Trolleybus: Back in Focus

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The trolleybus has existed since the 1880’s, reaching its peak in the postwar period before suffering a slump that lasted until the 1980’s. As a public transport mode of choice, it tends to come in and out of fashion depending on the prevailing social, technological, economical and environmental conditions of the time. And though it has yet to regain the status it enjoyed during its heyday, it’s currently experiencing an uptick in popularity. Why?

Because the guiding principle of sustainable public transport means that trolleybus systems are now an attractive starting point for sustainable transport passenger solutions.

Current patterns of provision and consumption of mobility are unsustainable and cities all over the world are facing the same challenge: they must drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and congestion, which is approaching intolerable levels in many cities as the latest WHO report on air quality confirms. Trolleybus systems can play an integral role in providing green transport for well-planned cities of the future, thanks to their position as the only trackless mass transport system that can run on renewable energy.

Trolleybuses have a number of distinct advantages over other modes: they are the most energy-efficient on-road vehicles as they run on pure electricity. Also, there’s no battery, so there’s no range limit. Trolleybus systems don’t require special rail infrastructure, and they’re quieter than trams, thanks to their rubber wheels. Their lifespan is longer than diesel buses because there’s no engine vibration, and their light infrastructure mean they are inherently cheaper to construct than equivalent light rail systems. Finally, they can be hybridised to provide autonomous run with on-board battery storage or generating units. Of course, they have their disadvantages, too, but the choice of transport mode depends on a number of factors such as capacity, cost, urban integration, customer expectations and environmental impact and trolleybus systems can offer the right combination for today’s urban transport planners. 

Just how popular are trolleybuses?

In many cities the trolleybus constitutes a vital part of transport services. They are particularly popular in the Central European region, though there are trolleybus systems all over the world: they are present in about 370 cities with 40,000 vehicles in service in 47 different countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Canada, Ecuador, Mexico, New Zealand, China and Greece.

Increasing awareness of climate change and the pressing need to prepare for a post-petrol future have prompted most of the world’s developed countries to step up the research, testing and deployment of transport systems that use more energy-efficient vehicles. For many future Smart Cities, trolleybuses might just be the winning solution as part of a multimodal public transport system.

Reflecting this resurgence of interest in the Trolleybus, after ten years, the UITP Trolleybus Working Group and its members have been granted their own line in UITP activities and agenda with a new Trolleybus Committee.


For more information, please contact Arno Kerkhof.

UITP members can join the Trolleybus Committee Group on MyUITP here.

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