The first public buses began to run on this day, March 18, 1662, even if it was an idea probably 200 years ahead of its time. The service, introduced in Paris, was abandoned in 1675 and public transport did not return to the streets of any major city until 1895, exactly 233 years later.
The idea was promoted by Blaise Pascal who was a man of many talents: physicist, philosopher, mathematician, inventor, author – and more.
The Governor of Poitou, the Duke of Ronanes, thought it was such a good idea that he decided to back it and had seven horse-drawn carriages built, each capable of carrying eight passengers.
The scheme received royal blessing when King Louis XIV, the longest ruling monarch in European history, granted the Duke a monopoly, which meant that any competitors would face having their horses and vehicles confiscated.
The scene was set, then, for a grand opening ceremony of the service on 18 March and the “Carosses a Cinq Sous”, as the buses were called, began work. A ride in the carriage (carosse) cost five sous, which was the least valuable coin in the French currency at the time.
There are conflicting theories concerning the failure of this genial enterprise.
One researcher thought that the service was very well received at first but since people were riding for amusement only, after a few weeks the popularity of the buses waned and the carriages faded into oblivion.
Others suggested that the new mode of transport was taken up by fashionable members of Parisian society who crowded out the less advantaged citizens. In short, nobility and gentry were allowed to hop on the coaches, but not soldiers and peasants.
As a result, the poor decided that buses were not for them and when the wealthy citizens became bored the service was discontinued.
In any case, Pascal is best known today for other achievements: an early calculating machine, for istance, known as the Pascaline, and his work on atmospheric pressure (Pascal’s Law).
He contributed widely to mathematics and the physical sciences by laying the foundation for the modern theory of probabilities, and for his work on the nature and principles of hydraulic fluids. During his experiments on hydrodynamics, Pascal invented the syringe and the hydraulic press and, in the 1970s, the Pascal (Pa) unit was named in his honor.
If this wasn’t enough, he also contributed numerous theorems in geometry and binomial mathematics, laying the groundwork for Fermat, Leibniz and Newton, and inspiring the name of a 20th-century programming language. His letters and philosophical works are read, studied and admired still today.
And Paris is full of buses, even if Pascal had nothing to do with this!