Cape Town Gets a Public Transportation System

July 9, 1861

In present-day South Africa, the legislature of the British colony widely known as the Cape Colony (in existence until 1910) passed an act allowing the creation of a company to provide transit services between Cape Town and the suburb of Sea Point. This legislative authorization led to the development of the Cape Town & Green Point Tramway Company, which began operations a little less than two years later as the first public transportation service of its kind in the Cape Colony. (Green Point is another community in the vicinity of Cape Town.) The Cape Town & Green Point Tramway Company started out with horse-drawn trams running from Adderley Street in Cape Town to Green Point.

A key figure in the construction of the transit line was James Bisset, who served as an architect and civil engineer for the colony. The Scottish-born Bisset had studied engineering at University College, London, and his subsequent work experience included helping with a range of railway projects throughout Europe. In 1858, he arrived in the Cape Colony to help build rail systems there. These pioneering efforts included assisting with the development of the Cape Town & Green Point Tramway Company.

The company steadily evolved throughout the decades, with electric trams taking the place of the horse-drawn type in 1894. The company began using fuel-powered motor buses in 1911, and trackless electric trams were introduced on routes in 1934. Along with technological innovations, the company also weathered such turbulent periods in South Africa’s 20th-century history as both world wars and the institutionalized racial discrimination policies known as apartheid.

The Cape Town & Green Point Tramway Company is now called the Golden Arrow Bus Services (GABS), and it is the major public transportation bus service in a large section of the Cape Town metropolitan area. With a daily ridership of approximately 220,000 people, GABS operates a fleet of more than 1,000 buses on a total of 1,300 routes.

Additional information on the Cape Town & Green Point Tramway Company is available at and

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