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Councillor’s Trolley Scrapping Plan attacks Quality of Downtown Life and Future of Transit

Edmonton Trolley CoalitionCitizens for Better Transit

May 12, 2006
For Immediate Release

Councillor Kim Krushell is taking another swing at the electric trolley buses that serve in 46 central Edmonton neighborhoods. Based on an enquiry into trolley costs, she's claiming the trolley system is expensive and wants it scrapped.

"In the face of soaring oil prices and growth in the number of trolley systems worldwide, this continued push to scrap our trolleys is really giving Edmonton a bad name," says Brian Tucker, Chair of the Edmonton Trolley Coalition. "On one hand we’re concerned about diesel fumes and what they do to our health. We face growing traffic noise issues, and we want to revitalize downtown. Yet we’re trying to eliminate the only vehicle on city streets other than the bicycle that doesn’t emit fumes and runs in near silence. There’s something wrong with this picture." Tucker says the trolley bus has qualities that are priceless when you look at creating a positive image for our growing downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods. "All Edmontonians benefit from a city centre that is cleaner and quieter."

Krushell’s enquiry states it will cost $7 million to run the trolleys over a three-year period, and even more to replace some components of the system. "But there’s a problem with Krushell’s logic," says James Dobbie, Vice-Chair of the group Citizens for Better Transit. "She only looked into trolley costs. She didn’t look at the costs and losses to the city if we tear down the trolley system and replace it with diesel buses." The 140 km system of overhead wires and power infrastructure has a value of $89 million according to the city’s 2006 Asset Inventory. "With over $12 million in recent improvements to the system, including a brand new power substation in Rossdale, we’d be taking a big loss in tossing out a huge asset," says Dobbie. "And what’s worse, taxpayers will get soaked for $15 to 20 million to tear it all down, plus another $20 million to buy the diesel buses to replace the trolleys."

Dobbie points out the city just spent money refurbishing 10 trolleys in the past few months, expecting to continue using them for another five years. "That’s another lost investment."

Oil prices have risen 200% since 2003 and diesel bus services around the world are suffering. Alberta electricity prices, by contrast, have fluctuated within a relatively small 30% margin over the past five years. "A fool puts all his money into diesel buses and casts off a perfectly good electric bus system", says Dobbie.

But Krushell says the trolleys are old and need to be replaced soon, and buying new trolleys would cost twice as much as new diesels. "New trolleys may cost more to buy, but that investment lasts a lot longer than diesel buses. You’re looking at about 18 years for a diesel compared to 25-28 years for a trolley," says Bob Clark, retired supervisor of transit planning at ETS. Throughout their lifetime, trolleys need far less maintenance than diesels. Trolleys don’t need refuelling, and there’s no oil and fluids to change. The electric motors usually last the life of the bus, whereas a diesel bus goes through several engines and transmissions in its lifetime."

Trolley buses also attract more riders than diesels, asserts Clark. "That is the consensus of research by leading authorities on public transit. Modern low floor trolley buses like Vancouver is getting attract anywhere from 5 to 20% more ridership to transit. That’s an important factor when you are looking at relieving traffic congestion and increasing transit revenue." All things considered, trolleys are cost competitive with diesel, he adds.

Marten Boonstra, a resident of the Inglewood community, says he’s all for getting new low floor trolleys. "I’ve ridden on them in other cities. You have to make a good investment to get a good system. We already have the trolley wires, new trolleys would be a huge improvement to transit and our city. We need to keep moving in this direction."

Krushell’s report comes before the city’s Transportation and Public Works Committee on Wednesday afternoon.

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Edmonton Trolley Coalition
Sustainable Transit for Liveable Communities
www.trolleycoalition.org
info [at] trolleycoalition [dot] org

Citizens for Better Transit
Moving to a Better Future
www.bettertransit.ab.ca
info [at] bettertransit [dot] ab [dot] ca

Posted May 15, 2006 by russ

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