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THE WAY WE WERE: Wires and Tires, electric buses return to T.O. streets

Published by Toronto Sun

The TTC’s first Battery Electric Bus, New Flyer Industries’ XE40 Xcelsior CHARGE, arrived at the TTC’s Arrow Road Garage on April 14, 2019. (Photo courtesy Mike DeToma, TTC)

In an effort to achieve a totally emission-free transit fleet by the year 2040 the TTC has requested three manufacturers — New Flyer, Proterra and BYD — to supply a total of 60 battery electric buses by 2020 and another 847 added to the fleet over the next seven years.

This future-looking strategy will be followed assuming nothing is countermanded in the meantime by the unpredictability of the present provincial government.

Interestingly, many of today’s TTC faithful customers will recall a time when the Commission operated a fleet of buses that, if not of the state-of-the-art Battery Electric Bus genre, were totally “emission-free” and that was more than a quarter century ago!

They were known as trolley buses and operated using electricity retrieved from twin overhead wires — one of the wires providing the positive DC current, the other acting as the return in the power circuit since the bus operated on rubber tires. Streetcars only require one trolley pole because the current is returned to the source via the steel wheels and rails.

It was just nine months after the TTC went into business on Sept. 1, 1921, that the Commission introduced the trolley bus to its customers assigning four vehicles to a new route running from Yonge and Merton St. via both ways on Merton and Mt. Pleasant Rd. to and from the northern terminus at Eglinton Ave. It was anticipated that this area of Toronto would grow over the next few years and to accommodate the increase in population a higher capacity streetcar line could replace the trolley buses.

Streetcars appeared on Mt. Pleasant in 1925 and served the community until replaced by trolley buses — albeit a much more modern version than those of 1922 — in November, 1977. These were replaced in turn by motor buses 14 years later.

The trolley bus remained part of the TTC’s fleet of vehicles operating on several routes — Ossington, Lansdowne, Junction, Weston, Nortown, Annette and Bay — with the last trolley bus on the latter route removed from service on July 17, 1993.

Based on an archival photo in the TTC’s vast collection (now preserved in the City of Toronto Archives) Thornhill artist Ken Kirsch created this view of one of the newly established Toronto Transportation Commission’s trackless trolleys (aka trolley buses) southbound on Mt. Pleasant Rd. at Belsize Dr. soon after the route opened on June 19, 1922.
Many years ago I was working with the Ontario Water Resources Commission (now the provincial Ministry of the Environment). While doing water pollution inspections in the Cobourg area one of the people I interviewed, having recognized I was contributing an early version of my “The Way We Were” columns to the still relatively new Toronto Sun newspaper, mentioned something that I might wish to investigate from a completely different perspective. It turned out to be a strange looking vehicle rotting away in a local farmer’s field. Turns out it was the remains of one of the TTC’s pioneer trolley buses. When I next saw it years later the relic was one of many vintage vehicles in the Halton County Radial Railway’s collection where it awaited (and still awaits) restoration. The HCRR’s museum is located west of Toronto and opens for the season on May 4. For details visit http://www.hcry.org.
Readers wishing to learn more about the history of trolley bus service in the 16 Canadian cities in which they operated may wish to acquire a copy of Tom Schwarzkopf’s new book Tires and Wires (Railfare/DC Books/Canadian Transit Heritage Foundation). To purchase a copy by mail see transitheritage.ca. Copies are also available at George’s Trains. For more details, email georgestrains.com. 

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