Electric trolleybuses operated in Edmonton from 1939 until
May of 2009, when the system was closed by a decision of the City Council,
prompted by administration.
Trolleybuses operated on a network of approximately 140 kms of infrastructure and served 46 communities in the central core of the city. By any measure, this was quite an extensive system.
Trolleybuses were generally favored by residents of the communities they served because of their fume-free and quiet operation.
Edmonton’s trolleybus infrastructure was relatively modern in design, having been upgraded extensively and expanded in the 1980’s. However, the system fell victim to poor management during the past two decades. Commitment to the ‘maximum utilization’ of trolleybuses, as dictated by City Council, was decidedly lacking among administrators. Increasingly, diesel buses were substituted for electric trolleys for the smallest of reasons, and the system was no longer utilized to the extent that it was originally intended or designed. This had the effect of driving up per unit costs.
Prior to the system’s closure in 2009, there was considerable debate about the continued use of trolleybuses for more than four years. Several citizen and community groups came forward in Edmonton and strongly challenged the one-sided views presented by city administrators and their consultants seeking to decommission the system. At first, citizens prevailed. A 2004 decision showed 8 councillors in favor of retaining trolleys, and only 5 against. But administrators became much more aggressive with their tactics, and in 2008, when the final decision to replace the trolley fleet had to be made, the citizens of Edmonton lost their trolley system by one vote in City Council.
Administrators were very quick to dismantle the trolley infrastructure, and today nothing visible remains of the extensive overhead wire network except for the support poles. The removal of the trolley system represents a loss of approximately $116 Million in capital assets to the citizens of Edmonton, according to City records, plus approximately $6-7 million for dismantling.
The removal of electric trolleybuses from the streets of Edmonton has resulted in more noise and more fumes in central communities of the city. There is also a perception that the quality of transit service in these areas has declined, with more irregularities in service frequency. At the very least, trolley abandonment is a step backward in terms of transit improvement. But moreover, it is an embarrassment to the good reputation that the City of Edmonton once enjoyed as a progressive, forward-looking city, especially as we come ever nearer to the end of the age of oil.
A compendium of documents relating to trolleybuses in Edmonton, as well as some other cities, has been compiled for those wishing to research this topic and is available here.