Trolley buses in Leeds and Lyons?

Tonight the SNP were on Newsnight Scotland extolling the virtues of trolleybuses. Their example was Leeds where they are being installed in lieu of trams, which the government refused to back.

He forgot to mention that Leeds is still also actively pursuing trams (check out the the West Yorkshire passenger travel website).

Another city that is often used as an example of trolley buses is Lyons, which is also installing them. But Lyons also has one of the newest tram systems in France, which is currently being extended (after public campaigning). In the city centre, old trolley bus lines were replaced with trams (and public transport use went up straight after). Trolley buses are being put in on routes unsuitable for trams.

Why is this all happening if trolley buses are so great? It is because they are not an alternative to trams – they need to be in addition to trams.

PS – many people think the SNP may yet back down on trams (but not EARL – they are 100% correct to oppose that nonsense). Check out the BBC’s Brian Taylor’s blogsite. Let’s hope he is right.

Trolley buses carry more people

This is a fantastic site about the relative merits/demerits of trolley buses, it also has some great mockups of pictures of trolley buses in Edinburgh: although none of them going around roundabouts or stuck across a set of traffic lights. (The picture in the link is of a trolleybus at Elm Row, though the artist’s impression does not show there being six other buses there at the same time, which is normally the case).

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against trolley buses, and if trams are ever ruled out I would start campaigning to have trolley buses instead as the next best thing. In fact, once we get trams, we could then start campaigning to have trolley buses put in around the rest of the city.

The main argument against trolley buses is that to get near the same benefits as a tram, you would need to segregate them from the rest of the traffic on separate routes, especially if you want one trolley bus to carry as many people as a tram. That would involve almost as much work as installing a tram line. Those who think that trolley buses are a quick, simple alternative to trams really need to look into the matter a bit more closely.

The way to think about it is to think of a bendy bus. That was trialled in Edinburgh and quickly withdrawn. To make it work would need drastic changes to the infrastructure and layout along the whole route, such as junctions, traffic lights, roundabouts etc. That can be done, by the way, with similar (but not quite as much) disruption as trams, but for a little extra money, you may as well have trams.

Click on this link and see a picture of a 200 person trolley bus in Geneva and imagine it going round the roundabouts at the top of Leith Walk. (By the way, Geneva is busy replacing its buses with trams – see the link to the right about trams in Switzerland).

Electricity makes trolley buses more efficient

This was posted on the Evening News website:

“A trolleybus is different from a normal bus: it runs on electricity from overhead wires (all or most of the time). This makes it (a) more efficient (around twice as efficient as a diesel bus) and (b) clean: no harmful emissions are released in our streets”.

This is very true. Trolley buses are a good solution in many situations.

BUT running on electricity does not exempt them from getting stuck in traffic and all the other myriad disadvantages of driving through a congested city centre. Because of this, they cannot realistically be timetabled as efficiently as a tramway with traffic light sequences etc married to their progress to ensure that they are not snared in traffic.

They are still prone to the “you wait ages, and then 3 come at once” problem because they too would pile up behind each other at traffic lights etc. And in fact it would be even worse due to the fact that because they are connected to wires, it is harder (though not impossible) for them to overtake each other. The more often this has to happen, the more you lose any benefits due to their being trolley buses, and there is time loss for connecting and reconnecting to the overhead wires every time. Having said that, it need not be the case that this be too dramatic apparently

(regarding that you tube clip – the trolley bus there in Beijing appears to be a normal bus, it would still get stuck in traffic. So my point still stands: trolley buses only offer a solution in Edinburgh where they are physically segregated. In which case you may as well have trams)

Trolley buses in Nottingham

Found this on a BBC bulletin board about trams in Nottingham. Many of the arguments put against trams there were very similar to here in Edinburgh (we don’t want them, wrong route etc…).

This was about trolley buses vs trams:

Trams and trolley buses
In response to DW Hardwick, there are lots of reasons why trams were chosen over trolley buses. I say this as a bit of a trolley bus fan myself, but there is no denying that trams are better. Modern trams can: * Carry more people; * Are more attractive to car drivers; * Are more energy efficient; * Generally run off the road where they won’t get caught up in traffic; * Offer a much smoother ride (compare walking along any type of moving bus to walking along a moving tram); * Provide level access for wheelchairs, kids’ buggies etc; * Are roomer (wider); * Only need half the number of overhead wires (as the rails provide one side of the electrical circuit)…. I would disagree about trams breaking down – they very rarely do so. Also trolley buses only offer limited manoeuvrability when on the wires, especially where you have more than one lane of traffic in each direction on a busy road. You don’t want to be going on and off the wires the whole time a! s it is time consuming. Once trolley buses are off the wires and start to use their onboard generators, they are of course as unattractive and inefficient as ordinary diesel or hydrogen cell buses. NET looked at trolley buses and rejected them but I hope they will one day again look at areas that they may be suited to, i.e. areas that are too hilly or built up for trams e.g. Mapperley.

AW, Nottm

(If you want to read more of that discussion yourself, go to the BBC).

This is the unofficial website for the Nottingham tram. And this is the official one.

Trolley buses are cheaper

This isn’t a myth. It is true that trolley buses are cheaper than trams, but then so are horse-drawn carts.  According to Wikipedia, they are about 60% of the cost of a tram system. It all depends on whether you go for straight bus replacements, or build a full-on dedicated trolley bus network.

But unless you go for a full-on network, they are not as good! To get the same quality of service from a trolley bus as a tram requires segregated routes, akin to a guided bus way or a segregated bus lane, which has all the disadvantages of a tram and none of the advantages of a bus.


It would take several of these to carry the same number of people as a tram. They are no better than the buses we have already.

Trolley buses still need wires

It is possible for trolley buses not to need overheard wires, and to get their power supply from cables underground, but this just makes them even more inflexible and unable to overtake each other.

It is also possible to get trolley buses with alternative engines, able to travel some distance away from their power supply (although imagine THIS TROLLEYBUS nimbly moving away from its designated route).

But on the whole, trolley buses still need wires. Their supporters claim we need these in Edinburgh as they are more flexible and cheaper than trams. But this picture below from San Francisco shows what is needed for “maximum flexibility”.

Don’t forget, a trolley bus is no different to a normal bus UNLESS you build guided, segregated routes (just like the rails you need for trams). But a trolley bus carries no more people than a normal bus.

Imagine the number 22 route made up of trolley buses, all unable to overtake each other.