In Search of a Better Bus

For decades now, transit agencies in some cities have been holding their breath waiting for a 'better bus' to come along. In the 1940's and 50's, many transit agencies were impressed by the notion of "flexibility" touted by the diesel bus industry and replaced electric transit with diesel buses only to find that the diesel engine's slow performance, noise and fumes actually drove riders away. Many cities about to build trolley systems have held off at the promise of a bus that would be 'better' than the trolley, only to find that their magic bus still hasn't arrived. Even cities with trolley systems have held off building much needed extensions. One often hears statements like "the fuel cell bus is just around the corner" or "the hybrid bus holds a lot of promise". If we examine these technologies closely, we find that they might offer cleaner alternatives to diesel buses, but they are clearly not a replacement for trolleybuses. Perhaps it's time we stopped holding our breath. An investment in proven trolleybus technology could allow us to reduce our dependence on expensive petroleum fuels, increase the sustainability of public transit, and reduce our environmental impacts.

The state of the most commonly cited alternatives to diesel are summarized below:

CNG buses

Diesel-Electric Hybrid buses

Fuel Cell buses

The future in Edmonton?
Drawing by Peter McLaughlin:

Developments in alternative technologies indicate that there is unlikely to be a 'better' bus available than the trolleybus in the foreseeable future.