unanimously to take the train instead.

1914: In Tallinn, relations between the city government and the owners of the horse-drawn railway grew strained, leading to serious consideration of establishing bus routes in the city. Negotiations were held to purchase a bus fleet. Unfortunately, the endeavour was disrupted by the onset of World War I.

During the same time, one bus route did manage to be launched in Tallinn, organised by the shipyards in Kopli to transport their workers. Several trucks and five double-decker buses were bought from St. Petersburg for the purpose. With the completion of the Kopli tramway in 1915, however, the need for this bus route disappeared.

1921: The four tram routes in operation were insufficient to satisfy the travel needs of the residents of Tallinn, and, already by 1921, people began to be transported in open trucks from Tallinn to Pirita, Kose, and other destinations. These were all occasional ventures that depended on the weather, the day of the week, and the whims of the car.

21 June 1922: The need for regular bus routes had become obvious. All that the city government did at the time to organise bus traffic, however, was to issue a ‘Compulsory Regulation on the Movement of Buses in Tallinn’, which established a maximum speed of 15 km/h, a fare of 10 marks per km, and stipulated that ‘the construction of a motorbus must be suitable for driving, the mechanism must ensure smooth motion, and no smoke must be generated when the engine is running’. Buses were required to have a closed construction (solid walls and roof, glass windows, etc.). This put an end to the transport of people in open-top and tarpaulin-covered trucks.

22 May 1922: Fromhold Kangro received permission from the city government to launch five bus routes in Tallinn and its vicinity:                  

  • Vene turg (current Viru Square) – Tartu maantee (until the opening of the tram route on Tartu maantee);
  • Vabaduse plats – Seevald;
  • Vene turg – Kalamaja (up to Volta Street);
  • Vene turg – Pirita;
  • Vene turg – Kose.

On the last two routes, buses were not allowed to pick up passengers where the route ran parallel to the tram route.

27 May 1922: Due to a lack of buses, Kangro was initially only able to launch one route: Vene turg – Tartu maantee, which was put into operation on 27 May 1922. It was served by five somewhat old Daimler double-decker buses, which had the upper deck removed, as the city government did not believe that the pavement on Tartu maantee could withstand such heavy loads. Another reason was that the rickety buses would not have been up to carrying a full load of passengers anyway. The departure interval was 10 minutes and the fare was 15 marks.

In the following months, Kangro launched the rest of the routes. As there was not enough money to buy new buses from abroad, a domestic motorbus industry had to be set up as a matter of urgency. Bodies were built onto Ford Model T frames in various woodworking shops. The best known of these included Kivi in Valga, Jürgens in Tallinn, and a number of others. These red buses with two longitudinally placed benches (each seating six people) in the compartment and entrance from the rear dominated our urban landscape for many years.