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Edmonton [CA] - Trolleybuses saved ?

M. Schindler - 21.07.05


In a 8-5 vote Edmonton's City Council decided to retain Edmonton's current trolleybus system with a possibility of extending the lines to Northgate in 2006.
Edmontonians will be able to breathe easier for at least the next 4 years, granted that management from ETS, Mobile Equipment Service's, and Transportation and Streets make sure that the trolleybuses run, and that the trolleybuses are maintained to the same standards as the diesel bus fleet.
It would only take a casual observer to notice the lack of maintenance on the current trolleybus fleet. The most obvious thing being the corrosion persistent around a the wheels on a large number of trolleybuses. Virtually all GM diesels on the road have had body panels replaced to correct this, however only a small number, very small number of trolleybuses even saw patches over this. As well, the rear "window rear" on a lot of GM diesels was replaced. You will notice this if you look at a bus and around the rear window area the paint looks fresher. Not a single trolley had this done to it. IT WAS DELIBERATE. What are they going to do with the trolleybuses now? Well, a large number of trolleybuses formerly in storage at Cromdale have been moved to Westwood Garage to be readied for service. From what I have heard, due to corrosion on some of Edmonton's trolleybuses it will be cheaper to retire the worst buses, and bring some stored units back into service.
This may also mean that we will see the first mass retirements on BBC's. I think that only 3 units have technically been retired, #109, and 110 sold to Dayton, and possibly #191. This bus is rumored to have had its poles and electrics removed to be a test for converting the surplus trolleys to diesels. I would think it would be doubt full that this bus would return to service. About the time the stored units at Cromdale were coming out, may other buses were seen outside of Westwood and Mitchell Garage lacking such parts as retrievers and roll signs, things that go into stores, and in the case of roll signs, would be needed into Toronto buses returning to service.
How did council vote in the 8-5 vote?

For

Karen Leibovici - Ward 1
Ron Hayter- Ward 2
Ed Gibbons- Ward 3
Janice Melnychuk- Ward 3
Michael Phair- Ward 4
Bryan Anderson- Ward 5
Larry Langley- Ward 5
Dave Theile- Ward 6

Against

Bill Smith- Mayor
Stephen Mandel- Ward 1
Allan Bolstad- Ward 2
Jane Batty- Ward 4
Terry Cavangh- Ward 6

Note that this was on the motion to continue trolleybus operations until at least 2008. There were other motions that were voted on and in fact 1 was a 10-2 vote. Mayor Bill Smith and I think Jane Batty always voted against the motion.
So, why did Mayor Bill Smith vote against the trolleys? Bill Smith is always trying to promote the City of Edmonton and in my opinion, a trolleybus system would be something worth promoting to the world. Imagine, a brochure or TV ad Edmonton with a shot of one of Edmonton's many festivals, or a shot of our river valley as a clean quite, modern trolleybus rolls by.
Instead Bill Smith went on a rant to council, and this probably more for the media, implying that taxes will need be raised. The fact is, trolleys replacements and operations are already funded in the long term budget.
Jane Batty called the trolleybuses a luxury. Well, I guess she feels I don't deserve the luxury of cleaner air to breathe in that case.
Council has been trying to redevelop the Downtown with high density housing (high rise apartments), and more shopping areas, and is always trying to attract new companies to our city. This will only put more vehicles into our Downtown core, and with more people living Downtown it only makes sense to try to give them as clean of air as possible.
So, how was this system saved after this attempt on the trolleybuses by management... people paid to do this?
The Edmonton Transit System Advisory Board was strongly against scrapping of the system, as well as Citizen's For Better Transit and the Edmonton Trolley Coalition. It was obvious from a public hearing when 22 people filled an afternoon with pro trolley speeches that citizens felt strongly for our trolleys. One Councillor said that they had received letters from around the world, even letters from engineers! Everyone's voice counted, and we would not be where we are today had it not been for everyone who took time to phone, write letters, speak to council, put up and take down posters. What did we have to fight against?
Last summer in July this issue was suddenly thrust into council, apparently as a money saving item. Coinciding with this the first of 3 Hybrid buses showed up in Edmonton. They were trying to get rid of trolleybuses by the end of year. It was alarming how fast they were trying to move to get $70 million of infrastructure torn down.
In September, American firm Booze Allen Hamilton (BAH) was brought into do a study on the trolleybuses. They have done studies for other trolleybus system. One of their studies killed the TTC trolleybus system, however, after the failure of CNG buses in Toronto the death of their trolley system was regretted. The BAH report was supposed to be finished around November. The report wasn't ready for November. It wasn't ready until January/ February of 2004. When the report came out, it was filled with obvious flaws, with other information entirely left out. There was not a single mention of passenger ridership on trolley routes. Comparisons were made with fleet averages for diesels and trolleys. The diesel fleet has what could be considered 3 generations of buses in it. The GM diesels, the 1993/ 94 low floor buses, and the 1998+ low floors. The trolley fleet has 1 generation, 1982 vintage buses.
Is that a fair comparison? No.
As well, I can't remember anything in the report relating to life cycle. The US Government funds bus replacements based upon a 12 year life for a diesel and 18 for a trolley. This means that the trolley lasts 1/3rd longer, and it is used on heaviest routes. A diesel doesn't always run on the heaviest routes.
The report did say something's, that as obvious as they were, they were in the report. This included that the trolleys system was underutilized.
The report failed to show costs and extra mileage with an extension to Northgate, which was proposed in the motions before city council, and passed.
Management went before TPW on March 16, 2004 to try to get a public hearing scheduled for early April. TPW agreed with citizens, community groups, ETSAB, and the Edmonton Trolley Coalition and did not rush into a hearing. The hearing was scheduled for June 22, 2004 which allowed for community consultation which had not happened to any great extent. This was pretty much a reversal of at an earlier TPW meeting in October 2003. This it turns out would be the beginning of the end for managements attempt to kill the trolleys this time.
A company was hired to consult the public and this included random phone calls, surveys of riders, and 2 public meetings in May. On June 17, 2004 shortly before the public hearing, management put out a news release titled
"Transit Riders Support Discontinuing Trolley Service". The fact was while the numbers might have shown this, the numbers where too close to provide a clear majority either way. Furthermore, the numbers from the public meeting did not appear to be used. At the public meetings there WAS a clear majority for keeping the trolleys.
Management also had a private meeting with the Journal editorial staff and had an anti trolley piece printed that sounded like it had come right form managements mouth. Management did quietly admit that this did happen on July 20, 2004 to the TPW committee. The public hearing saw 22 people speak in support of the trolleybuses. Included where a number of people from the younger generation, the future of Edmonton, a retired supervisor of transit planning, an electro vehicle mechanic, a bus driver, and many members of the public.
On July 6, 2004 the issue went before TPW to come up with a motion to go before Council. Mayor Bill Smith, the savior of the diesel bus in Edmonton, waltz in late to the meeting and it was announced that as he is mayor he can take a voting position on any committee. It was obvious he was here to try to stop the trolleybuses. Councillor Dave Thiele put up a recommendation that allowed for continued operation of trolleybuses, as well as other provisions. This was very welcomed as to the alternative which would have been a recommendation to discontinue trolley operations, as would have been hoped for by management. However, Bill Smith put a motion on the floor to delay everything to the next TPW meeting so that there could be more discussion on the recommendation. The next TPW meeting was on July 20, 2004 and from what I hear, management were strongly questioned by councillors, and the BAH report was attacked by at least one Councillor. The outcome was a 3-1 vote in favor of the recommendation. Jane Batty was the only one to vote against it, while Larry Langley (chair of the committee), Dave Thiele and Janice Melnychuk voted for it. Bill Smith did not show today, not that he would have helped the anti trolley votes.
July 25, 2004 saw a DE60LF hybrid articulated bus show up in Edmonton and put on display at the Taste of Edmonton that day. The bus was heavily advertised including ads in both daily newspapers as well as a lot on ETS's website. The timing was obviously suspicious due to the closeness to the council vote. This bus was on its way to Seattle Metro who is ordering over 200 of these buses. With that many buses being delivered they most certainly could have probably had a bus stop by at any time. On July 26, 2004 the stuff on ETS's website about this bus had been pulled completely off of the main page of their website, not just pushed to the bottom like what happens with most news items. Instead, it was put onto the "Important Information on Trolleybus Operations" page on ETS's website.
It certainly doesn't seem to fit in on the page.
The next day was July 27, 2004, the day of the council meeting with the aforementioned 8-5 vote for trolleys.
We won this round, but work lies ahead for the Edmonton trolleybus supporters. In 2008 we may have to do with all over again.

Read the press release from the Edmonton Trolley Coalition here.
Important Links: http://www.geocities.com/trolley_coalition http://www.bettertransit.ab.ca

(c) http://www.barp.ca/eetb.html


MS


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