The 1907 Electric Bus Scam

There’s a fascinating story in this week’s Economist on how it very nearly came about that London’s buses could have been electric powered right from the start of motorised transport in the city and by implication the world. The reason why it didn’t happen is not the 1st thing you might think of. Apparently in 1907 horse drawn still ruled and there were only 300 combustion engine buses which were widely disliked as being noisy, smelly and unreliable. There was also the London electrobus company with 33 buses powered by lead acid batteries and popular with passengers. They could go all morning on one charge and at lunch time they came into the depot for a new set of batteries. It took 3 mins for the battery set to be changed and off it went again for the afternoon shift. In 1907 the company went for a public listing in order to raise capital to buy many more buses and expand. Unfortunately it seems that the London Electrobus company had attracted some con artists to the management and they tried to siphon some of the public funds into their own pockets by way of buying bogus patents and paying over inflated prices for the buses.

A London Electrobus

These scams were quickly discovered and electric buses in the capital were not developed, instead the combustion engine versions gained popularity and the rest is history. The scammers had unwittingly sunk this new technology as well as the company. The ironic thing is that 100 years later cities are trying to reintroduce them in an effort to reduce CO2 emissions and clean up the city environment. Now if I had access to a time machine what if I could go back in time and prevent the con-artists from destroying the London Electrobus company…..


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