Trolley Buses aren’t the solution to Montreal’s transit needs

There has been lots of talk about using trolley buses instead of trams for Montreal’s plan de transport.  I’m not one of them.   Trolley buses have fewer advantages than people expect. On a one-to-one replacement basis, they are just buses that don’t emit CO2.

Being simply buses that run on electricity, they have the same disadvantages as diesel buses.

Trolleys buses are no faster than regular diesel buses. Therefore will be no more likely to convince people to change their travel habits.

Trolley buses require two contact wires above the bus resulting in complicated and ugly wiring. Trams, since they use a pantograph with current return in the rails, only need a single wire resulting in a much more harmonious integration with the city.

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, regular diesel buses have considerable advantages over cars already. For an urban environment these are the estimated energy consumption and emissions:

Transport Type



Car (single occupant)



Diesel Bus (full)



Diesel-Electric Hybrid Bus (full):



Electric Bus(full)



Tram (full)



Hydro Quebec and STM

From a greenhouse gas reduction point of view, we need to get people out of their cars. Simply replacing diesel buses with electric (or even hybrid) ones will do very little to convince people to leave their cars at home.

As shown in the table above, Trams also use roughly half as much energy as a bus of any type. Last year, the STM spent 40 million dollars in fuel but only 23 million in electricity for the metro.

Labour costs are a very considerable factor in the operating costs of the STM. According to their 2009 budget, salaries account for 63.7% of the operating costs. Trams are one way of improving the passenger to driver ratio and reducing labour costs since they can transport more people and can even be coupled together to form a double length train but still operated by just one person. Of course, I would want to see those drivers assigned to other routes to improve the overall level of service.

Trams are matched only by metros in the speed in which people can get on and off:

  • A 30m tram will typically have 6 wide doors for entry/exit.
  • Regular Buses have 1 exit and 1 entrance/exit
  • The articulated Buses have 2 exits and 1 entrance/exit

This is another of the reasons why Trams can travel faster – they spend less time stopped picking up passengers.

Trams are definitely the way to go. Lets stop talking about it and just do it!


3 comments so far

  1. Blog / on

    […] written by arrakis, on Aug 31, 2009 12:54:00 PM. Dimanche passé, le 30 août 2009, cela faisait 50 ans que le dernier tramway roulait à Montréal. En effet c'est en 1959 que la fameuse commission des transports de la ville mettait fin au transport sur rails.Aujourd'hui, on repense à cette décision avec dégout, avec incompréhension: Mais pourquoi avons nous sommes-nous défait de cette flotte complète de tramway ? Pourquoi avons-nous donné toute la place à l'automobile?Aujourd'hui, tout ça nous semble complètement illogique. On parle de l'implantation de nouvelles lignes de train de banlieue, de l'implantation d'un nouveau réseau de tramway sur les lignes de bus les plus fréquentées. C'est la revanche des transports collectifs. Pour souligné l'événement, l'association des amis du tramway de Montréal a organisé une exposition sur l'histoire du tram à Montréal et une rétrospective des leur implantation dans le monde et ce qui pourrait se faire chez nous.Juste pour reprendre quelques données pigées sur le blog transport montréal:                                                                kj / km                   g CO2 / km Automobile (un seul occupant) […]

  2. […] James Lawlor (Transport in Montreal) discusses trolly buses vs. trams […]

  3. SCallihan on

    Seattle has as good as decided to replace its aging fleet of 159 electric trolley buses with new models, probably similar to those purchased by Vancouver and San Francisco in the last few years.

    As a regular rider of trolley buses in Seattle, I can say they have plenty of advantages over diesel and hybrid-diesel buses. Besides being emission-free, they’re quieter, give a much smoother ride, have faster acceleration, and are much better at climbing hills. They are ideal in densely populated environments, with frequent stops, boardings, and exitings. Riders do like them and are more likely to ride them than stinky diesels. The primary disadvantage, being stuck to the wires, is no longer a drawback wiith the new models, which have off-wire capability.

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