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The Electric Trolleybus

The electric trolleybus became popular in the 1940’s and 50’s as many transit systems converted from streetcars to trolleybuses. Many of these systems then abandoned their trolleybus networks and converted to diesel bus operations in the following three decades. Vancouver has been fortunate enough to have retained its electric trolleybus network despite this trend. In fact, representatives from several American transit systems have recently visited our city to view trolleybuses in service. Today, 244 trolleys carry almost half of all bus passengers (257,900 out of 561,000 daily riders) in the Vancouver Regional Transit System.

The trolleybus has many advantages over buses using diesel or alternative fuels such as natural gas, especially when effects on the environment are considered. Modern trolleys are very energy efficient and draw current from central power sources. The abundance of hydroelectric power in B.C. means atmospheric pollution attributable to trolleys is negligible. In areas where other power sources are used, economies of scale in efficiency and pollution control of electric generating stations mean trolleys are still significantly cleaner than natural gas or methanol powered buses.

Passengers and neighbours alike benefit from trolley operation. The vehicles are exceptionally quiet and smooth and so provide an excellent ride with very little noise pollution. This attracts passengers. In San Francisco, ridership on routes converted from diesel to trolley operation increased 10 – 18%. When a couple of routes were operated temporarily with diesels, ridership dropped 10%! The transit operating agency also benefits from trolleys since their performance is very good, especially on hills, with rapid acceleration and low maintenance costs. While some may consider the overhead wiring required by the trolleybus to be intrusive, it actually helps to draw riders by giving transit a permanent presence on the street.

Transport Action B.C. would like to see an enlarged network, improved service and more vehicles for this environmentally friendly, high performance mode in the future.

Ian Fisher