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Trolley buses: a historical transit lesson

Trolley buses: a historical transit lesson

The 14 Hastings streetcar: looking north on Granville from Robson, 1950. Photo by Vic Sharman.
The 14 Hastings streetcar: looking north on Granville from Robson, 1950.
Photo by Vic Sharman.

When I moved out here from Toronto nearly two years ago now, one of the first things I did was explore the city. How, you ask? On the bus! So I hopped on a bus to adventure around my new city.

At least, I thought it was a bus. It had large, yellow tubes attached to wires overhead. It reminded me of my streetcars on the TTC… but no tracks. What a strange beast this was. I was informed by a fellow rider that the beast was, indeed, a trolley bus! Huh. Who knew?

But how long has it been around and why do we use it? Being a former journalist and the daughter of a history teacher, I needed to know the answers.

Trolley buses have been in operation in Metro Vancouver since 1948 and the first routes were replacements for the old streetcar routes in the region.

We actually have 188 40-foot conventional and 74 60-foot articulated New Flyer E40LFR low-floor trolleys operated by the Coast Mountain Bus Company. That means we have the second largest and most modern electric trolley fleet in all of North America!

Trolley buses in downtown Vancouver.
Trolley buses in downtown Vancouver.

Each trolley utilizes a network of overhead wires that span 315 kms through Vancouver and Burnaby. Because we’re using electricity, it’s a very environmentally friendly transit option. Yay for greener transportation!

You can still see a few of Vancouver’s first trolley buses manufactured by the Canadian Car and FoundryJ.G. Brill Company. They have been preserved by the Transit Museum Society out of CMBC’s Surrey transit centre. Namely, a 1947 T44 No. 2040 and a 1954 T48A Nos. 2414 and 2416.

If you’re as interested as I am in this cool vehicle hybrid, check out the Edmonton Trolley Coalition for pictures and information on trolley buses from around the world.

Feel free to impart this historical transit trivia to fellow riders the next time you take a trolleybus!

Author: Adrienne Coling