The Forest Way

The year 1928 saw brothers Trevor and Eric Royle migrate from their Welsh homeland to Australia. Like many newcomers to Australia, the two brothers strived for a more prosperous life in their new country.

For the first two years Trevor and Eric worked as farmhands in northern NSW. Returning to the Sydney area in 1930, they decided to buy a promising small suburban bus business from Mr E J Jones of Roseville. With this purchase the Royle brothers laid the foundations for Forest Coach Lines, now Sydney’s longest established family-owned bus company.

The decision to enter the bus industry at that time was a brave and personally challenging move. Not only was the economic depression beginning to adversely affect most businesses but the State government was preparing to introduce legislation to protect government tram and train services from private bus competition.

The passage of this legislation in October 1931 had profound consequences for many of Sydney’s private bus operators, but the Royle brothers’ concerns were somewhat alleviated when the bureaucrats deemed their two routes to be of a ‘feeder’ nature and not competitive with government-operated transport

Early route history

The services purchased from Mr Jones had been in operation for some years. Route 201 Roseville Station – Roseville Chase began in 1921 and Horace Bassett of Addison Avenue, Roseville was working this route with one bus, m/o 258, in 1923. Journeys over the full length of the route took 10 minutes.

Between September and November 1924, Mr Jones commenced Route 56 Chatswood Station – Roseville Chase and most likely he acquired Route 201 from Bassett at the same time. Route 56 journeys were 15 minutes in length and like Route 201 the daily service could be maintained with just one bus.

In late 1924 Mr Jones attempted unsuccessfully to extend his bus service to Manly over the recently opened Roseville Bridge. It would take another 17 years before buses on Route 56 worked regular timetabled services across the bridge and into Sydney’s northern fringes. However, later in the 1920s Jones did manage to expand services on Route 56 with the introduction of alternate trips to Penshurst Street, Willoughby.

Both Routes 56 and 201 provided weekday connections with train services to and from Milsons Point, where commuters boarded ferries for the trip across the Harbour to Circular Quay and the city centre. After the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened in March 1932, trains on the North Shore line operated directly into the city. As well as providing city workers with morning and evening services to Chatswood station, Route 56 was well-patronised during the day by shoppers travelling to and from Chatswood’s busy shopping centre.

On weekdays Route 201 transported commuters to Roseville Station, but on fine weekends and public holidays the other end of the route was the busiest as people flocked to the popular leisure area of Roseville Chase on Middle Harbour. Travelling away from Roseville Station the 201 crossed paths with Route 56 at Babbage Road. From there the suburban garden villas gave way to picturesque bushland as the route wound down five hundred feet to the Chase gates and Roseville Baths.

The bus terminated outside the shark-proof baths, where the air filled with the sounds of younger people enjoying a dip. Returning in the afternoons with full standing loads, buses had to be driven in low gear when climbing the hill. During the busy summer period extra buses were often rostered to help shift the crowds.

The first years of Royle’s ownership

When Trevor and Eric Royle took over Jones’ business on Saturday, 1 March 1930, their takings on that first day amounted to more than £12 from Route 56 and exactly £6 from Route 201. By the end of the week the brothers had grossed almost £112.

The two routes operated seven days a week, although buses didn’t serve the Penshurst Street section of Route 56 on Sundays. Trevor and Eric drove full-time and were assisted by three other drivers. Individual shifts ranged from seven to 12 hours per day and the total weekly wages bill, including overtime, averaged £33.

Initially, Trevor and Eric conducted their business under the trading name of Royle Brothers. Business growth in the late 1930s saw the need for incorporation and in May 1938 the company Royle Bros Pty Ltd was formed.

At the original depot on the corner of Moore Street and Addison Avenue, Roseville, the Royles parked their three buses behind the previous proprietor’s residence. However, within a short time the brothers relocated to a small depot on the Pacific Highway at the corner of Critchett Road, Chatswood.

In those difficult early years of business, the occasional bus hiring gave Trevor and Eric additional income. Their first was a ‘special’ to Roseville Baths on 21 March 1930, but over the following twelve months their vehicles ventured further afield to other northern Sydney locations including Lavender Bay, Dee Why, Hornsby and St Ives. A lucrative full day return trip to Bulli on the South Coast took place on 7 June 1930.

Fluctuating fortunes

From February 1931 Royles gained the contract for the Frenchs Forest mail service, but this did not last beyond early September. Another loss in 1931 was the Route 201 Sunday service, discontinued from 10 May.

In May 1931 Royles employed their first conductor for the then standard 44-hour working week. However, the costs of this extra staff member, a requirement under transport regulations of the day, proved a financial strain and on 15 September 1931 authorities allowed Trevor and Eric to operate buses on Routes 56 and 201 without conductors, subject to certain conditions.

In line with most other businesses during the Great Depression of the early 1930s, Royle Brothers suffered significant loss of income. As a result of falling patronage, by mid-1932 revenue from bus operations was down by some 25 percent compared to 1930. Nevertheless, Trevor and Eric persevered, determined to see their business prosper and to provide their loyal passengers with the best of service.

A brief return to the Forest

During the 1930s large areas of the Frenchs Forest district had been sub-divided into soldier settlement blocks for World War One returned service personnel. Even though much of the land was found unsuitable for farming, more people settled in the district.

In 1935 the brothers attempted, again briefly, to establish a service and mail run for the 40 or so families living at what was then a remote outpost of Sydney. The roads into the general area were rough red soil tracks, dusty and virtually impassable in wet weather by buses. However, with true pioneering spirit, on such occasions the brothers utilised a motorcycle and sidecar to deliver the mail.

Government Competition

At the end of the 1930s the business entered a difficult period when government buses began operating over the Royles’ ‘territory’. On 10 September 1939 the Department of Road Transport and Tramways commenced Route 207 between East Lindfield and Wynyard. From East Lindfield the 207 ran along Archbold Road, Roseville then across to Eastern Valley Way, making its way down to Northbridge, North Sydney and over the Sydney Harbour Bridge to terminate at Wynyard. Operating directly into the city, this service attracted many passengers who previously travelled by Royle ‘s buses to either Roseville or Chatswood Stations to catch a train into the city.

Royles requested compensation from the DRTT for loss of revenue which was especially heavy on Route 201. Compared with the same period twelve months earlier, between September 1939 and January 1940 Royles lost a combined £362 in revenue from Routes 56 and 201. The poor patronage on Route 201 led to discontinuation of weekday services between 9.30 am and 3.30 pm from 1 April 1940.

The Wartime Period

In 1940 the fleet had outgrown the cramped premises on the Pacific Highway. With an eye to future expansion, Trevor and Eric acquired land on the opposite side of the railway line at Smith Street, East Chatswood, then zoned as a light industrial area. By the start of 1941 this site became Royle’s new depot and provided storage for up to ten buses with additional servicing space.

Extensive maintenance was carried out at the Smith Street premises to keep the fleet on the road during the war years when spare parts and new chassis were difficult to obtain. Apart from the ongoing mechanical maintenance, limited body panel and paint repairs were also undertaken.

During the war when petrol supplies were tightly rationed, one bus was experimentally fitted with an unusual Krupp air-cooled diesel engine. However this was not a success due to noise and excessive vibration.

As the 1940s unfolded, World War Two worsened and many Forest residents were either enlisted in the services or working in war- related industries. One such industry was the tannery that had been established near Willoughby for many years. This industry was an important part of production for the war effort, but being very labour intensive required a large increase in personnel. The farming communities of Terrey Hills and the Forest area were obvious workforce recruitment areas, but lack of transport posed a problem.

Aware of the situation, Royle brothers liaised closely with tannery management and government officials and gained approval to extend Route 56 from its outer terminus at Babbage Road to Belrose and Terrey Hills on a trial basis. This service began in October 1941 with one trip each way to cater for the workers. Further route developments in the area took place at the end of the year when an Army camp was established at Frenchs Forest and Royles provided a bus service for Army personnel going on, or returning from, leave.

These embryonic services paved the way for Royle’s expansion into the area north of Middle Harbour over the following decades.

The Post War Years

In the mid-1940s Royle’s six buses travelled on average a total of 185 miles each day. Route 56 handled around 1500 passengers daily in the area between Babbage Road and Chatswood, while the less important Route 201 carried a third of that number. Demand necessitated extra trips over the Roseville Bridge to Frenchs Forest and Terrey Hills and some 1400 passengers used these services each week.

Trevor and Eric briefly expanded their route network with the acquisition of Route 52 Chatswood – Artarmon in March 1947. Purchased from Whibley Brothers (who started the run only two months previously), this short-haul route remained with Royles until December 1947 when they resold it to Brooks Brothers of Lane Cove.

The issue of conductors arose again in 1947 when authorities advised all operators in the Sydney and Newcastle transport districts that as from 1 July they would have to comply with transport regulations requiring provision of conductors on all journeys. Royles succeeded in gaining full exemption from having to employ conductors on their two short distance services (Routes 52 and 201) and partial exemption for Route 56 which engaged conductors on peak services only.

The cost to employ conductors on all route services would have cost Royles more than £30 each week and as the brothers stressed in their submission ‘such added expenditure would quickly bankrupt us’.

From the late 1940s the Frenchs Forest district blossomed with housing expansion that encompassed War Service Homes and private residential development. Weekly passenger loadings to Belrose and Terrey Hills leapt from 3500 in March 1950 to 5000 twelve months later, reflecting the area’s strong growth pattern.

While much of this expansion was more of a series of gradual developments along the plateau, by the 1960s the district was acknowledged as one of Sydney’s fastest growing residential areas. The Royles’ business was also growing rapidly and in 1960 the fleet had doubled to 12 buses.

The 1960s and major changes

By the early 1960s Eric and Trevor recognised the need to adopt new policies that would ensure the business was well-positioned to handle the demands placed upon it by a growing population. The following years brought great change to the business with the creation of separate companies for route and charter operations, new management, reorganisation of services and extensive upgrades of fleet and depot facilities.

In February 1964 the original controlling company, Royle Bros Pty Ltd, gave way to a new entity, Forest Coach Lines Pty Ltd. Along with this name change that more accurately reflected the business, a smarter livery of white with green lining superseded the dated livery of beige and dark green livery.

That same year, Royles moved their operations from Smith Street to a larger purpose-built depot in Pringle Avenue, Belrose. Located at the northern end of Royle’s network where many services began and terminated, this new base considerably reduced the amount wasteful dead running previously incurred. It was considered at the time that future extensions to this facility would satisfy the company’s needs for many years.

From the early 1960s the time-honoured but uneconomic practice of repairing older buses was discarded in favour of a ‘new for old’ bus replacement programme. At the beginning of 1965 the 15 vehicle fleet included new heavy duty large capacity buses.

An important policy of the company was to establish services ahead of residential development thereby creating demand, rather than waiting for residents to request a service. In the five years since 1960, Route 56 services had tripled whereas declining patronage on Route 201 Roseville – Roseville Chase led to the cancellation of this route on 24 May 1965.

On Route 56 the main hindrance to efficient scheduling during the early 1960s were the delays caused by traffic congestion over the old, narrow Roseville Bridge. On peak hour journeys an extra 15 minutes was factored in to the timetables to accommodate such delays. The opening of the new six-lane Roseville Bridge in April 1966 enabled vast improvements to the reliability of services and better usage of vehicles.

After being at the helm of the business since 1930, Eric retired in March 1965. Eric’s role was taken up by the firm’s young manager Roger Graham, who was appointed a director and company secretary. During his time with the company Roger was instrumental in devising and implementing many of the changes to the company’s operations.

Charter and Tours

The formation of a coach business to tap into the burgeoning charter and tours market was another initiative of the 1960s.

Under Roger Graham’s management, a new business known as Forest Trailways was established and incorporated in July 1965. This was operated as a separate entity to the route bus operations of Forest Coach Lines and the setting up of this business was complex.

The issue and use of Tourist Vehicle ‘TV’ registration plates was tightly regulated at that time and in order to acquire such plates to perform the work Forest Trailways intended, it was necessary to purchase a small bus service in Parramatta whose owner held TV plates. As part of Forest’s obligation as the holder of TV plates attached to the Parramatta-East Parramatta service, one of the company’s long-time staff members commuted each day to Parramatta to drive the bus on this route.

Forest Trailways began operations with one coach, but as the number of vehicles increased a separate depot was opened in Manly Vale. This establishment served the needs for all coach maintenance and the clerical work associated with the special hirings.

A Change of Management

When Roger left Forest Coach Lines in April 1967 to further this career in the private bus industry, management control returned fully to the Royle family. After Trevor’s retirement in 1968 his two sons Bernard and Tony, who both held qualifications in accountancy and business management, steered the company through the next thirty years.

Expansion continues in the 1970s and 1980s

In early 1973 a new route began between Chatswood to Warringah Mall via Allambie Heights. Three years later services from Chatswood to Davidson, Belrose and Frenchs Forest were extensively upgraded to seven days a week and until 10.30 pm on weekdays. In February 1982 Route 56 was extended beyond Terrey Hills to Duffys Forest.

Despite the additions and alterations to services over the years, most of Forest Coach Lines’ network remained under the umbrella of the Route 56 service licence. Thus Route 56 comprised not only the main trunk service from Chatswood through East Roseville, Forestville, Frenchs Forest and Belrose to Terrey Hills and Duffys Forest, but also offshoots from Chatswood to the Middle Harbour suburbs of Killarney Heights and Castle Cove.

The closure of the coach facilities at Manly Vale brought the Pringle Avenue premises to saturation point, but the surrounding suburban sprawl thwarted plans for depot extensions. The search for another depot ended when the company acquired a suitable site at Myoora Road, Terrey Hills that had capacity for up to 80 buses.

Officially opened on August 18, 1979 by Peter Cox, the then Minister for Transport, the new Terrey Hills depot was classed at the time as one of the state’s most modern bus and coach facilities. The decision to invest heavily in a new depot was well-founded for within ten years the fleet was already nearing 60 vehicles.

Into the 1990s

The Passenger Transport Act of 1990 replaced the outmoded and restrictive provisions of the 1931 transport legislation and created a new scenario for the operation of bus services in New South Wales. Subject to maintaining high standards relating to service delivery, fleet and administration, accredited bus operators were offered a renewable five-year contract to provide passenger services within a designated area.

The new legislation led to the demise of smaller operators and rationalisation of services between some operators. In 1991 Forest Coach Lines acquired the Pymble to Mona Vale and Narrabeen routes from Hornsby Bus Group and in July 1998 the Pymble to North St Ives and St Ives Chase services following the split up of Gillott’s St Ives Bus Service.

The Act also enabled the introduction of innovative routes to better meet customers’ travel needs. Forest Coach Lines took advantage of this and in 1992 became the first private operator for forty years to receive government approval to operate bus services into Sydney’s Central Business District.

This new Route 270, which Roger Graham had proposed the company try to establish in 1965, began on 27 July 1992 and gave residents in the area from Terrey Hills to Forestville direct access to the city for the first time. From its initial limited number of weekday journeys, the 270 has developed into a most successful service that now runs seven days per week and offers high frequency peak hour services on weekday mornings and afternoons in addition to regular daytime and evening trips.

After the city service was introduced, Forest Coach Lines revised its route network and the long-standing Route 56 was renumbered in accordance with the new Sydney regional bus route numbering scheme. The various services previously grouped under the 56 received separate numbers in the range 277-284 to identify individual routes.

The Sydney Olympics

Held over three weeks in September, the 2000 Olympic Games created the biggest demand for passenger transport that Sydney has ever experienced. Several temporary depots were set up across Sydney to handle the influx of buses and coaches needed to handle the massive task of transporting athletes, officials and spectators to and from venues and accommodation. Forest Coach Lines was selected to establish and operate a depot at Cromer on the northern side of the city.

The Cromer facility operated 24 hours a day and due to the efficient and competent staff there was very little down time on the units entrusted to the depot’s care. An appropriate finale to the company’s long involvement with Sydney’s transport during the twentieth century.

The Company Today

From humble beginnings, Forest Coach Lines has evolved into a major provider of public transport across a wide stretch of Sydney’s northern suburbs. The business employes over 130 staff and is fully committed to providing the highest standard of route and school bus services. Volvo and Mercedes-Benz units predominate in the well-presented fleet of 95 vehicles. Recent deliveries of new buses have all come equipped with air-conditioning and automatic transmissions for customer and driver comfort.

Services range from the busy express commuter runs into the city to the weekday off-peak shuttle bus operating between Killarney Heights and Forestville. Chatswood continues to be the hub for many Forest Coach Lines’ services and on any normal weekday more than 110 departures operate from there. Other locations within the company’s network, such as Frenchs Forest shopping centre, Jamieson Square (Forestville) Austlink Business Park and Terrey Hills, serve as important transfer points between certain routes.

As at May 2010, Forest Coach Lines conducted the following routes:

194: St Ives, St Ives Chase – City (Wynyard and QVB)

195: St Ives Chase – Gordon via St Ives

196: Mona Vale – Gordon via St Ives

197: Mona Vale – Macquarie University

270: Terrey Hills – City (Wynyard and QVB)

277: Chatswood – Castle Cove

278: Chatswood – Killarney Heights

279: Chatswood – Frenchs Forest

280: Chatswood – Warringah Mall

281: Chatswood – Davidson

282: Chatswood – Belrose and Davidson

283: Chatswood – Belrose

284: Chatswood – Terrey Hills and Duffys Forest

In the wake of the extensive 2004 review of bus services in New South Wales, the State government pursued a policy of vigorous reform within the bus industry that will soon see all Sydney metropolitan bus services administered through 15 contract regions. In April 2005, after protracted negotiations that entailed much financial and emotional cost, Forest Coach Lines signed its contract as ‘lead entity’ of ‘Area 14 Northern Sydney’, covering the company’s traditional route territory.

In 2010 the reigns of Forest Coach Lines were handed to Bernard Royle’s children – Anthony, David & Sally Royle. 4 years later Next Capital a private equity company invested in the business and David Royle stayed on as MD and a significant minority shareholder.

In 2018 Next Capital, David Royle and other shareholders sell their interest to Singaporean owned ComfortDelGro Australia Pty Ltd and David Royle steps down as Managing Director ending an 88 year history of involvement in Forest Coach Lines by the Royle family.

In the years ahead Forest Coach Lines will no doubt face new challenges and opportunities, but will tackle these in the same professional manner as they have done for the last 88 years – the Forest way.

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