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Commencement in 1924

The system of private bus numbers which was gradually phased out between 1981 and 2005 started in 1924, when numbers were allocated and listed in the Government Gazette. It seems that the numbers represent the numbers of licences granted to operators; they appear to have been almost all allocated in alphabetical order of the principal, non-city terminus of the route. Thus, if one ignores numbers 1 to 6, Routes 7 to 15 each had a destination starting with A, Routes 16 to 37 a destination starting with B, and so on through to Routes 195 to 203, destinations starting with W.

The numbering system as from 1925

In 1925, by the time additional routes had commenced and alterations made to others, the Government Gazette had a revised list of routes. Changes in number occurred to most routes. One can imagine the anger of operators at this change in numbers, as most buses had the route number painted on their bodies. As a result, the Government bureaucracy in charge of the numbering system must have succumbed to pressure not to further alter route numbers unnecessarily, as the system then remained relatively stable until 1981, with changes only occurring when routes actually started or finished.

Throughout the 1920s all buses in Sydney were privately owned and operated. The only street transport then run by the State Government was the extensive network of trams which radiated from the city to many of the then developed suburbs, as well as in some suburban locations. Tram routes were never numbered and were referred to mainly by destination names (for example, the Railway-La Perouse route), although, in certain cases, coloured symbols on destination rolls were also in use to aid identification of routes by the travelling public and signalmen. Hence, it was common to speak of, for example, “the tram with the three green diamonds” when referring to the Circular Quay-Canterbury tram service.

Legislation in the 1930s

After World War I, a number of ex-servicemen, armed with mechanical knowledge from driving trucks, set up new bus routes along routes with strong patronage. Many of these routes were along busy tram lines. By the mid 1920s, with the improvement in road standards, these private buses were providing considerable competition for the Government tram and rail systems. As a result, the Government of the day passed two pieces of legislation in the early 1930s designed, among other things, to severely restrict the extent of this competition.

The first of these laws was the Transport Act of 1930, which altered the administration of the State’s transport in such a way that the expansion of the private bus industry was severely curtailed. As this Act failed to make much sufficient inroads into the private bus competition, further legislation was enacted.

The next step was the passing of the State Transport (Co-ordination) Act of 1931, which imposed as from 2 November 1931 a tax on private buses employed on routes that were deemed to be competitive with Government trams or trains. This Act had considerably more effect and so many competitive private bus routes in the Sydney metropolitan area consequently ceased operation after Saturday, 31 October 1931. Some routes were relicensed immediately or in the following months on shortened or altered routes to operate as feeder services to tram or railway lines or to later Government bus routes.

For many months after October 1931, public debate raged both over the services that had been discontinued or curtailed and over the relative merits of trams and buses. In the course of this debate it became obvious that there was still a strong demand for many of the ex-private bus routes and so the Government found itself under pressure to find a way of providing them. Following yet another piece of legislation, the Transport (Division of Functions) Act of 1932, the Department of Road Transport and Tramways (DRTT) was established. One of its functions was to manage and operate trams, trolley buses and buses in Sydney (and Newcastle) and to regulate private bus services. The way thus became clear for the Government through its new department to start its own bus services.

As far as route numbering was concerned, the discontinuance of over 90 routes as from 31 October 1931 (although some later were relicensed as feeders) left many route numbers unused. Almost all of these numbers were in due course re-used, as a result of the growth, particularly after World War II, of the number of Sydney metropolitan private bus routes. Most of the new routes were feeders to suburban railway stations. The allocation of subsequently re-used route numbers appears to have been quite haphazard. By 1952 the range of numbers in use was between 1 and 244.

Government bus operation starts in 1932

Government bus operation commenced on 25 December 1932, when the DRTT recommenced operation of Route 144, Cremorne Junction-Manly. This route replaced one of private routes discontinued in October 1931. Over the following several years, the extent of Government bus operation grew quite rapidly with the takeover of further private bus routes over a wide area of Sydney. Most of these routes initially continued to use the numbers used by the previous private operators. In some cases, however, numbers of routes discontinued in October 1931 were re-used, particularly where more than one ex-private route was amalgamated into a single, new Government route.

The three-digit, geographical number system

Within only a few years, practical difficulties arose, as the destination and route number blinds on DRTT buses grew continually bigger with more and more private bus routes being taken over. To overcome these difficulties, a three-digit route numbering system, based on geographical areas, was recommended by an internal Departmental report in 1937-8 and adopted towards the end of 1938. The report also initiated the use of three-track route number rolls on DRTT buses, a system which remained largely operative on Government (and some private) buses well into the 1990s (although now superseded by electronic destination signs).

The system proposed that numbers be allocated to geographical areas as follows:

100-199 Manly-Warringah
200-299 Inner north
300-399 East and inner south-east
400-499 Inner west
500-599 Far south-east
600-699 South
700-799 Far west
800-899 Middle west
900-999 North-west

The 100-199 series was almost certainly allocated to bus routes in the Manly-Warringah area because all routes in that area already had numbers in that series, as a result of the numbering of routes in roughly alphabetical order in 1925. In the 1920s, the vast majority of bus routes in that area radiated from Manly Wharf, and so were grouped under “M”. By the mid 1930s, almost all these routes had become Government operated.

It should be remembered that this system was set up for Government buses only and that the areas mentioned refer to the extent of Government bus operation at the time, when Sydney was a much smaller metropolis than today.

The geographical number system commenced in a modest way some time in 1939, when it was decided to trial a small group of new numbers on routes radiating from the south side of Strathfield station. This trial must have been successful, as widespread renumbering of routes into the new system took place between October 1939 and September 1941. New routes which commenced during the same period were also numbered in accordance with the new system. By 1943, a fair number of routes had been renumbered according to this system.

The system revised in 1943

When the effects of World War II began to bite, the DRTT was forced to curtail several city-to-suburb bus routes to feed to suburban railway stations or tram lines, instead of travelling into the city, so as to conserve scarce resources of manpower and fuel. The curtailment of a batch of such bus routes in this manner as from 14 June 1943 heralded the introduction of a revised and simpler numbering system, which had fewer classifications, as follows:

100-199 Manly-Warringah
200-299 Inner north
300-399 East and south-east
400-499 West and north-west

Other DRTT routes which had by then been given numbers between 500 and 999 were renumbered into this revised system during the remainder of 1943 and in 1944.


Tram-to-bus conversions cause expansion

After the war, the Government recommenced its programme, which had started before the war, to convert the entire Sydney tramway system to Government bus operation. During the period from 1948 to 1956, some relatively small tram-to-bus conversions took place and the numbers of the new routes so created were easily accommodated in the numbering system whose general structure had remained unaltered since 1943.

By 1957, however, the Department of Government Transport (DGT) – successor in 1952 to the DRTT – realised that there would be insufficient three-digit route numbers to cater for all the Government bus services proposed to replace the remaining tram lines. The need for more route numbers was accentuated by the then current policy of allocating a separate number for every short-working of a bus route. In those days, there were considerably more short workings on Government bus routes than there are today.

To create more route numbers, two steps were taken during 1957:

  • on 24 June 1957 (coincident with the conversion of the Rosebery and Daceyville tram lines to bus operation), peak hour industrial routes in the eastern, south-eastern and western suburbs, which had till then been numbered in the relevant geographic series, were renumbered into the 000-099 series;

  • on 28 July 1957, bus routes which ran between the city and the Drummoyne, Gladesville and Ryde areas over the Glebe Island and Iron Cove Bridges and via Victoria Road, which had till then been numbered from 400 to 410, were renumbered into a series between 500 and 541. At the same time, 455 (Ryde-West Meadowbank [now Melrose Park]) was renumbered for a short time as 555, but later again as 505.


These two steps together provided the DGT with a significant increase in the number of available route numbers, particularly between 300 and 499. The tram-to-bus conversions, which proceeded until their completion on 25 February 1961, used many of the additional route numbers so created.

Duplication of route numbers

Throughout the period since 1925, the range of numbers and the system of allocating them to private bus routes (administered by the relevant Government department, which by the 1960s was the Department of Motor Transport) did not vary, despite the continually evolving number series for Government bus routes, administered by the operator itself. Until about 1952, the two systems co-existed with some apparent degree of co-operation, as little or no duplication of route numbers occurred. But, thereafter, duplication of numbers between the private and Government systems crept in and continued unabated until 1981, when the then Urban Transit Authority (UTA) set about rationalising bus route numbers throughout Sydney. It was only in 2005 that duplication was finally eliminated.

Private route numbers with multiple routes

Not only was there duplication between Government and private bus route numbers, but within the private bus route number series, there was also duplication, because, when the number of routes covered by a single licence grew, the one route number continued to be used for all the routes covered by the licence. This appears to have resulted from the bureaucratic relationship between route numbers and licences. Thus, for example, 200 was at first allotted to a single route from Parramatta to Castle Hill, but, as the population of the Hills district expanded, particularly after World War II, the number of bus routes authorised by that license grew, so that by the 1980s there were at least eight separate routes, all bearing route number 200.

Other significant examples of route numbers with multiple routes were 2, 25, 40, 41, 44, 51, 56, 57, 58, 61, 65, 70, 80, 93, 94, 102, 114, 148, 187, 191, 200, 206 and 215.

The extent of these duplications can also be gauged by the fact that the number of private bus route numbers, which before 1981 had never exceeded a little over 200 (as there were always some blanks in the range between 1 and 244), by 2005 exceeded 300 in the new series, with the allocation of separate numbers to individual routes.

This defect in the route numbering system also persisted until the UTA embarked on its rationalisation programme from 1981 onwards.

The first signs of change – the Red Arrow routes

On 18 February 1980, a new bus operator, known as Bankstown-Parramatta Bus Service (a joint venture of Chester Hill-Bankstown Bus Service and Delwood Bus Company), commenced running a route between Bankstown and Parramatta through the “territories” of the two joint venture companies. It was rather grandly hailed as “Sydney’s first cross-country bus service”. Initially it ran without a route number, but by at least 17 June 1980, when there was a timetable revision, it had been numbered (possibly somewhat arbitrarily) as 320 and labelled as a “Red Arrow Express Bus Service”. The numbering of this service was the first break away from the traditional 1-244 numbering system for private bus services.


Route 320 was followed by other “Red Arrow” services with route numbers previously unused by private bus operators, namely:

  • Route 300, Liverpool-Blacktown, on 8 December 1980, jointly operated by Bosnjak’s Bus Service and Western Road Bus Service, and

  • Route 333, Chatswood-Parramatta, on 19 January 1981, jointly operated by North & Western Bus Service and Parramatta-Ryde Bus Service.


The introduction of the latter two services was co-ordinated by the UTA, in which power had by then been vested to assist private bus operators with the development of their services.

As a matter of record, two further “Red Arrow” services followed, but both were given numbers in the new Sydney-wide series (see below) from their commencement. They were Route 590 (now 630), Epping-Blacktown (now Macquarie Centre-Blacktown), which commenced on 14 December 1981, and Route 860, Liverpool-Bankstown, on 27 February 1984 (now subsumed into Route 900). Two of the first three routes were subsequently renumbered into the new series, 300 to 830 and 320 to 910. However, the distinctive number 333 remained unaltered at the request, it is believed, of the operator, until its demise in 2001.

Not described as a “Red Arrow” route, but another route using a then unused number outside the 1-244 range, was 270, a weekday peak-hour only service between Gordon and Duffy’s Forest, run by Forest Coach Lines. Starting on 2 February 1982, its introduction was co-ordinated by the UTA, similarly to the “Red Arrow” routes. It is thought that it was allocated the number 270 in an attempt to anticipate the number that may have been allocated to it under the then still developing Sydney-wide numbering scheme.

The Sydney-wide route number series

By way of background to the introduction of the new Sydney-wide number series, the State Government in 1972 set up a new body, the Public Transport Commission (PTC) of NSW, to assume control of all the State’s government operated public transport, which at that stage comprised:

  • State-wide railways, previously run by the Department of Railways,

  • Government-owned buses in Sydney and Newcastle, previously run by the Department of Government Transport, and

  • Government-owned ferries in Sydney, previously run by the Sydney Harbour Transport Board.


The PTC, however, proved to be too large and unwieldy and in July 1980 it was split, under the terms of the Transport Authorities Act of that year, into the State Rail Authority (SRA), to run the railways, and the Urban Transit Authority (UTA), to run Government-owned buses and ferries. At the same time, the UTA was given a new function of co-ordinating, although not regulating, all urban public transport throughout the State under a single authority.

To carry out this additional function, the UTA established a Development and Co-ordination Branch, whose role was essentially to help private bus operators with a wide range of assistance. Amongst the activities assigned to this Branch, those relevant to this article were:

  • the introduction of new routes, services and operating practices;

  • the rationalisation of existing bus routes and improvement of services;

  • the preparation, printing and distribution of timetables featuring not only improved services, but also improved presentation, including such items as times of connecting trains and route maps, which most private bus operators’ timetables were then lacking.


It should be noted that the Department of Motor Transport continued for some time to authorise private bus operations and generally to control private bus operators.

The UTA’s Development and Co-ordination Branch set about helping certain bus operators in rearranging their routes into more rational networks and providing timetable assistance where required. As part of this activity, it established a unified and more meaningful route number system for the whole of the Sydney metropolitan region, designed to cover the routes of both the UTA and private operators. This was regarded as one of the means of rationalising bus routes.

The Sydney-wide route numbering scheme is based around nine geographic regions. These geographic regions took account of the predominant pattern of route numbers already in use by Government-operated buses, but were expanded to cover the rest of the Sydney metropolitan area. The regions which initially applied and the route number series which applied to them are:

100-199 Manly-Warringah area
200-299 North Shore line
300-399 Eastern suburbs
400-499 Inner south-west
500-599 Inner north-west
600-699 Outer north-west
700-799 Outer west (from Parramatta westwards)
800-899 Outer south-west (Parramatta-Campbelltown)
900-999 Mid south-west (Parramatta-Hurstville-Cronulla)


The first private bus route to be given a number in the new number series was 800, then Parramatta-Cabramatta, as from 2 November 1981. This route came about as a result of the amalgamation of part of 45 (Cabramatta-Edensor Park) and 167 (Parramatta-Smithfield), after the latter had been purchased by Bosnjak’s Bus Service in August 1981. Route 800 was later altered to run between Parramatta and Liverpool, but was deleted in the review of Region 3 effective from 22 March 2010.

Progress towards finalising the new system

After 1981 there were some changes to the boundaries of the geographic regions. For example, the 200-299 series was originally to apply to all routes connecting with or close to the full length of the North Shore railway line (hence the use of 270 for the Gordon-Duffy’s Forest service, mentioned above). In connection with this, it was envisaged that the numbers of some Government bus routes in the Mosman area would change from the 200-299 series to the 100-199 series. However, it did not prove possible to renumber these Mosman routes in the short term (although later again proposed in a less extensive form in the unimplemented “Better Buses North” proposals), so the proposed boundary for the 500-599 series was moved to include only services on the North Shore north of Gordon. When numbers were eventually allotted to North Shore routes, the 500-599 series was in fact used for services as far south as Chatswood. The 600-699 series was later extended to cover routes on the Blue Mountains as far west as Mount Victoria.

In the early 1980s new route numbers for private bus services were generally introduced in conjunction with route and timetable rationalisation programmes undertaken by the UTA. In some later instances, however, private operators renumbered their routes on their own initiative, although in accordance with the overall UTA scheme.

Later in the 1980s the UTA’s Development and Co-ordination Branch was renamed the Operations Branch and this Branch continued to be responsible for the numbering scheme until all functions related to the control of private bus routes and services were passed to the Department of Transport (DoT) in 1988. (The Department later became known as the Ministry of Transport or MoT.) This change was part of a general rearrangement of the functions of government agencies involved in roads and transport which resulted from the enactment of the Transport Administration Act of that year. Another change effected at that time was the alteration of the UTA’s name to the State Transit Authority (STA).

Prior to the passing of this responsibility from the UTA to the DoT, the UTA’s Operations Branch had prepared a discussion draft, dated May 1986, and entitled Sydney Region Bus Route Number System: Guidelines and Lists of Routes. This document set out guidelines for the system which had then been under way for over four years, explanations for each series of numbers, a list of routes according to the new route number system and a list of current route numbers showing proposed changes.

Contracts under the Passenger Transport Act

With the shift of responsibility for private bus operations to the DoT/MoT, the impetus to continue with renumbering routes into the new series waned for a few years. It was only after the passage of the Passenger Transport Act in 1990 and the associated introduction of performance-based contracts that renewed efforts were made to bring the remainder of Sydney’s privately operated bus routes under the Sydney-wide numbering scheme. This came about when the DoT included in its letters of offer of contracts under the Act a condition that routes be renumbered into the new series, where such renumbering had not already occurred. Where appropriate, these letters of offer specified the ranges of route numbers applicable to the operator.

As a result of introducing the contract system for regulating bus services, all private routes not previously renumbered into the new Sydney-wide series were eventually dealt with.

It is interesting to note that, although the renumbering was principally aimed at rationalising the route numbers of private bus operators, several routes operated by the State Transit Authority (STA) were also renumbered. This had two effects: (i) it facilitated the renumbering of certain private bus routes into an appropriate geographic series, and (ii) it permitted the grouping of certain STA services, which run partly over common routes, into sequential sets of numbers.

Revisions of the Passenger Transport Act and regional reviews

As a result of an enquiry undertaken in 2003 by Barrie Unsworth, a former transport minister and premier, the Passenger Transport Act was revised in 2004 in such a way as to:

  • Provide for Government funding of private bus services in NSW;

  • Reduce the number of metropolitan bus regions to 15 (down from 87), each covering a larger area, enabling bus routes to serve greater numbers of patronage generators;

  • Give authority to the Government, through the Ministry of Transport (MoT), to coordinate bus routes and timetables with operators in each region.


Some of the outcomes of these changes to the Act have been:

  • The number of bus operators was reduced to between one and four per region;  following changes of ownership between 2009 & 2014, there is now only one operator per region.

  • A “lead operator” was been assigned to each region, where there was more than one operator;

  • Regular reviews are made of bus routes and timetables in each region and changes to routes and timetables are generally made only as a result of a review (the fact that a route has been changed as a result of such a review is noted in the route listings);

  • Many bus routes have become longer as routes in one (old) region were amalgamated with those in an adjacent one;

  • Memory headways have been included in almost all bus timetables, so making many previous timetables more user-friendly.


The new regions and their approximate geographic coverage are:

Region Table.png

Regions 6 to 9 originally contained exclusively STA routes, and the other regions privately operated routes.  But from 1 July 2018 region 6 was privatised (following the privatisation of the Newcastle region [outside the scope of this website] in July 2017).

Since the regions were devised, Crowthers’ routes have been transferred to Veolia, which has resulted in Regions 10 and 11 being effectively amalgamated.

Route numbers in most regions have remained relatively unaltered in the transition from the older contract areas to the newer areas. However, because changes to routes in Regions 3 and 13 were more widespread than others, some wholesale renumbering of routes has occurred there.

Another factor to emerge is that routes radiating from Picton are now regarded as being “rural and regional” and so are not included in any of the 15 Sydney metropolitan area regions above. But the routes are numbered in the low 900s.

The reorganisation and renumbering of routes in Region 13 has resulted in the route numbers allocated to the Picton routes being duplicated by some of the new route numbers in Region 13. There is no current intention to renumber either series of routes, so the duplication of numbers 900, 901 and 911 to 914 will apparently remain for the time being. Such duplication seems to defeat one of the purposes of numbering routes in the Sydney-wide series.

Routes on the Blue Mountains, which are now regarded as “outer metropolitan”, also retain their route numbers in the Sydney-wide system, even though they too are now not strictly within the Sydney metropolitan area.

Growth Buses

When the changes were made to the Passenger Transport Act in 2004, the Government decreed that operators had to alter their routes and timetables in such a way as to keep the kilometres run by buses in any region constant.

However, increases in population in a number of suburbs and the development of new suburbs in outer areas resulted in higher overall demand for a number of services. So in 2009 the Government increased the allowable kilometres in some regions by financing a programme called “Growth Buses”. This programme has enabled improvements to be made to timetables on some routes and other new bus routes to be commenced. Any improvement in services since 2009 that involves extra kilometres or extra buses has been a result of the “Growth Buses” programme.

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