Blogathon Vancouver 2008: "E" is for Electric Trolleybus


Saturday, July 26th, 2008 — 8:30pm PST
Comments 4

The following is a guest post by John Bollwitt

Bus turning onto Howe St.
Photo credit: John Bollwitt on Flickr

I’m hardly an expert on the subject of Electric Trolleybuses in Vancouver but do take my fair share of them in my commute to and from work, not to mention the post I made about not owning a car on my personal site.

To me, I love the concept that comes with this form of mass transit, especially in these days of high gas prices. The technology is fairly simple and clean, so it feels good on a personal level when you cram yourself into a jam packed, sardine can of a trolleybus in the morning.

A trolleybus (also known as trolley bus, trolley coach, trackless trolley, trackless tram or simply trolley) is an electric bus powered by two overhead wires, from which it draws electricity using two trolley poles. Two poles are required in order to accommodate the return current, which cannot pass to the ground as in the case of an electric tram (also called a streetcar) since trolleybuses use rubber tires (which act as electrical insulators), rather than electrically conductive steel wheels on rail. There are trolleybuses in many cities around the world. [wikipedia]

Even though these machines are great on the environment, you have to be flexible on their reliability and your schedule. And while you’re on one some of these buses, especially the newer ones, you have to be on your guard when you are in a standing room only situation. I haven’t quite figured out the momentary lurching that happens from time to time, but there have been a fair amount of people who have hit the deck pretty hard when it happens. Saving the environment is great, falling on your face while doing it isn’t, and I’m lucky to not have that happen, knock on wood.

Spacious and less seating
Photo credit: John Bollwitt on Flickr

Vancouver is in the midst of phasing out their older buses, replacing many of them with a third generation fleet of trolleybuses. I’ve had my share of rides on them, and they are pretty nice. Still, some of the seating configurations seem a tad odd in terms of seat placements as well as what feels like less space, but it could all be an optical illusion.

Something that is becoming a standard across the entire fleet of buses in Vancouver is GPS tracking and a computerized voice that tells you what street or cross street you are on. There are even some that tell you nice pleasantries, but I’m waiting for the day where it starts telling you the current weather conditions.

When it comes down to it though, nothing can beat the bus drivers themselves, and there are some that are absolutely hilarious. Some point out funny things around you, give various historical lessons, or those that use the opportunity to practice their best stadium announcer voice like they are calling out the starting line for a hockey game at GM Place.

Rebecca on the bus
Photo credit: John Bollwitt on Flickr

Ah the beloved electric trolleybus. A Vancouver staple.


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4 comments

  1. fotoeins says:

    Thanks, John.

    My earliest childhood memory in Vancouver was riding the BC Hydro Brill trolley along East Hastings between Chinatown and downtown. The lights would always flicker when the trolley passed through a junction or intersection of overhead wires.

  2. @fotoeins: I think the lights don’t flicker anymore because of batteries on the buses now. At least when they arms fall off the lines, they have some sort of backup power to get them to the side of the road and get things back on track.

    Talking to Duane, the guy with some sort of engineering degree of a background, the lurching is probably due to a lack of maintaining the buses’ clutch. In my head, this makes complete sense, but I’d like to know TransLink’s reasoning behind this.

  3. Martin says:

    @John Bollwitt, your friend’s guess is wrong, for the simple reason that a trolleybus doesn’t have a clutch. The electric motor is connected directly into the differential on the rear axle. Obviously there is gearing there to reduce the motor rotation speed down to the required speed of the wheels. The ratio is about 10 or 11 to 1. Apart from that, a trolleybus doesn’t have gears like a diesel bus. It can accelerate from 0 to about 45 mph without gear changes.

    The jerking is more likely caused by slight flaws in the electronic controls. The electic motor has huge torque and it is controlled electronically to keep acceleration smoooooooth. But sometimes there is a glitch and it’s like a horse bolting. yee hah ^^

  4. Nice blog . will visit again

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