Trolley Buses? Not For Toronto (Update 2)

The TTC commissioned a report from Dr. Richard Soberman on the economics of trolley bus operation in Toronto.   Cutting to the chase, the conclusion is that creating a new system from scratch is uneconomic, and we should wait for coming improvements in electric vehicles.

Soberman’s report makes a strong case against trolley buses on its basic economic arguments, and that’s a debate worth having.  However, electric vehicles have yet to make a substantial dent in the personal car market, let alone for vehicles the size of a city bus.

I have one simple reply:  Remember CNG?  The saviour of the enviroment for the TTC?  We lost the old system through neglect and through belief in an unproven technology, not to mention political machinations.

For your reading pleasure:

Commission report and summary

Dr. Soberman’s report

Updated February 15:

A detailed review has been added to this post.  Some of the document is reasonably accurate, but there are enough outright mistakes and misdirections to cast the whole thing in an unsavoury light.  This is a report that tries to sound balanced while hoping we won’t notice what it gets wrong either by accident or by design.

Update 2, February 16: My long-time Vancouver friend Angus McIntyre pointed out two issues with the Soberman report.

  • Vancouver will order an additional 34 articulated trolley buses funded from the Federal gas tax.  This adds to the new fleet of 188 standard and 40 articulated buses.  These plans are not reflected in the TTC report even though the press release is over a month old.
  • The substation spacing of 1.5 to 2km is a measure used on “feederless” systems such as Seattle’s where small local stations feed directly into the contact wires rather than the Toronto or Vancouver model with large substations feeding a local network of services.  Has the report used Seattle’s close spacing, but Toronto’s costs for larger substations?

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