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An example of a 40-foot trolleybus
An example of an articulated trolleybus

Trolley buses are buses that are powered by electricity, which is provided by two overhead wires (one for power and the other one for grounding electricity). Voltage is the same as the light rail trains (600 to 750 Watts) so the light rail and trolley buses can run along the same route. Modern trolley buses are equipped with auxiliary power units that allows off wire travel for a short distance. While connected to the overhead wires they can move 15 feet away from the centerline to bypass any obstacles such as parked vehicles, street construction, or any other obstruction. A trolley bus can be either 40 feet or 60 feet long.

Advantages and disadvantages of trolley buses

Trolley buses have lots of advantages, they are the only vehicle buses that meet the Clear Air Act (1998) as they produce zero in-street emissions. They also offer quieter operation than diesel buses. Hamilton Street Railway discovered that trolley bus produces less acceleration noise than a Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) or a diesel bus by 35%. Methanol and natural gas buses are a relatively new technology and have not been proven due to low mileage. Trolley buses also have lower maintenance cost than the diesel buses because they don’t have a transmission, exhaust system and fuel system which accounted for 30 to 40 percent of the maintenance cost. A study showed level of ridership increase after the route was converted from diesel to trolley bus line. The trolley buses have better hill-climbing abilities than other transit vehicles. The estimated life-span of a trolleybus is 15 years as opposed to 12 years for a diesel hybrid[1].

Trolley buses have numerous disadvantages as well. They have a higher cost per vehicle than diesel buses with a 40 foot trolley bus costing $400,000 where as a diesel bus costs $210,000, a methanol bus cost $340,000 and a CNG bus cost $225,000. Trolley buses require an infrastructure system including overhead wires, poles and power substations. Converting a diesel bus route to a trolley bus route cost $2 million per mile. Retrofitting the existing diesel buses to reduce emission only cost $80,000 per bus. Trolley buses are criticized for destroying many neighbourhood’s visual amenities because they require an overhead wire system which is visible.


Electric Transit Incorporated


Flyer Industries

New Flyer Industries



Agencies using trolley buses

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(This list is incomplete)

Sources Consulted

The Trolley buses by Rafter David O.

Trolley Coaches Summary Report #2 by Toronto Transit Commission

  1. Trolley Bus System Evaluation - King County Metro,, retrieved 2013-04-06
Public Transit
Types Commuter Rail - Light rail - Streetcar - Subway
Transit Buses
Types Articulated Bus - Bus Rapid Transit - Double Decker Bus - Low Floor Bus - Highway Coach - Shuttle Bus - Trolley Bus
Fuel Compressed Natural Gas - Diesel - Diesel-Electric Hybrid - Gasoline - Hydrogen Fuel Cell - Liquified Natural Gas
Manufacturers Alexander Dennis - Blue Bird - ElDorado National - Gillig - Motor Coach Industries - New Flyer Industries - North American Bus Industries - Nova Bus - Orion International - Prevost Car - Setra - Thomas Built Buses - Van Hool
VIN Pages Alexander Dennis - Blue Bird - Champion - Designline - ElDorado National - Flxible - Flyer Industries - General Motors - Gilig - Ikarus USA - Millennium Transit Services - Motor Coach Industries - New Flyer Industries - Neoplan USA - North American Bus Industries - Nova Bus - Optima Bus - Orion Bus Industries - Prevost Car - Setra - TEMSA - Thomas Built Buses - Transportation Manufacturing Corporation - TransBus International - Van Hool