Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Transit options- the electric trolley bus

Many people are throwing around the idea of bringing rail transit to Richmond- the idea is presented in the Downtown Richmond Master Plan. Of course, an equal number of people are against the idea, so it will be a long and difficult process to get our first streetcar on a revenue run.

In the meantime, GRTC is developing its own plan to upgrade our woeful bus service. One thing that IS happening now is centralizing bus transfers, thus creating a hub and spoke transit model. This deserves its own blog entry- more on that later. The other component of modernizing bus transit is introducing "Bus Rapid Transit." Broad Street is currently the spine of the GRTC routing scheme, and as such, it gets something like 48 local buses per hour in each direction. This causes tremendous amounts of delays and overlap on Broad. BRT will introduce high-capacity, limited stop service between Rockett's and Willow Lawn, turning Broad into a bus trunk line.

I think this is a step in the right direction, although not the leap I would like to see, but good nonetheless because it will allow GRTC in the meantime to apply for federal money to fund rail transit. So BRT will be the transitional system linking us to better future transit. The question I'm asking is, what type of vehicle is appropriate? If even GRTC says BRT is only a transitional system, then it should incorporate technology that can ALSO be used in rail service.

Perhaps what would be appropriate is electric trolley buses. They are powered by overhead wire, and they conveniently link the flexibility of buses with all the benefits of streetcars. These vehicles emit no poisonous fumes, are infinitely more quiet than our fleet of whiny turbo diesels, and use infrastructure that would easily convert to support streetcars. As an added benefit, they can climb and descend the extreme grades surrounding Shockoe Bottom where railed vehicles would not work. So, the fleet would still have use after a transition to rail service.

Pictured is an example Gillig trolley bus, very similar in proportion to GRTC's diesel Gillig buses currently in operation, minus all the toxic fumes and terrifying noise. Also included are a San Fransisco Muni trolley climbing a steep hill, and a ultramodern low floor trolley in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I also ripped a picture from GRTC's site showing a rendering of their BRT vehicle, which appears to be a North American Bus Industries 60 foot articulated 200 passenger model. Not sure if it is powered by CNG or diesel, it's NOT electric. It is the same model used in LA's Orange Line and Metro Rapid BRT fleet, presumably GRTC's inspiration for BRT.

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