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just a note, but Wellington New Zealand is also a heavy user of the trolleybus. The main challenges here are the tight roads and extreme hills. The electric buses are run on most of the most popular routes and interestingly enough, seem to last a lot longer than conventional buses (there's still trolleybuses here that look like they were built in the early 70s)



"A trolleybus also has advantages compared to other means of electric public transport. Contrary to a train or a tram, a trolleybus does not need a rail infrastructure. This not only results in huge cost and time savings, it also saves a large amount of energy..."

Are trolleybusses really cheaper than trams when all the factors (including operating life and running costs) are taken into account. How much are the cost saving from not needing rail offset by the extra cost of trolleybus wiring. For trams and train, only and single wire is required per track. Trolleybusses require a pair of wires per direction and thus double the length of wiring per mile. Which means that trolleybuss wiring is usually thicker to compensate for extra losses. Additionally, they often need additional pairs of wires for a moving vehicle to pass a stationary one.

"Installing a trolleybus service is of course more expensive than installing a normal bus line, but that extra cost can be recovered because of lower fuel and maintenance costs."

Same with electric railed traction, because of even lower fuel and maintenace costs. Steel on steel traction is more efficient than rubber on concrete and steel wheels also last longer than rubber tyres and when finally worn out can be melted down and recycled to make new ones. Rubber tyres are like plastic bags by comparison.
A trolleybus might not need rail infrastructure but does need roads, which need to be paved, and need periodic resurfacing with petrochemical products.



Having lived in both Boston and San Francisco, and depended on trolley-buses for transport, I can say that one limitation not listed here is weather. In borderline freezing wet weather, as we often encountered in Boston, the overhead wires ice over and become unusable. "Bus bunching" is also a problem, although a surmountable one. In San Francisco, where MUNI made a huge effort to correct bunching (after the administration shake-up in the mid/late 90s), the fact that the buses could not pass each other became a somewhat moot point. In Boston, where the T made very little effort (or an underfunded effort) to control bunching, this was a HUGE problem. So there is some part of the efficiency of this technology that is dependent on the political and financial resources of the transit agency to manage the limitations of this technology.

Alan Drake/AlanfromBigEasy


Just a couple of quick comments on why trolley buses are *NOT* the way to go (except in special cases). Streetcars and Light Rail are.

1) Trolley buses use about 5x the electricity/passenger

2) The article implies that streets are a free good. Ask a Public Works engineer and you will find that city streets with bus routes require many times more maintenance than parallel streets w/o bus routes. In New Orlaans, almost all bus stops have concrete pads becasue of the wear from buses. Rail tracks last much longer, with lower maintenance. Much lower life cycle costs.

3) Trolley buses increase ridership by about 3% over diesel buses (quieter & smoother, but still a bus). Streetcars & Light Rail increase ridership 30%, 50% to 100+% over the buses they replace.

4) Buses (any type) do not encourage Transit Orientated Development in developed nations. Urban Rail does.

The French plan to build 1,500 km of new tram lines in the next decade for 22 billion euros (rubber tired trams in the HQ city of Michelin). Nothing AFAIK on new trolley buses.

The USA should do at least as much/per capita.

Also, the French can go from a "hand wave" (build a tram from here to there) to ribbon cutting in four years.

Best Hopes for Working with the speed & efficiency of French bureaucrats,


kris de decker


@ Alan & Myrtone:

You make good points concerning the advantages of rail transport. More than a competitor for the tram, however, I see the trolley as a substitute for cars, trucks and diesel buses.

As stated in the article, a popular trolleybus line, built fast and cheap, could pave the way for a later tramway. What is interesting about trolley vehicles is that they allow to electrify transport for a bargain. Of course trams are a better option, but they are also much more expensive. Someone has to pay the bill.

Anyway, whatever you build, the space required should be taken away from cars.



Thanks to reader Sava from Sofia for teaching me the difference between the former Soviet Union and the former Eastern Bloc. Mistake is corrected.

Irvine Bell


Regarding Alan Drake’s Post: -

Point 1) that trolleybuses use about 5 times the electricity/passenger is wrong. If one compares a 55 tonne tram carrying 250 passengers with a 27 tonne trolleybus carrying 155 passengers, the energy consumption per passenger is about the same. The trolleybus has higher friction losses (rolling resistance) per passenger (around 43%) but lower inertia losses (around 26%). In urban stop start operation where inertia (starting/accelerating/stopping) losses are a substantial proportion of total energy consumption) and even with a reasonable level of regeneration (30%), the trolleybus and the tram net out at about the same energy consumption per passenger.

Point 3) that trolleybuses increase ridership by about 3% over diesel while trams increase ridership 30% or more is simply not comparing like for like. Documented cases of like for like bus to trolley and trolley to bus conversions suggest that trolleys attract 10 to 20% more passengers in the short term. European (cities like Arnhem and Salzburg) trolleybus operating experience suggests that the gains over the long term are larger. New tram/light rail systems with a high degree of segregation providing vast improvements in service quality over street bound buses can show large increases in ridership – but so do comparable bus rapid transit schemes. Basically passengers don’t really care that much whether a public transit vehicle has steel or rubber tyres or even how it is powered. It is the overall service quality – things like average speed, frequency and reliability, along with perceived cost – that determines passenger behaviour. Anybody claiming large increases for a particular mode per se, is being disingenuous.



Trolley buses are a great mode of transport and heres to all the efforts to bring them back. Diesel buses are like vibrating sardine cans...utterly unpleasant to travel in so hopefully the transport boffins get their arses into gear and bring trolley buses back ASAP!
New Zealand had trolley buses in all main centers. All the buses were english export trolley bus chassis. The most extensive network was DUnedin where at one stage the Trolleys outnumbered the diesEls by two to one. Sadly the short sightedness of local authority leadership saw the closure of most these systems by the 1980/s Auckland brought itself a brand new trolley bus system in 1980, then a change of council saw the whole system wires and all sold at not even a fraction of its purchase price, the wires to the scrap merchants, the Ansaldo buses to Wellington. Apparently some protesters with nothing better to do moaned about the unightly wires. What kind of idiot pre tell goes around all day staring at the wires. Answer only a fucken moron does. No one with a real life gives two stuffs. Alas Wellington now has the only trolley bus system in New Zealand, and, Foxton. Interestingly wellington is the culture capital of NZ also, and has a good range of old buildings preserved that complement the trolley bus system.

Just for the record.....Auckland had extra width trolley buses...Known as RETB 1/2's, they were mainly lEYLAND BUT cHASSIS, EXCEPT FOR THE FIRST FOUR TROLLEY BUSES WHICH WERE lEYLAND tB4 cHASSIS, and the first mainline trolleys, the BUT 9711T's were a product of AEC. Christchurch opted for English Electric and Ransomes trolley buses for its sole Line, whilst New Plymouth had Crossley Transits. Dunedin and Wellington went for the standard british export trolley bus of the 50's, the RETB 1 from Leyland. In the eighties Wellington saved its trolley bus system and went for Volvo Trolleys with Brown Bovery Electrical Equipment whilst Auckland went for the interesting ANSALDO trolley buses that had electronic and electro mechanical equipment. The buses for Auckland never saw service in Auckland and were sold off to Wellington.



Instead of overhead lines it makes more sense (on highways) to have hot spots and smart cars/trucks.
The vehicles would transpond (RFID like) an id and how much energy they need.
Wheeled Electrodes would drop down and contact the hot spots. The hot spots would be enabled (a transaction) and the jolt given to the vehicle.
The vehicle would store the power in a gyro or a super cap or something until the next hot spot. The hot spots could vibrate or be heated to brake ice etc...
Hot spots would only have power when the conversation with the vehicle has activated that particular spot for a short contact instant.

It could be done now ....
It would be relatively painless.



I just want to add that we have been using trolleybusses for many years here in Poland. They are quiet, good and have poven its worthness for everyday use in any temperature ect. here are some pictures: http://www.pktgdynia.pl/pages/galeria_tabor.php

Mehul Kamdar


I have heard from a very good friend that Sweden is considering installing new tram systems in cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg etc. Perhaps, you should send them your opinions on trolleybuses as an alternative option - they do have one of the most progressive governments in the world and are happy to listen to informed opinion. Also, knowing the Swedes and their engineering abilities, I would not be surprised if they design a new and improved trolleybus system that could sell to other parts of the world as well.

Transit Jeff


The comment about trackless trolleys not being as flexible as Diesel buses is no longer true. Most new trackless trolleys in North America now feature some form of "off-wire" capability. This may be a battery back up or in the case of Philadelphia, a small Diesel engine to generate the current. Couple this with automatic trolley poles, there is virtually nothing that blocks trackless trolleys anymore.

Now, in Philadelphia, in cases of fires, street construction, police activity, parades, street fairs, etc., the operator presses a dashboard button and the trolley poles automatically lower. Another button is pressed and the Diesel engine starts right up. You then drive around the blockade.

Transit Jeff



Click on the link above to read an article {including video} that states electric trackless trolleys are coming back to Britain after 40 years.

david e.


I live in the once-prosperous city of Dayton, Ohio, where for over 100 years we've had an excellent trolley-bus system. Over the decades there have been a number of times when the city considered replacement by other technology, but, fortunately it has been resisted.



I live in Wellington and when I'm not biking I catch the trolley bus that goes past my house. They're fantastic machines - smooth acceleration, much quieter than the diesels (so I can listen to music at sane volumes) and no emissions (from the bus itself, anyway). It also means that there a much less fumes in town than there would be if the whole bus fleet was diesel, which is great from a cycling point of view.

Per Ranch


For your information, a link to a current trolley lorry / trolley truck project in Sweden is enclosed; http://www.elvag.com. Comments and suggestions welcomed! With best regards



Edmonton has discontinued its trolleybus service in 2009 citing high capital costs for new trolleybuses. Although the trolleys haven't operated since May 2009, they still have not yet taken down the overhead wires.




I remember the trolley Buses here in Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK. They were the last in the UK and it just happened that I worked at the end of the last route. Probably the factory where their motors had been made - English Electric, then GEC now no more.

They certainly accelerated better than IC buses. Trouble was the infrastructure was getting old. Achild being killed by a bit flying off one did not help.

The Trolley Bus Museum in North Lincolnshire is worth a visit. Their collection includes old buses from the UK, Canada and Europe.

I now live near Keighley and found that they to had a trolley bus system in the 1920s. At first they did not use two poles but had a four wheeled trolley running on the supply wires. Only thing it had over the pole system was the wires were closer together so it looked neater.



This article brought back a memory from the mid '50's in Portland, Oregon. At that time, Portland's public transit system was privately owned and included a number of trolley-bus lines, one of which ran past the high school I attended at the time. A favorite trick among the cognoscenti was to walk behind the trolley bus when it was stopped to load/unload and yank down on the trolley cables, thus disengaging the trolley from the power lines. A great Yuk was enjoyed by all except the driver.



Hybrid trolleybuses provide an answer to most of these disadvantages. By equipping trolleybuses with a battery or an auxiliary diesel motor, the bus can also cover a part of the route without depending on the overhead cables. Most trolleybuses built since 1990 are equipped with at least a small battery or diesel motor for some limited manoeuvring. This can save the installation of overhead cables, especially at turning points and in sheds, where normally a complicated infrastructure is needed to manoeuvre the buses. It can also help to get round road works.

On some lines (like in Boston and Philadelphia) hybrid trolley services exist. The bus then covers part of the route on electricity delivered by the overhead cables, while another part is covered by means of a (larger) battery or a diesel engine. In this way some drawbacks of batteries and diesel engines are introduced, but these disadvantages are limited when compared to electric cars or diesel buses. Hybrid buses might be a way to spare some parts of a city of overhead lines.

Is this a new idea? If battery-electirc and diesel electric vehicles have exsited for decades, why didn't earlier trolleybuses have them.

Would trolleycars be any more pratictal of they too could run or battery power or generate their own electricity away from the wires?

Luc Rolland


Istanbul has installed a series of dedicated lanes on major boulevards crossing through the huge metropolis. These lanes are located in the street center where cars cannot go. They have their Metrobuses rolling at very high speeds and rates. These are using nice and modern trolley buses. They even have recently inaugurated a three wagon trolleybus.



Trolleycars, even though theoretically possible, are not a practical option.

But modern trolleybusses do have batteries for off-wire driving so are not limited to their wires. This means they can drive both under the wires and away from them, if buses can do this, surely cars can as well.

Jorge Luis Guevara


El mundo está regresando al trolebús, por ello paises el primer mundo están ampliando sus líneas y renovando sus unidades Los trolebuses modernos están equipados para desviarse de su recorrido y circular fuera del tendido de manera permanente
Paises como Arabia y Venezuela donde su economía se sustenta en el petroleo están instalando sistemas de trolebuses

Abhishek Patil


Can anyone tell me what is the per kilometer energy consumed by a trolley bus?




In Barcelona (Spain) they are considering joining the tram above Frances Macià square with the one below Glories square. They have two options: tram or electric bus. It would be nice if they consider trolleybus too! But do you know who is performing better from a per life cycle basis?

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