• Learn about the conditions that led to Frank Furness' most incredible masterworks, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts seen here, on Wednesday.
      Learn about the conditions that led to Frank Furness' most incredible masterworks, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts seen here, on Wednesday.

Wayback Machines: Philly's early double-decker buses

Not too long ago, we ran a pair of Streetsplainers on double-decker buses, first explaining why SEPTA doesn’t use them today, and then looking back to when the old Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company once did.

That prompted SEPTA spokesman Manny Smith to email a few old photos he recently came across. Said Smith in an email: “While on a visit to our Wyoming Avenue Shop, I found some pictures of the double deckers that PTC used in Philadelphia long ago.”

“Unfortunately, no one from that time is still around to share any other details,” wrote Smith, adding PlanPhilly was free to use the photos.

SEPTA took over operation of buses and streetcars in the region from a handful of different companies, the largest of which was the Philadelphia Transportation Company. PTC itself succeeded the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company in 1940, which purchased a bunch of double-decker buses in the mid-1920s that ran until 1948.

    • Route D, double-decker bus
      Route D, double-decker bus

The above undated photo shows a PTC double-decker bus stopped at the corner of 13th and Sansom Streets, meaning it is sometime in the 1940-1948 period. Note that all of these photos refer to the buses as “Double-Deck” buses, using “Double-Deck” as an adjective, instead of making it into a noun using the Oxford-er construction common today: “Double-Decker”.

You can also see that Sansom used to run eastbound, rather than westbound. Levin’s Fur Shop on the left is where Doggie Style is today, and the unmarked shop across Sansom Street is now Zavino.

    • Philadelphia Rapid Transit Co Schematics
      Philadelphia Rapid Transit Co Schematics
    • Philadelphia Transit Company schematics dated April 1, 1930
      Philadelphia Transit Company schematics dated April 1, 1930
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The two photos in the slideshow above show a pair of blueprints dating from 1928 and 1930, one labeled the Philadelphia Transportation Company and the other the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company. Back then, there were dozens of transportation companies operating streetcar and bus lines. Note that “pneumatic tires,” are still a feature worth pointing out, like automatic emergency braking or hybrid engines are today.

    • Double Decker Bus schematics
      Double Decker Bus schematics

Purchased in 1923. Cost: $15,500.42. It isn’t clear from this photo, but those tires aren’t pneumatic - just rubber, no air - and the top deck lacks a roof, which probably made it delightful in good weather and awful in bad.

    • Two PTC drivers and a police man
      Two PTC drivers and a police man

A quick look through my Philly history books and the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia doesn’t reveal anything about the Philadelphia Safety Campaign that these two PTC drivers and one police officer are posing for, and I don’t think there’s ever been a Safety Street in Philadelphia. Please let us know in the comments if you know something about "Safety Street" that we don't.

About the author

Jim Saksa, Reporter

Jim Saksa is PlanPhilly's transportation reporter, which means he focuses on how Philly bikes, walks, drives, rolls, and rides around the region. 

Jim lives in Point Breeze and has also written for Slate, Philadelphia City Paper, and Technical.ly Philly. He tweets @Saksappeal and you can reach him at jsaksa@whyy.org.


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