During American period, long-distance travel by land using public transport was almost exclusively done by autobus. Given the absence of ‘roll on, roll off’ maritime transport in crossing islands, buses were limited to ply routes within contiguous territories or as stipulated in their franchises. Davao was not spared from this restriction.
Before it was chartered, Davao was the only city in the archipelago without animal-drawn vehicles. Public utility vehicles were in four wheels, and there were no horse-drawn rigs, such as the tartanilla (carriage) or the calesa (calash), to speak of.
Actually, Davao was then home to Davao Autobus Co. Inc. (Dabusco), one of the pioneering transport firms in Mindanao founded in 1931; the firm was fully owned by Filipinos. For some reason, after only a year of operation and with fourteen buses in its fleet, a new management took over. As a result, new buses, the oldest being two years old only, were imported.
Riding a Dabusco unit was always associated with safety and comfort, given that all its buses were in A-1 condition, and its fleet regarded as the most modern in Mindanao, even comparable to the neatness of the Manila Railroad Company fleet in Manila.
Better still, Dabusco’s drivers and conductors, according to a story that appeared in a national publication, were “always neat, courteous and helpful… [and the drivers] are noted for the care they take in the safety of the passengers.”
Promptness was an indispensable aspect of the company’s services. Two of the men credited for making the autobus firm a cut above all other similar outfits were Norman W. Ramsay, the resident manager, and Cipriano de los Reyes, its president and general manager.
By 1936, Dabusco, under case No. 45372, filed an application with the Public Services Commission to extend its operation to Davao Penal Colony and Lapanday. Pursuant to Act No. 3108, the commission heard the application on March 27, 1936. Earlier, it also applied for an increase in equipment with the same agency, but the authority granted to it was ordered withdrawn after it failed to submit copes of certificates of registration.
The use of public utility autobuses as passenger transport in Davao region was attributed to various reasons. The Tribune, in its April 29, 1939, article titled ‘Motor Transportation Widely Used in Davao City’, described in detail the suitability of fielding buses in the region:
“The use of PU automobiles in the city for passenger transportation is the result of several conditions. In the first place, the city has a vast area. It is an agricultural city dotted with more than fifty hemp plantations employing several hundreds of laborers. These plantations have built private roads as feeders to government roads. Being third class, these roads are not fit for heavy traffic and for this reason, plantation laborers prefer fast, convenient and light automobiles.”
This impressive management style, moreover, would be replicated from year to year.
By 1939, Dabusco was already operating fifty modern buses, serving all parts of the city and the province. The services it offered were greatly admired and its units were getting the best attention. As its fleet expanded, it opened new terminals at Hospital Avenue and Bankerohan, within the city proper. Another station was built at Talomo on the south, and another one was erected at Tibungco in the north. The bus company’s efficiency was featured glowingly in the same report:
“The public has admired the efficiency of the service of ‘Dabusco.’ It maintains its own shop and garage which are equipped with modern conveniences for servicing its buses. Well-trained mechanics periodically inspect the buses. Each bus is inspected immediately after its return from a trip and drivers are requested to report the defects noted. This accounts for the keeping up of time schedules and the avoidance of accidents result in from engine troubles.
“The company gives good attention to its employees. The drivers, conductors and mechanics are well paid. Every Christmas, they are given bonuses. They are also given their regular wages while undergoing medical treatment.
“One of the recent innovations introduced by the company is the building of shade or waiting stations in strategic places of the city.” Official records for the years 1936, 1937 and 1938 showed that Davao region was slowly racking up its transport population of automobiles, trucks, and motorcycles. For 1936, the registry showed 628 automobiles, 320 trucks, and five motorcycles. The following year, a slight numerical appreciation was noted: automobile, 640; trucks, 366; and motorcycles, five. By 1938, the transport inventory remained on the rise: automobiles, 654; trucks, 359, and motorcycles, 14.