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A bus (archaically also omnibus, multibus, or autobus) is a road vehicle designed to carry passengers. Buses vary in capacity from 8 to 300 passengers. Buses are widely used public transportation.

The most common type of bus is the single-decker bus, with larger loads carried by double-decker buses and articulated buses, and smaller loads carried by midibuses and minibuses. A luxury, long distance bus is called a coach. A bus is powered by a combustion engine, although early buses were horse drawn and there were experiments with steam propulsion. Trolleybuses use overhead power lines. In parallel with the car industry bus manufacturing is increasingly globalised, with the same design appearing around the world.


Bus is a derivation of Omnibus Vehicle meaning "vehicle for all", where omnibus means "for all" in Latin (omnes meaning "all"), reflecting its early use for public transport. When motorized transport replaced horse-drawn transport starting 1905, a motorized omnibus was called an autobus, a term still used. It is , or in some dialects , plural either "buses" or "busses", both pronounced .


The first public bus line was launched by Blaise Pascal in 1662, but it ceased operation 15 years later, and no further such services are known until the 1820s. Early horse-drawn buses were a combination of a hackney carriage and a stagecoach. From the 1830s steam powered buses existed. In parallel to the development of the bus, was the invention of the electric trolleybus running under a system of wires, which actually preceded, and in many urban areas outnumbered, the conventional engine powered bus. The first engine powered buses emerged along with development of the automobile. After the first engine powered bus of 1895, models expanded in the 1900s, leading to the widespread introduction of the contemporary recognisable form of full size buses from the 1950s.


Motorised buses were initiallly configured with an engine in the front and an entrance at the rear. With the transition to one-man operation, buses in the developed world have taken the form of mid or rear-engined designs, with a single door at the front, or multiple doors. Front-engined buses still persist for niche markets such as American school buses, some minibuses, and buses in less developed countries, which may be derived from truck chassis, rather than purpose-built bus designs.

A bus may have an open platform so that passengers can board and alight without the driver opening a door, but this is dangerous and is discouraged or illegal. On the other hand, in some countries bus use is so heavy that passengers will cling to the outside of the vehicle if it is full.

Buses often have a legal maximum passenger capacity.

Most buses have two axles. Articulated buses have three. Buses with additional axles support greater weight or length.


The midibus is a lighter and smaller purpose-built development of the single-deck bus, which emerged in the 1990s.


Where more capacity is needed, a double-decker bus or articulated bus may be used, the prevalence of which varies from country to country. A double-decker is a rigid vehicle with an extra upper deck, the two conjoined for access by a staircase— usually in modern vehicles a spiral staircase near the front, but often at the rear on older vehicles, which may have an open platform. Larger double-deckers might have both front and rear staircases.

Articulated buses

Articulated buses take the form of single-decker bus with a 'trailer' portion. In articulated buses, drive can be through the front or rear section's axles. In modern articulated buses one can walk between the front and rear sections through an "accordion joint". In the UKmarker and Australia they are often called bendy buses.

Low-floor buses

For many new fleets, particularly in local transit systems, there is an increasing shift to low-floor buses (primarily for easier accessibility).

High-floor buses, whose design allows for luggage compartments underneath the passenger seating area, are used for longer-distance intercity travel (see Coaches). The move to the low-floor design has all but eliminated the mid-engined design, although some coaches still have mid mounted engines.


An uncommon departure from the standard rigid or articulated buses, there also exist limited instances of bi-articulated buses, and passenger-carrying trailers— either towed behind a conventional bus (a bus trailer), or hauled as a trailer by a truck (a trailer bus).

Open top

Some buses have little or no roof. The aim is for passengers to get a better feel for of the outdoors, and a better view. Typically they are used as tourist buses on short city tours. The coachbuilding is generally done when the vehicle is first made, but sometimes an open top bus is converted from a double-decker that has scraped or lost its roof on a low bridge or other impediment, since its chassis will generally be intact.


A coach or motorcoach describes a more luxurious version of a bus, designed for more comfortable or longer-distance travel. In the UK, an old-fashioned word for it is a charabanc.

Coaches can come in the same general configurations as buses, as single- or double-deckers, articulated, or small 'mini-coaches'. Coaches have a higher floor level than buses, to enable luggage to be stored in compartments under the passenger floor. Larger coach designs are often heavier and have more power than buses of the same size, to allow them travel at higher speeds on motorways or autoroutes, and have more capacity for luggage. Coaches do not generally allow for standing passengers, and feature upholstered, high-backed, individual seats. Coaches often have passenger comforts such as reclining seats, hand luggage storage, toilets, and audio-visual entertainment systems. As a low-cost version of a coach, buses may be fitted with coach-style, higher-backed, more comfortable seats, termed 'dual-purposed' bodywork. These may be used on long-distance public transport services, or as low-cost charter coaches. Increasingly in some areas individual upholstered coach-style seating, either fully high-backed or standard bus-seat height, is being deployed on higher-specification transit buses, sometimes with leather upholstery.


A trolleybus is essentially an electrically powered bus that is attached to and draws power from overhead lines. The trolleybus can be seen as a branch of, and a parallel development to, the conventional bus, and is exclusively used for public transport (apart from some systems recreated in transport museums). Trolleybuses appeared at nearly the same time as combustion engine powered buses, with a system in Dresdenmarker, Germany, in 5 May 1901. As with conventional buses, double-deck and articulated versions of the trolleybus have been developed.


Increasingly in some countries, buses and coaches are designed with accessibility features, often in response to regulations and recommendations laid out in disability discrimination laws. While such access laws apply to public transport, accessible features are also often adopted by private operators as a customer service differentiator, or due to the accessible designs becoming the market standard for new buses and coaches.

Historically, accessible buses were specially modified standard buses, as mobility buses, produced by post manufacture, or niche manufacturers. Later, many standard bus types have become accessible, although mobility buses are still in production, usually as minibus-size vehicles. Mobility buses can be modified with a side or rear wheelchair lift, additional doors, wider doors, or an extendible access ramp. For standard buses, a major part of accessibility is achieved by the low-floor bus design, although for coaches, accessibility is being achieved through wheelchair lifts due to their higher floor level. Easier access for wheelchairs, pushchairs and the elderly can also be achieved through the use of kneeling air suspension and electrically or hydraulically extended under-floor ramps. Other accessibility features include wide entrances and interior gangways for wheelchairs and baby carriages; brightly colored interior fittings; and clear destination displays to aid the visually impaired.

Alternative propulsion

Since the 1930s, transit operators and researchers have experimented with alternatives to the diesel engine, which is currently the predominant method of powering buses. Technologies that have reached operational usage have included electricity, the hybrid electric engine, compressed natural gas, and bio-diesel. Trials with buses powered by hydrogen fuel cell are underway in several locations. Experiments with the gyrobus (a vehicle powered by flywheel momentum) have been conducted since the 1940s, but have yet to result in sustained use by any transit operator.


Public transport

Public transport forms the major use of buses and coaches, designed for the transport of the general public as a public service, rather than the private hire or use of buses for transport or other purposes. The use and design of public transport buses varies around the world, and utilises the entire range of bus designs and capacities. The design of buses and coaches is often specialised to a particular type of service. Buses may operated fixed routes, or be used as flexible services. Public buses can be organised in large fleets or as small concerns, and be publicly or privately owned and operated.

The transit bus is the predominant design of public bus, which features specific features to allow use as a public transport vehicle. Transit buses have utilitarian fittings designed for efficient movement of large numbers of people, and often have multiple doors. A dual purpose bus is a transit bus fitted with coach style higher backed more comfortable seats, used on longer distance routes where standing passengers are not likely to be present. Specially adapted mobility buses may be used on specialist services for the transport of passengers with mobility issues (See Accessibility section).

High capacity bus rapid transit (BRT) services may use the bi-articulated bus, an extension of the articulated bus concept with two trailer sections. BRT schemes (and other uses) may also use tram style buses, which certain bus manufacturers have tried to emulate the tram with modified articulated bus designs, with features such as a ‘pilot’ style driving position and streamlined styling, for example the Wright StreetCar and the Irisbus Civis. Guided buses are fitted with technology to allow them to run in designated guideways, allowing the controlled alignment at bus stops and less space taken up by guided lanes than conventional roads or bus lanes. Guidance can be mechanical, optical or electromagnetic. Guidance is often, but not exclusively, employed as part of a BRT scheme. Extensions of the guided technology include the Guided Light Transit and Translohr systems, although these are more often termed 'rubber tyred trams' as they have limited or no mobility away from their guideways.


In some countries, particularly the U.S., buses used to transport school children have evolved in to a specific design with specified mandatory features. These buses feature things such as the school bus yellow livery and crossing guards. Other countries may mandate the use of seat belts. As a minimum many countries require that a school bus displays a sign, and may also adopt yellow liveries. School buses are also often older buses cascaded from service use, retro-fitted as a school bus, with more seats and/or seatbelts. School buses may be operated by local authorities or private contractors. Schools may also own and operate their own buses for other transport needs, such as class field trips, or to transport associated sports, music or other school groups.

Private charter

Due to the costs involved in owning, operating and driving buses and coaches, many bus and coach uses come about from the private hire of vehicles from charter bus companies, either for a day or two, on a longer contract basis, where the charter company provides the vehicles and qualified drivers. Charter bus operators may be completely independent businesses, or charter hire may be a subsidiary business of a public transport operator who might maintain a separate fleet or use surplus buses, coaches, and dual purpose coach seated buses. Many private taxicab companies also operate larger minibus vehicles to cater for group fares. Companies, private groups and social clubs may hire buses or coaches as a cost effective method of transporting a group to an event or site, such as a group meeting, racing event, or organised recreational activity such as a summer camp. Entertainment or event companies may also hire temporary shuttles buses for transport at events such as festivals or conference. Party buses are used by companies in a similar manner to limousine hire, for luxury private transport to social events or as a touring experience. Sleeper buses are used by bands or other organisations that tour between entertainment venues and require mobile rest and recreation facilities. Some couples hire preserved buses for their wedding transport instead of the traditional car. Buses are often hired for parades or processions. Victory parades are often held for triumphant sports teams, who often tour their home town or city in an open-top bus. Sports teams may also contract out their transport to a team bus, for travel to away games, to a competition or to a final event. These buses are often specially decorated in a livery matching the team colours. Private companies often contract out private shuttle bus services, for transport of their customers or patrons, such as hotels, amusement parks, university campuses or private airport transfer services. This shuttle usage can be as transport between locations, or to and from parking lots. High specification luxury coaches are often chartered by companies for executive or VIP transport. Charter buses may also be used in Tourism and for promotion (See Tourism and Promotion sections)


Buses are often used for advertising, political campaigning, public information campaigns, public relations or promotional purposes. These may take the form of temporary charter hire of service buses, or the temporary or permanent conversion and operation of buses, usually of second-hand buses. Extreme examples include converting the bus with displays and decorations or awnings and fittings. Interiors may be fitted out for exhibition or information purposes with special equipment and/or audio visual devices.

Bus advertising takes many forms, often as interior and exterior adverts and all-over advertising liveries. The practice often extends into the exclusive private hire and use of a bus to promote a brand or product, appearing at large public events, or touring busy streets. The bus is sometimes staffed by promotions personnel, giving out free gifts. Campaign buses are often specially decorated for a political campaign or other social awareness information campaign, designed to bring a specific message to different areas, and/or used to transport campaign personnel to local areas/meetings. Exhibition buses are often sent to public events such as fairs and festivals for purposes such as recruitment campaigns, for example by private companies or the armed forces. Complex urban planning proposals may be organised into a mobile exhibition bus for the purposes of public consultation.

Not for profit

Many not for profit, social or charitable groups with a regular need for group transport may find it practical or cost-effective to own and operate a bus for their own needs. These are often minibuses for practical, tax and driver licensing reasons, although they can also be full size buses. Cadet or scout groups or other youth organizations may also own buses. Specific charities may exist to fund and operate bus transport, usually using specially modified mobility buses or otherwise accessible buses (See Accessibility section). Some use their contributions to buy vehicles, and provide volunteer drivers.

Specialist users

Airport operators make use of special airside airport buses for crew and passenger transport in the secure airside parts of an airport. Some public authorities, police forces and military forces make use of armoured buses where there is a special need to provide increased passenger protection. Police departments make use of police buses for a variety of reasons, such as prisoner transport, officer transport, temporary detention facilities and as command and control vehicles. Many are drawn from retired school or service buses.


Buses play a major part in the tourism industry. Tour buses around the world allow tourists to view local attractions or scenery. These are often open-top buses, but can also be by regular bus or coach.

In local sightseeing, City Sightseeing is the largest operator of local tour buses, operating on a franchised basis all over the world. Specialist tour buses are also often owned and operated by safari parks and other theme parks or resorts. Longer distance tours are also carried out by bus, either on a turn up and go basis or through a tour operator, and usually allow disembarkation from the bus to allow touring of sites of interest on foot. These may be day trips or longer excursions incorporating hotel stays. Tour buses will often carry a tour guide, although the driver or a pre-recorded audio commentary may also perform this function. The tour operator may itself be a subsidiary of a bus operating company that operates buses and coaches for other uses, or an independent company that charters buses or coaches. Commuter transport operators may also use their coaches to conduct tours within the target city between the morning and evening commuter transport journey.

Buses and coaches are also a common component of the wider package holiday industry, providing private airport transfers (in addition to general airport buses) and organised tours and day trips for holidaymakers on the package.

Public long distance coach networks are also often used as a low-cost method of travel by students or young people travelling the world. Some companies such as Topdeck Travel were set up to specifically use buses to drive the hippie trail or travel to places like north Africa.

In many tourist or travel destinations, a bus is part of the tourist attraction, such as the North American tourist trolleys, London’s Routemaster heritage route, or the customised buses of Malta, Asia and the Americas.

Use of retired buses

Most public or private buses and coaches, once they have reached the end of their service with one or more operators, are sent to the wrecking yard for breaking up for scrap and spare parts. Some buses, while not economical to keep running as service buses, are often converted in some way for use by the operator, or another user, for purposes other than revenue earning transport. Much like old cars and trucks, buses often pass through a dealership where they can be bought for a price or at auction.

Bus operators will often find it economical to convert retired buses to use as permanent training buses for driver training, rather than taking a regular service bus out of use. Some large operators have in the past also converted retired buses into tow bus vehicles, to act as tow trucks. With the outsourcing of maintenance staff and facilities, the increase in company health and safety regulations, and the increasing curb weights of buses, many operators now contract their towing needs to a professional vehicle recovery company.

Many retired buses have been converted to static or mobile cafés, often using historic buses as a tourist attraction. Food is also provided from a catering bus, in which a bus is converted into a mobile canteen and break room. These are commonly seen at external filming locations to feed the cast and crew, and at other large events to feed staff. Some organisations adapt and operate playbuses or learning buses to provide a playground or learning environments to children who might not have access to proper play areas. A Routemaster ex-London bus has been converted to a mobile theatre and catwalk fashion show.

Some buses meet a destructive end by being entered in banger races or at demolition derbys.


Early bus manufacturing grew out of carriage coachbuilding, and later out of automobile or truck manufacturers. Early buses were merely a bus body fitted to a truck chassis. This body+chassis approach has continued with modern specialist manufacturers, although there also exist integral designs such as the Leyland National where the two are practically inseparable. Specialist builders also exist and concentrate on building buses for special uses, or modifying standard buses into specialised products.

Integral designs have the advantages that they are have been well tested for strength, stability and so forth, and also are off-the-shelf. But there are, however, two incentives to use the chassis+body model. First it allows the buyer and manufacturer both to shop for the best deal for their needs, rather than having to settle on one fixed design— the buyer can choose the body and the chassis separately. Second it is likely that over the lifetime of a vehicle (in constant service and heavy traffic) that it will get minor damage now and again, and to be able easily to replace a body panel or window etc. can vastly increase its service life and save the cost and inconvenience of removing it from service.

As with the rest of the automotive industry, into the 20th century bus manufacturing increasingly became globalized, with manufacturers producing buses far from their intended market to exploit labour and material cost advantages. As with the cars, new models are often exhibited by manufacturers at prestigious industry shows to gain new orders.

Euro Bus Expo

Euro Bus Expo is a trade show, which is held bi-annually at the UK's National Exhibition Centremarker in Birminghammarker. As the official show of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, the UK’s trade association for the bus, coach and light rail industry, the three day event offers visitors from Europe and beyond the chance to see and experience, at first hand, the very latest vehicles and product and service innovations right across the industry. The next show will be held in November 2010.

Buses around the world

Historically, the types and features of buses have developed according to local needs. Buses were fitted with technology appropriate to the local climate or passenger needs, such as air conditioning in Asia, or cycle mounts on North American buses. The bus types in use around the world where there was little mass production were often sourced second hand from other countries, such as the Malta bus, and buses in use in Africa. Other countries such as Cubamarker required novel solutions to import restrictions, with the creation of the “camellos” (camel bus), a specially manufactured trailer bus.

After the Second World War, manufacturers in Europe and the Far East, such as Mercedes-Benz buses and Mitsubishi Fuso expanded into other continents influencing the use of buses previously served by local types. Use of buses around the world has also been influenced by colonial associations or political alliances between countries. Several of the Commonwealth nations followed the British lead and sourced buses from British manufacturers, leading to a prevalence of double-decker buses. Several Sovietmarker countries adopted trolleybus systems, and their manufacturers such as Trolza exported trolleybuses to other friendly states.

The buses to be found in countries around the world often reflect the quality of the local road network, with high floor resilient truck based designs prevalent in several less developed countries where buses are subject to tough operating conditions. Population density also has a major impact, where dense urbanisation such as in Japanmarker and the far east has led to the adoption of high capacity long multi-axle buses, often double-deckers, while South America and China are implementing large numbers of articulated buses for bus rapid transit schemes.

Bus preservation

Rather than being scrapped or converted for other uses, sometimes retired buses are saved for preservation. This can be done by individuals, volunteer preservation groups or charitable trusts, museums, or sometimes by the operators themselves as part of a heritage fleet. These buses often need to undergo a degree of vehicle restoration to restore them to their original condition, and will have their livery and other details such as internal notices and rollsigns restored to be authentic to a specific time in the bus's actual history. Some buses that undergo preservation are rescued from a state of great disrepair, but others enter preservation with very little wrong with them. As with other historic vehicles, many preserved buses either in a working or static state form part of the collections of transport museums. Working buses will often be exhibited at rallies and events, and they are also used as charter buses. While many preserved buses are quite old or even vintage, in some cases relatively new examples of a bus type can enter restoration. In- service examples are still in use by other operators. This often happens when a change in design or operating practice, such as the switch to one person operation or low floor technology, renders some buses redundant while still relatively new.


Normally, buses will be painted in a scheme that ties the bus to its operator (either an enterprise or a public authority). Occasionally, a livery will reflect the use of the vehicle, rather than its ultimate owner, such tour operators having specific liveries. Specific parts of a fleet may also have special liveries for their specific use, such as shuttle buses. Operators may often hark back to their history by applying commemorative centenary schemes reflecting historic operators. Large transport groups may apply a corporate logo across their fleets. Operators may also have different liveries for different operating areas, or use special liveries to demarcate low-cost or premium service buses from their main fleet.

Bus liveries were traditionally painted onto the vehicle and still are in many cases. With the advent of adhesive vinyl technologies, some liveries have begun to be applied as decals.

Bus liveries are commonly used in bus advertising, by fully or partially using a bus livery as a mobile billboard. This has greatly increased and become more complex with the ease of using vinyl technology. Other special-use buses may also display special schemes, such as training buses, school buses, tour buses, product promotion buses, parade buses, and political or public awareness campaign buses.

See also



  1. web-page (in French) at Retrieved 13 June 2008.
  2. Event preview: Fashion Bus On The Square, London The Guardian, 16 August 2008

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