Bergen, with a population of about 225,000, is Norway's second largest city. It lies about 60deg. 25min. north and about 5deg. 20min. east, on the west coast of Norway. This is about 160 km. north of Stavanger. It's importance goes back to the middle-ages when it was a Hanseatic port, and thus a very important trading centre. Bergen is also Europe's 'Cultural City' for 2000.
Gaia Trafikk is Bergen's principle bus company. It was formed on 1. September 1998 by the merging of two other bus companies, Bergen Sporvei and Pan Trafikk. The company now operates around 400 vehicles and employs 1100 people. Turnover for 1999 is expected to be around Kr.400 million ($57 million), which represents about 27 million passenger journeys.
|Bergen's first diesel bus. A 1939 Scania-Vabis 8314/2 with Iversen body, was operated by Automobilruta Fana-Bergen and saw service until 1958. It is now owned by Gaia Veteranbusser. Click for a larger picture.|
Gaia is a public company, its shares being spread amongst nearly 1000 shareholders, by far the largest being Bergen Kommune (Bergen City Council) with 43.4%. Next comes NRAF, an investment fund with 7.3%, then Os Kommune with 6.4%.
Operating the city's bus routes represents about 80% of the company's turnover. The remaining 20% is made up of operating the airport bus service, express coach services, private hire and tour operations, and transport for the disabled. The company's heavy vehicle service facilities also take in work from outside the company.
Gaia has its roots way back in 1894 when one of its predecessors opened the Nesttun - Os railway. This was a local train service, stretching for about 20 km. south of Bergen. This line was quite profitable from 1902 to 1924, but competition from steamships eventually led to its closure in 1935.
|A 1954 Scania-Vabis BF-61 with Schmidt 2-door body. This bus was operated by Åsane Billag AS until the end of the 1970's. It was restored to its original livery in 1995. It is owned by Gaia Veteranbusser. Click for a larger picture.|
In 1897 A/S Bergens elektriske Sporvei, a private company with nearly 60% German capital, opened the first electric tram service in Bergen. It started with two routes with a total length of 5.9 km. The tram system remained in private hands until 1917, when Bergen Kommune took over ownership, and changed the company's name to Bergen Sporvei. By that time the system had grown to 10.4 km and was serviced by 51 tramcars. Trams remained in operation in Bergen until 31. December 1965.
Trolleybuses made their appearance in Bergen in 1950 with the introduction of one trolleybus route. This was followed in 1957 by the introduction of a second route. The trolleybus system remained as such until 1993, when a major road redevelopment scheme caused the closure of one of the routes. The future of the one remaining route though, seems assured, as Gaia are investing in a fleet of new trolleybuses to be put into service in the course of 2000. Expansion of the existing system is unlikely in the forseeable future due to high capital costs. (Bergen's trolleybuses will be the subject of a future feature.)
Bergen's first mechanically propelled bus was a steam bus built in 1899. But it wasn't until 1917 that the first motorbus route was started in the Bergen area. Fana Automobillag put a number of open-backed trucks fitted with benches into service between Milde and Fjøsanger, but the route wasn't a great success, perhaps because of the vehicles used. It was in the 1920's that bus travel really took off. Numerous bus companies, large and small, blossomed at this time. In 1928 Bergen Sporvei started to operate motorbuses in addition to their trams. By the early 1930's motorbuses had ceased to be a mere supplement to the tram system, they had become direct competitors.
|SP53014 is a Volvo B10M with Arna bodywork. It is seen here in red Pan Trafikk livery and the yellow Gaia Trafikk roundell.|
Bus companies and bus traffic flourished through the 1950's. Then in the 1960's a period of consolidation started with a series of buyouts and mergers. In 1965 three large companies south of Bergen merged to form Bilruta Fana-Os-Milde. In 1971 Laksevåg Kommunale Rutebilselskap merged with Bergen Sporvei, then in 1974 Åsana Billag took over Arna-Osterøy Billag's operation at Arna (10 km. east og Bergen city-centre). In 1992 Åsane Billag merged with Bilruta Fana-Os-Milde to form Pan Trafikk, which then in 1998 merged with Bergen Sporvei resulting in today's Gaia Trafikk.
My thanks go to Gaia Trafikk AS for much of the information contained in this article.
Below is a further selection of pictures from the 1999 Gaia Trafikk fleet. As with the pictures above, click on any one in order to see a full size version.