Trolley Coaches for Toronto?

One side effect of retirement is that I am finally dealing with years of accumulated files.  Yes, I admit it, I have more paper than I need (especially now that so much is available in electronic format), and some of those old reports about obscure parts of the system really are not high points of my bedroom reading.

In the course of sorting through things, one always bumps into items that are misfiled, that faded from memory.  One of these was an envelope I had kept because of the postmark dated May 4, 1972.

TTCPostmark4V72c

So much has changed.  Postage is a lot more than eight cents, and the postal code of “Toronto 7” is positively quaint.  The slogan “Ride With Us No Traffic Fuss!” is classic, but the real gem is the trolley coach as the symbol of progressive transit.

Back in 1972, the trolley coaches had a future.  Vehicles soon to be displaced from the 97 Yonge route by the opening of the Yonge Subway to York Mills were destined to replace streetcars on St. Clair (even though there were nowhere near enough of them to actually do that).  The TTC was still committed to electric operation, and the equipment in these coaches would be recycled into new bus bodies from Flyer.  Nobody had heard of Natural Gas Buses.

Today, the TTC resists calls to re-examine trolley coaches on the grounds that pure electric buses without wires are just around the corner.  I remain unconvinced, and look forward to a day when a modern trolley coach will appear in TTC literature.

32 thoughts on “Trolley Coaches for Toronto?

  1. I lived in the West End of Vancouver for the better portion of my life and most of the buses in that area are Trolley buses. The West End is a very densely populated area and trolley buses do help to cut down the noise pollution around there — you could always hear the diesel buses when they ventured into our neighborhood. Trolley buses also help cut down on the local area emissions since Vancouver, because of landscape, gets quite a bit of air pollution — not LA levels but noticeable to me. Toronto could use some local cleaning as well. After living so many years their I didn’t even notice all the cables.

    Steve: A friend of mine refers to the overhead as “celestial hardware”. It’s always telling that opponents of this mode use the term “visual pollution” as an attempt to counterbalance the unsavoury aspects of diesel buses.

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  2. That postmark looks out of date even for 1972. Weren’t the trolleys well into their Flyer body rebuild, if not completed, by then? And the envelope, for that matter; I thought we were using postal codes by that point. But the TTC wasn’t exactly in the vanguard of progress even in those days…

    Steve: Yes, I just checked, and the rebuild program completed in April 1972 making that postmark even more anachronistic. The postal codes changed to three-digit versions in May 1969, and the current system rolled out mainly through 1972-4.

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  3. For me, the problem with the trolley buses was the complex maze of overhead trolley wires at the intersections along Annette Street with the other trolley bus routes. Having two wires, one for power and the other for ground, meant they subject to dewiring more often, even if the buses passed under them slowly.

    Nowadays, there are duel-power buses that can switch between diesel or overhead electric, as needed. As well, there are battery backups that can run the trolley buses (and light rail for that matter) for a couple of kilometers, in case of dead power, or short turns.

    Steve: Two points here. Yes, the curves for infrequently used movements would not need to be installed because off-wire capability could be used. Also, Toronto’s overhead was never as well built as Vancouver’s where trolleys can zip through intersections without fear of tearing them down even though some are fairly complex. It’s another of those classic TTC problems of poor maintenance on a mode they want to get rid of.

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  4. “Celestial Hardware!” Best description yet. And they produced their own celstial sound, too, quite distinct from a streetcar. When the poles hit a switch, the sound was like some delicate crystalline percussion instrument. And when the vehicles were at speed, the poles hitting the connections to the cross-wire every 60 feet or so, sounded like the chirp of a metallic-bird. Messaien meets Varèse. Oh, to hear those delicate, environmentally friendly sounds again.

    But, is there absolutely no one, not even off-the-record, talking about revisiting trolley buses? Would it help to start a rumour about converting Dufferin or Keele to trolley bus service?

    Steve: I don’t know how many here were fans of Da Vinci’s Inquest, shot in Vancouver, but the director managed to get a trolleybus, often going through special work, including sound effects, in almost every show.

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  5. I love the idea of reviving the trolleybuses, and agree Dufferin is probably the best demo route all things considered. That said, I’d rather see Transit City built first. Trolley busses, some rapid bus routes and general priority improvements for busses in general seems like a great “Transit City II”. I’m thinking along the lines of an enhanced ridership growth strategy, with the goal of pushing projects that will have dramatic (or apparently dramatic) effect to the end user but are reasonably within the citie’s financial abilities.

    Basically, great idea, but not something so important that I’d be happy to see it diverting attention from Transit City (ok, ok, except for my well known aversion to the Sheppard East LRT).

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  6. Well I really honestly hate to be a broken record here but i’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is absolutely, positively ZERO chance of TBs ever returning to Toronto. There isn’t a sentient creature in the universe who love to see TBs in Toronto more than I do but I’m afraid that even the most infinitesimal chance of that happening simply does not exist. I’m no psychic prophet but given the proven fact that the TTC is small-minded, we can all bet the farm on them never returning. You see, once a transit system shows small-mindedness by getting rid of TBs it always stays that way.

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  7. Steve: were you on a Trolley Coach fan trip on Bay that was to use the loop at Davenport and Bay where there wasn’t wire from eastbound Davenport to the loop? The driver agreed to try it if the passengers would agree to push the bus if it didn’t make it back to the wires (it did).

    Steve: Yes. One of the nice things about TCs is that they are easy to move. I was on a fantrip in Dayton once where standard procedure was to go out to near the end of one route, and then roll downhill through a sidestreet to another nearby route for the return trip into town.

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  8. “You see, once a transit system shows small-mindedness by getting rid of TBs it always stays that way.”

    Not necessarily: Philadelphia (SEPTA) suspended TBs for several years, scrapping all the second-generation AM General buses, but recently brought back TBs on three of the five routes where they were recently used. I got to ride the 66 Frankford trolley buses (where they make use of express runs on express wire) last week while there.

    Though they are very slow in restoring their surface trolley routes – only the 15 Girard was restored, but intact track and wire from “suspended” routes can be found all over the city, as well as the still-operating subway-surface and suburban trolley service.

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  9. David Aldinger said: There isn’t a sentient creature in the universe who love to see TBs in Toronto more than I do but I’m afraid that even the most infinitesimal chance of that happening simply does not exist.

    Wrong. I’m pretty sentient myself.

    Sean Marshall said: Philadelphia (SEPTA) suspended TBs for several years, scrapping all the second-generation AM General buses, but recently brought back TBs on three of the five routes where they were recently used. I got to ride the 66 Frankford trolley buses (where they make use of express runs on express wire) last week while there.

    See?….HOPE!!!!!

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  10. Question Steve: Your response to W.K. Lis that Toronto’s overhead was never as well built as Vancouver’s makes me wonder, how would Vancouver have dealt with the Dundas/Ossington, or even the Annette/Keele intersection?

    Steve: Dundas Ossington is quite straightforward with TB wired crossing streetcar wire. All that is needed is to keep positive and negative isolated from each other, just as would occur for TB crossing TB. Annette/Keele would have most of its curves installed because they were all used for shop moves. However, left turns would include a long leader separate from the through wire so that buses could pull out of the main flow and so that they were not having their poles in an extreme alignment just at the point where the bus would turn.

    There are a few important differences in Vancouver construction methods. First, they use modern hardware (K&M typically) that provides a floating suspension for the wire providing more give under stress. Also, they use K&M special work for locations where turnouts are intended to be taken at speed, and they have the direction selector set well back from the switch. However, there is still a lot of OB overhead fittings (the sort we saw in Toronto), but their suspension is better (see below).

    The other important difference is that intersections have a secondary level of suspension with a network of span wires above them. This means that the heavy pieces are suspended from above rather than from the side, and there is much less stress needed in the lateral span wires. All of this contributes to stability and resilience of the overhead.

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  11. Thanks Steve. I MEANT to say Dupont and Ossington rather than Dundas and Ossington, but the answer would be the same as for Keele and Annette.

    The heavy pieces from above suspending the intersection wires, would that just not give the “sight pollution” critics more ammo?

    Steve: People who use “visual pollution” or its equivalents are not interested in having a discussion. They are using whatever verbal trickery they can to convince people that electric buses are bad and anything else (with the possible exception of Swan Boats, and only because they don’t sell them) are good. Anyone who has been paying attention will notice that TTC has changed the way they run feeders to streetcar overhead. There is a separate span wire carrying the feeder and then a tap down to the running wire. This keeps the two pieces of suspension independent of each other. Nobody has complained about streets vanishing under darkened skies.

    With newer technology, would it have been really necessary to have all the switches to connect Toronto’s trolley bus routes in order to get a dead-head bus from any given route to Lansdowne garage? Switches would be more effective with scheduled short turns, while pull-ins and pull outs could be handled by battery power.

    Steve: No I think garage moves should have their overhead because they were certainly numerous in locations like Dupont and Lansdowne or even at Ossington given the frequency of the route. But the loop around the island, and any turns to the east would not be needed. Of course, the garages would have little special work at all, only wiring where needed to keep the buses running while parked or for testing.

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  12. My first experience with TBs goes back to when my family moved to San Francisco in the early ’70s. They were still running the old 1950s buses, of at least 2 different makes. Though they were clearly near end-of-life and looking rather worn, they were still nicer to ride than the diesel buses (mostly GM “fishbowls”). After testing a couple of older model Flyers, Muni replaced its entire fleet of aging trolley with brand-new Flyer couches (somewhat older design to what I saw running in Vancouver in the mid-1990’s).

    In the late 70’s, Muni replaced its feet of aging PCC cars with new Boeing LRTs (running underground above BART along Market St) and rebuilt its entire overhead – they needed to, as the LRTs used pantographs. I noticed right away “de-wiring” was now rare and the TB no longer had to crawl through intersections. Soon after Muni converted serveral of its diesel bus routes to TB – given the City’s many severe hills, this brough about some inprovements in service (no longer did one have to get out of a packed diesel bus and walk beside it to the top of a steep block). On recent visits to the Bay Area I noticed new TBs (complete with bike racks on front) and what appear to be some kind of battery pack on the roof.

    By constrast I saw our TB fleet decay, with the TTC having no interest in keeping it going (final insult having to lease TBs from Edmonton). Much as I’d love to see new TBs in Toronto, I just don’t see the TTC bringing them back, but who knows. I can think of at least a few lines with sufficiently high ridership (some identified as routes for Transit City) that could work well as TB routes: Eglinton (32 and 34), Don Mills (25) to mention a couple.

    Phil

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  13. I now live in a city (Ottawa) that was the last Canadian city to introduce trolley buses (1951) and the first to abandon them (1959). The plans Ottawa had for a trolley bus system was impressive, and contrary to Toronto’s was for the most part going to be located in the prestigious Rockliffe community. Alas, Ottawa lost both streetcar and trolley bus service because Mayor Charlotte Whitton, a virulent automobile supporter, claimed that — wait for it — the electrical infrastracture of such an operation was vulnerable in case of a Soviet attack.

    Really????

    More so than a bus barn in the middle of what was then fields, basically crying out “bomb me!!”

    The whole concept was ridiculous even if you did believe in the posibility of a nuclear attack, because, let’s face it, if one began, who the hell cares what was going to happen: it was ALL going to vaporize!

    Ah, what could have been in Ottawa: we lost a terrific streetcar private-right-of-way in the BRITANNIA line, and a trolley bus infrastructure. With the exception of streetcars (maybe), I wish Ottawa would stop “mimicking” Toronto. Some here still want to try CNG!. Well, at least we don’t have a subway, and we’re giving up on Double-deckers (by the looks of it). We are about to experience the same problems with hybrids as Toronto as we are expecting a deluge of about 90 vehicles to start service (I was recently at the Daimler plant in Misssissauga and photographed a number of TTC and OC Transpo hybrids sitting side-by-side waiting for delivery).

    But I SO wish Ottawa would consider Trolley Buses again. Dare I say it, other smaller cities that once had TB operations, like Kitchener-Waterloo, Cornwall, and Thunder Bay, should consider them once again, and any other smaller city that is looking for a sustainable transit alternative.

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  14. Trolley buses are a tool with a unique property, you get to use existing roads, but save on the noise and fumes from diesel buses. Streets in Toronto with heavy bus traffic, should be converted to streetcar operation, and some of those streets are now being considered for it. Transit City II will probably add considerably more.

    Now take a city like Peterborough, if they want to cut the noise and fumes from buses in the downtown core, there isn’t the traffic to warrant street cars, so trolley buses would be a good solution, cutting the noise and fumes from heavy bus routes into the downtown bus terminal.

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  15. Wogster makes a good point – for example, high density bus lines should be converted to streetcar lines. Buses could be re-assigned to other routes to increase service (and hopefully usage.) Some bus routes (especially lower demand routes) could be re-assigned as trolly bus routes (at least at first.)

    Other routes (like downtown routes not assigned to streetcars) may also benefit from trolley buses to reduce pollution in the downtown core (while still allowing the vehicle to “pull over” to pick up/drop off passengers.

    The “visual pollution” is somewhat true – if there are too many wires can distort the “look” of a street. But, I’d prefer to see more streetcars and a return of trolly buses rather then “virtual” parking lots (i.e. roads with lots of cars on them.)

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  16. Further to Wogster’s unique property comment. Trolley buses can also utilize much tighter curves and narrower roads than streetcars. We never really saw this in Toronto with the exception of Bedford Rd. (I’m only counting narrow streets with two-way operation). Again, this may have been lack of imagination, or ingenuity on Toronto’s part, but the technology to tackle tight turns–even u-turns–existed. There are many mid-size cities (like Ottawa) and smaller cities (like Barrie or Stratford) that operate routes along narrow residential or older “downtown” streets that, from Toronto’s operational standpoint, are too narrow for TB operation (actually from T.O.’s point-of-view, even for diesel operation: most cities operate services on roads, or through malls and shopping-centres, that Toronto would not even consider, especially if speed-bumps are involved).

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  17. “Visual pollution” is a live issue in Europe – witness French cities spending huge sums on ground power for trams (Bordeaux, Reims, Angers) or batteries (Nice) rather than string wires across medieval architecture.

    In Toronto, we deal with technology impacting on historic structures by selling the structures to developers and letting them knock them down.

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  18. David Cavlovic says:

    “Further to Wogster’s unique property comment. Trolley buses can also utilize much tighter curves and narrower roads than streetcars.”

    I don’t think so. ALRVs can make the turn from northbound McCaul to eastbound Dundas, which has been the normal diversion every Remembrance Day. I can’t see a bus being able to make this turn if there’s any westbound traffic on Dundas. Streecars pivot around the middle of the body; buses pivot around the back wheels. The front end of the bus follows a considerably different route from the back wheels; streetcar trucks all (hopefully) follow exactly the same route.

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  19. re: Ed’s comment on my comment.

    I have actually seen a bus turn from nortbound McCaul to eastbound Dundas many times. Not TTC buses though: full-blooded 40-foot-plus tour buses. Two things are needed. First of all, the driver turns the wheel to the left BEFORE turning to the right in order to increase his turning radius. Secondly the driver is able to do this thanks to power steering, something that all TTC buses now have. (btw. the Intersection of Bank and Somerset in Ottawa is as tight, if not tighter, than Dundas & McCaul, and the 60 ft-artics take the turn with no problem due to the two functions I just mentioned.

    I say “now have” because power steering wasn’t always considered a priority equipment need (ah! Well do I remember those first generation Flyer D-700’s, with their 3-and-a-half-turns-and-that’s- it!-steering wheel [which you also had to steer back!!!]. If you, the poor driver, did not properly allign your 79 SCARLETT RD., or 58 MALTON bus for the horrid left-turn from eastbound Lawrence onto North-westbound Weston Rd., you were screwed.) It wasn’t until the cost of physiotherapy rose sky high for bus drivers (think of all the suburban routes with their winding streets, never mind 82 ROSEDALE or 78 ST. ANDREWS), that the TTC decided it would be cheaper to install and/or retrofit buses with power steering. I’m still amazed they expected buses in the 50’s to wye when all they had was standard transmission!

    Steve: Odd, isn’t it, how the TTC regarded “modern” conveniences for drivers as frills until it started costing them money in lost time. The same thing happened with the Recaro seats in all vehicles.

    But back to tight turns: there is a picture, somewhere on a transit fansite, of streetcar operation on a 180º turn on an incline in San Francisco. During streetcar operation, only double-enders could operate on this line, because the only way the streetcars could negotiate the turn was by doing a switch back: run into a tail-track and then back out going up (or down) the opposite way from coming in). This line was converted to trolley bus operation, and another photo shows TB’s comfortably managing the 180º in one fell swoop. The picture is also a good demonstration as to how trolley bus overhead can handle the same situation.

    Could a trolley bus handle north on McCaul to east on Dunds? Yup.

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  20. “I have actually seen a bus turn from nortbound McCaul to eastbound Dundas many times. Not TTC buses though: full-blooded 40-foot-plus tour buses. Two things are needed. First of all, the driver turns the wheel to the left BEFORE turning to the right in order to increase his turning radius.”

    I’m willing to bet that somewhere the bus is to the left of the centreline, either leading up to the turn, or in the finishing of the turn. The streetcar overhangs may come a bit over the centre line, but that’s it.

    Note that streetcars made sharp turns in Buenos Aries by the same expedient: the curve track swung the opposite way to give a greater radius for the turns.

    The thing is, the bus needs to ensure there isn’t opposing traffic when it swings out over the centre line. That’s caused a lot of backups.

    Actually, I have a recent observation in Toronto. The eastbound curb lane of Queen through the Dufferin underpass was closed. Dufferin buses struggled to make the turn, and there was a police officer running out into the street to direct westbound car traffic out of the buses’ way.

    A 501 ALRV came north on Dufferin, and smoothly turned onto eastbound Queen, no problems.

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  21. Ed:
    Streetcars still need a devilstrip clearance that make them impractical for narrow streets like Bedford Rd. Other than that, I really don’t see the problem of buses swinging here there or anywhere. The point was more about how trolley buses can handle certain road conditions, and streetcar others, and that “traditional” buses operating with some fuel type other than from overhead are not the be-all and end-all as transit options the way some city planners have believed as sacrosanct.

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  22. Graceful and smooth turns made me think further: there is no more graceful a turn than that by a swan(boat) (cue Orlando Gibbons “The Silver Swan”).

    Steve: For the words and historical info, go to Wikipedia. The swan laments for death saying “More Geese than Swans now live, more Fools than Wise.” While this may describe the situation at Metrolinx, I’m not planning to go anywhere.

    Thanks you for this delicious cultural interlude. I spent the evening at an opera gala and am in a very vocal mood.

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  23. Vancouver is using a single track streetcar during the Olympics, with passing sidings. Some streets in Toronto had single track streetcars on them (ie. Weston) before they were converted to (trolley) buses. In the rest of the world, there are even tracks where they overlap each other on narrow streets.

    Steve: But this only works with infrequent service.

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  24. I’ve been giving this some thought and as for what I said earlier about zero chance of TBs returning to Toronto the way to prove me wrong is to get some kind of grass roots movement or pressure group going and learn just how to work the politicians at all levels, not to mention the political system itself. And while we’re at it learn exactly how to work the Commission. Anybody familiar with the old saying about the sqeaky wheel getting the grease?

    Steve: I have a suspicion that the Commission needs a little while to digest getting Transit City underway as well as a reality check about what alternatives to TBs really exist. Unfortunately, we are at a point in fleet planning where a lot of the old junk has been, or is soon to be retired and by the time any decision to shift into TBs is taken, we will be back in a period of ordering few buses. This will be compounded as the TC lines come onstream and displace buses from major routes.

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  25. “I spent the evening at an opera gala and am in a very vocal mood.”

    Was this the Toronto Summer Music Opera Studio? How was it? That’s one thing I miss about Toronto. You don’t get as much opera here in Ottawa.

    Steve: Yes it was, and it was fabulous. Sitting in the front row didn’t hurt either. As for Ottawa, you seem to get far more dance up there than we do, but maybe that’s a “the grass is always greener” point of view.

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  26. Steve: I have a suspicion that the Commission needs a little while to digest getting Transit City underway as well as a reality check about what alternatives to TBs really exist. Unfortunately, we are at a point in fleet planning where a lot of the old junk has been, or is soon to be retired and by the time any decision to shift into TBs is taken, we will be back in a period of ordering few buses. This will be compounded as the TC lines come onstream and displace buses from major routes.

    On the other hand, with the slowness of the TTC and fleet lifetimes the post TC period might be the proper time to start planting the idea. Taken as a whole though, I think that’s a pretty good assesment. It seems to me that the Hamilton north south rapid transit project might be the best place in the Greater Golden Horseshoe to push for trolleybuses.

    While light rail seems to have already won out for the east west line, what about a bus tunnel on a similar alignment to the old ICTS proposal’s tunnel? ETBs could handle the hill very nicely, dual mode busses would reduce the cost of getting to the airport (which seems to be a major goal) and the mountain seems like an ideal place for rapidway model BRT, with routes fanning out from the PROW core line (presumably the electrified route down the mountain out of Mohawk). Electric vehicles would be very good downtown with a lot of Hamilton’s streets being even more canyon like than Bay.

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  27. Steve, I grew up at Rogers Road and Dufferin. I rode everyone of the TB runs because most were in that area. They were an excellent alternativ to what we have today. I used to be able to hear the Rogers car half a block away. After it was changed over to the Ossington extension, I missed it several times because I could not hear it!!

    And when I was in Vancouver, I could not believe how fast the TBs could fly across the Granville Street Bridge.

    Check out the service changes for York Region Transit (I live now in Richmond Hill) effective in September. Go to the TTC routes contractually operating in York Region. Check out how many routes are cutting back due to “fleet availability”.

    We’re back to the argument of these faulty electric buses. The tecnology has been there for a long time. In fact, Lyon, France started TB operations in conjunction with their subway system. With three systems of government here very seldom in unison for transit, it makes it even more disturbing and impossible I think to bring TBs back.

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  28. On the bright side, the new buses that have been pouring into the fleet since 2005 or so will be retiring in the 2020-2025 range. The opportunity to explore TBs isn’t as far off as it may seem, diesel buses only last 18 years (TBs last significantly longer).

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  29. To Karl about the bus lifespan … I go to work from Richmond Hill to Yonge and Eglinton around 4AM. I can honestly say that I see almost every day one those buses broken down with the pylons in front of it. One day, I passed by 4!!!! Sometimes on Yonge, sometimes on the side routes. So, I think these buses may have an even shorter life than we have been led to believe.

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  30. Here’s a thought that would make the bus builder shudder – It couldn’t be very hard to add trolley poles and a DC-DC converter/charger to those hybrids could it? The reduced size and weight of the new replacement battery packs should have easily offered up enough spare weight capacity for additional hardware like that. Suddenly you’ve got a dual-mode vehicle with off-wire capability and black-out protection. Magic!

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  31. I’m intrigued by those old postal codes and recently asked Canada Post which ones existed and what areas they covered. They had no record of any such information!

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