Today marks the 70th anniversary of Vancouver’s trolleybus network!
The electric trolleybuses first burst onto the scene as part of the ambitious “rails-to-rubber” conversion to decommission the streetcar network. The first trolleybus, a Canadian Car Brill T-44, hit the roads on August 16, 1948, forever changing the way we move around in the city.
For more than 60 years, the streetcar was the backbone of the region’s transit system. The end of the Great Depression and World War II challenged us to rethink public transit: stay with streetcars and their tracks, or look towards rubber-tired buses.
It was an easy decision at the time. Gasoline and diesel buses were considered not “ready for prime time” and the overhead network was already in place to power the trolleybuses. Streetcars had a single overhead wire for the power and used the steel rails for the ground, so all that was needed was a parallel overhead wire to be installed for the ground.
The first trolley bus route was the Fraser-Cambie, going along Fraser from Marine Drive to Kingsway, then down Main to Pender in Chinatown, left on Pender to Seymour, then to Robson and Cambie and over the Cambie Bridge to 29th Avenue.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
The trolleybus replaced many of the streetcar routes and the last streetcar route departed Vancouver’s streets in 1955. Diesel buses joined the fleet, and later came compressed natural gas, diesel-electric hybrid and even biodiesel briefly. Next year, we’ll begin trialling for four fast-charge battery-electric buses on the 100 Marpole Loop/22nd Street Station route.
Our trolleybus fleet today consists of 262 forty- and sixty-foot buses built by New Flyer, operating on 13 routes. We’re the only transit system in Canada that operates trolleybuses and our fleet is one of the largest in North America! Other cities with trolleybuses include Philadelphia and Seattle.
To celebrate the trolleybus network’s 70th birthday, a 1954 Canadian Car Brill T-48A trolleybus — in the BC Hydro and Power Authority livery — returns Vancouver’s streets for rides on August 16, 18 and 24!
Also, check out the pictures of Vancouver’s trolleybus network through the years! All photos courtesy of retired bus operator Angus McIntyre.