In spite of the TTC’s self-congratulatory publicity about its largest-in-North-America electric fleet, elecric buses have been around a long time and in greater numbers in the form of trolley coaches.
Toronto had a very small fleet in the 1920s, but the mode came into its own in the 1940s when the TTC replaced streetcars on some routes with trolley coaches to retire aging rail equipment. These vehicles served Toronto for two decades, and in the late 1960s, the TTC experimented with reconditioned electrical gear in a new bus body.
Western Flyer (as it then was) 9020 was the result, with the fleet number taken from the coach whose equipment was recycled. During its experimental period, a group of transit enthusiasts (we were not yet respectable enough to be called “advocates” or any haughtier term) took the prototype out for a spin on the network of routes based at Lansdowne Garage.
The robust nature of 1940s electrical gear allowed it to be reused in new buses, and the “new” fleet ran for over two decades. Using old electrics saved on the cost of new buses, but brought the downside that the buses had no off-wire capability.
Now, with batteries and a mixture of charging schemes, the electric bus has been rediscovered. In a few cities like Vancouver, it was never forgotten.
The TTC could still have a trolley coach network, probably much bigger than the one it dumped in 1992 for the then-latest “green” fad: “clean” natural gas buses that did not last ten years.
For more about the history of trolley coaches in Toronto, see Transit Toronto’s site.