Saying good-bye to the trolleys

I’ve ridden the 71 and 73 routes for my whole life and I love the old trolley buses. But soon, they will be gone and it’s a change for the better.

The current fleet of trolley buses is nearing the end of its life. By 2024, they will be replaced by battery electric buses.

Trolley buses have to run close to their power lines. If they catch up with each other — the chronic problem of bus bunching — they can’t pass each other. The lack of ability to pass also makes it hard to design express service. Nor can they deviate around a traffic accident. If there is a construction project in the roadway, they have to be replaced with diesel buses. And, of course, they cannot be shared with any other route that doesn’t have the necessary wires, reducing operational flexibility.

With battery electric buses, we will have the best of both worlds — a low pollution vehicle that has the flexibility necessary to provide more reliable service. And the catenary polls and wires will no longer add to the clutter of our streetscape.

That’s the positive end state that we can look forward to. Getting there, while accommodating planned road projects, is going to force the MBTA to use diesel-hybrid buses on the 71 and 73 during a two-year interim period starting this spring.

For many months, the MBTA has been working with the City of Cambridge and the Town of Watertown to develop a plan to accommodate the following major road reconstruction projects: Mount Auburn Street in Watertown, Belmont Street in Cambridge between Mount Auburn Street and the Belmont line, and Huron Avenue in Cambridge between Fresh Pond Parkway and Cushing Street. Additionally, there are two major utility installations that need to occur on Mount Auburn Street before it is paved — gas lines for the whole length and 1000 feet of 20-inch water main.

These projects would together force the de-energization of the catenary wires for over five years, forcing five years of diesel operation on the 71 and 73. However, the MBTA is going to accelerate its planned replacement of the trolleys with electric buses so that the diesel interim will only be two years.

During the two year interim, the MBTA will install the charging infrastructure needed to support a battery electric fleet out of the North Cambridge garage that currently houses the trolleys.

Replacing the trolley fleet working out of the small North Cambridge garage is a good way to test out the new battery technology at a modest scale. The diesel fleet operates out of much larger garages which are harder to convert. It will take some experimentation to work out charging and operational protocols for the battery buses. The main challenges relate to the performance of batteries in our cold weather climate.

To protect against cold weather failures, the battery buses that the MBTA plans to purchase will have a backup heater that uses diesel fuel to reduce battery drain on the coldest days. With this very limited use of diesel, the new battery fleet will be cleaner than the current mixed trolley and diesel fleet — diesel buses are routinely used as replacements for the trolleys for operational reasons.

Ultimately, the MBTA is committed to the full electrification of its fleet. As larger electrification plans have firmed up, advocates have become more comfortable with North Cambridge as an early step.

The MBTA engineers have developed a complex plan to deal with a complex set of challenges. I appreciate their efforts and I fully support their plan, even though it will mean two years of diesel operation on the 71 and the 73.

RESOURCES

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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63 Comments

  1. Thanks for the exciting update. I love the vision that this plan reflects.
    Ole’ Watertown Yard will probably be busy as all of this work proceeds but once the catenary systems go the way of the dinosaurs and when the dust settles will it fall back into its other traditional use as a parts storage facility?
    It would be great to hear if the T had any longer-term vision for this high-value real estate.

    1. Aaron, I was just thinking the same thing as I read Will’s letter. The possibilities are only limited by a lack of imagination.

  2. I’ve always admired the electric buses on the 71 and 73 lines, they make them unique and give the neighborhood character. But I’ve always hated the trolleys for all the same reasons that you note—the bunching, the lack of express buses (though the dedicated bus lanes have really helped in that regard), and the standstill during accidents or bad weather. I will miss them but am excited about the benefits that electric buses will bring.

    But perhaps I’m even more excited about the prospect of a fully paved Mount Auburn Street. Watertown has really let it fall into disrepair, presumably because it was waiting for these construction projects to start. As a cyclist, the deplorable conditions along the road (in so many stretches) is not only unpleasant, but also unsafe! As a driver and bus rider, the long stretches of pockmarked roads make for an unpleasant ride too. I’ll be so happy when the repaving is finished.

    Thank you for keeping us up to date on these projects and, as always, your thoughtful and balanced assessment of them.

    1. Heather, please realize that Mt. Auburn is a state road, Route 16. The state is investing 22+ million dollars in this project. Granted it has been a long time coming. Covid delays have not helped. But let’s not blame Watertown for this situation. Infrastructure is falling apart across this country.

  3. I like these news. If the battery charging stations at North Cambridge, this might lead to installing them at Watertown Yard and maybe use it as a garage terminal like it was oh so many years ago. That would help the 57 go battery electric too.

    At least this will solve the bus bunching problem and also perhaps eliminating the “pay as you get off” policy for outbound trolley routes. Doing this will make it more consistent with the rest of the MBTA system and make boarding and unboarding more efficient by actually using the back doors the whole route.

    Just my thoughts.

  4. Are the buses going to have left-side doors for the Harvard busway? If not, this plan is inadequate.

      1. Will:
        When Trapelo Rd/Belmont St wS rebuilt, they installed extra high traffic light arms to provide clearance over the bus wires. When the wires come down, are they lowering the traffic light arms? The traffic lights are really too high.

  5. That’s great. Do any of those roads still have rails buried in them, or have they all been removed? I haven’t seen the telltale parallel rust stains for a while. One positive of trolleys is they can’t be pressed into service on other routes. (Thought the limiting factor is drivers, or good pay to attract and retain drivers.)

    So, two years of soot-belching diesel if all goes well? Five, but for a promise to accelerate electric? They’re probably clean diesel, but I’ve had more than my fair share of diesel headaches with so many trucks on the road.

      1. That’s great. Trying to find information on the fleet including air monitoring. Do the filters work? Are they properly maintained? Is the auxiliary engine also filtered?

        Thank you for your reply.

  6. Sad to see the trolleybuses go. One question though. Will the new battery buses still have the left-hand door for boarding at Harvard Lower Busway? Right now there is a raised platform which makes boarding via left-hand door easier, especially for those who have a hard time stepping up. Boarding from the right-hand door is difficult because you have to walk from the platform in front of the bus.

  7. Some clarifications about trolleybuses, because the T has been using outdated technology and new trolleybuses do not face many of the challenges posed here:

    Trolley buses have to run close to their power lines.

    —That was true for buses bought in 2004. All current models have at least some off-wire range. Most new buses could actually be extended several miles beyond the overhead system.

    If they catch up with each other — the chronic problem of bus bunching — they can’t pass each other.

    —Again, modern trolleybuses could pass each other, not to mention that better dispatching (also a chronic problem at the T) could mitigate this.

    The lack of ability to pass also makes it hard to design express service.

    —There is no designed express service on the 73/71, nor will there be. The T does not run “express” and “local” service on any corridors (it did run a version of this on the 1/CT1 on Mass Ave, but this proved more trouble than it was worth, and folding the CT1 into the 1 and providing more frequent service has proven successful).

    Nor can they deviate around a traffic accident. If there is a construction project in the roadway, they have to be replaced with diesel buses.

    —Again, new buses can easily deviate around traffic accidents or construction. If the T had wanted to keep the trolleybus system (they have been looking for excuses to get rid of it for years, and these construction projects have been their excuse, with an assist from state lawmakers happy to carry their water) the could have bought in-motion charging buses two years ago, kept the wires intact east of the Star Market, and run fully electric buses during construction.

    And, of course, they cannot be shared with any other route that doesn’t have the necessary wires, reducing operational flexibility.

    —Again, with new buses, wires aren’t as necessary. Had the T instead decided to leverage this existing infrastructure, it could have expanded electric service without any new overhead, by utilizing the wires above Mass Ave and Concord Ave to run the 74, 75, 77, 78 and 96 buses on electric power (using in-motion charging buses). But the T never considered this. So now, every time you see a diesel bus in Belmont, remember that it could have been electric bus.

    With this very limited use of diesel, the new battery fleet will be cleaner than the current mixed trolley and diesel fleet — diesel buses are routinely used as replacements for the trolleys for operational reasons.

    —These operational issues are almost entirely of the T’s own making. Diesel buses have always been used on Sundays. Why? Because apparently Massachusetts Blue Laws require diesel buses on Sundays. The T says that battery buses will change this, but they could have made that decision years ago. In-motion charging buses would have mitigated most of the other operational issues, but the T has gone through this process without any actual analysis which might point to their decision being anything other than “take down the wires.”

    Maybe the T’s battery conversion will work. Philadelphia pulled trolleybuses off of two trolleybus routes in 2019 and replaced them with battery buses. At least, they did initially. But those buses haven’t run in years. Three years later, those routes are still being run with diesel buses. I would not be surprised if the same thing didn’t await the T.

    1. Thank you, Ari.
      I do understand that newly available trolleys can run off-wire over a limited distance. My point in this piece is that the new battery buses will be a big operational improvement over the old trolleys.
      There a different conversation to be had about which is better: battery buses or the new trolleys. From a systemwide standpoint, I don’t think that the new trolleys are a viable solution. We need to standardize on an approach that can ultimately replace the whole diesel fleet and we can’t be stringing up trolley wires all over the region.

      1. I second many of Ari’s points. Abandoning the overhead wires is shortsighted! Will – to your point about not being able to string up new wires everywhere, in Germany they are actually doing just that, to be able to charge semi-trucks as they drive. In-motion charging is a thing, and other locals are currently building new infrastructure to support it. And we are going to be dismantling ours, which we are lucky enough to already have?

        One advantage is that you can make do with a much smaller battery in the buses. And, presumably, you can also do away with complex arrangements of wires in intersections, just keeping the amount needed for charging in the areas that are the simplest to maintain. There also are exist systems for the buses to automatically / robotically find the wires when they are in the right position, so connecting and disconnecting as needed are no longer a hassle. These are in active use in other parts of the world.

        Frankly, I also don’t trust the T to not make bad decisions. It was just recently that a major project was completed on Mt. Auburn St. / Trapello Rd.. It is obvious a large amount of awkward engineering went in trying to keep the overhead wires. For instance, the new lights and signs above the wires have a comical high amount of clearance. So who is making the plans? Who has the long term vision? The wires were worth spending $10’s of millions on just a few years ago, but now they are going to be taken out because they are not of use?

        The citied motivation is also suspect, that it is not possible – or even just too risky – to do construction while the wires are in place. In Switzerland they are doing major construction *all of time* under and around active trams, trolleys, and busses that utilized overhead power. If the people hired to manage the project are saying it is not possible, and we need to use diesel *once again* as a years-long intern solution, hopefully a second opinion can be sought, from people with expertise on these systems. Don’t let them tell you it isn’t possible or practical!

  8. I will miss the trolley buses, too, but the long-term plan of replacing them with battery-powered buses is a big plus. My only concern is whether the battery power of the new vehicles will be sufficient to keep those buses running for extended periods during Winter cold spells on a single overnight charge or whether they’ll need to be pulled out of service mid-day for recharging in those situations.

  9. Sounds advantageous, as do the electric car/motor vehicle concept; my problem with electrification of private motor vehicles is the potential for huge traffic tie ups such as occurred on Route 95 during a snow storm and the long down time, ie., inclement weather conditions that cause those conditions in wide swaths throughout the country; distance limitations; disposition of the electric batteries, ie., shelf life after removal from the motor vehicle and where is the location of ultimate dispositio {landfill ~ ocean?}. Testing/experimental use over the next two years will certainly reveal strengths and weaknesses of the new vehicles, and any favorable advantages accruing therefrom will be welcomed. Unforeseen circumstances from “sustainable’ power sources such as the power grid shortages experienced by a Texas power grid in the winter of 2020-21 gives one pause for concern. Unless you have experienced these events………

  10. Many thanks for this update Will. This project is a long time coming. Given the utility work, the complete streets design process, and the repaving plus the teardown and building of the new Watertown High School, we need helicopter service at Victory Field. Bruce and I truly appreciate your community outreach and the comprehensive info as to what’s going on.

  11. I will miss the back row of the existing electric busses. I can sit facing forward (cutting back on nausea/car sickness) but also have KNEE ROOM! They never take that into account when considering distance between seats. Maybe the replacement busses will have this feature for those of us needing it…but I’m not an optimist.
    I can only guess at the teething pains this change will bring.

  12. This is, sadly, not a step forward. It has been very disappointing to see the T putting more effort into scrapping the extensive trackless trolley power infrastructure rather than using it to accelerate bus electrification. The MBTA has refused to consider the new generation of In-Motion Charging trolleybuses, which combine the freedom of a battery bus with the ability to use the trolleybus overhead as a continuous recharging system. These buses, as built today, can operate for 20-22 miles at a time between visits to the wire for recharging. Not only could the 71/73 operate with these, but many of the routes out of Harvard Square could use the system – the buses to Belmont Center and Arlington could also be electrified with In-Motion charging.

    Instead, the T is throwing in with a technology that’s still struggling (countless transit authorities have had disappointing, if not awful, results from full battery buses) while scrapping the electric buses we have now. It’s telling that the T does not even yet have any battery buses on order…they’re desperately hoping the technology advances quickly, but so far it’s not going well.

    TransitMatters and the Sierra Club did a good analysis of the T’s bus electrification plans, and urged a more diverse approach, pursuing multiple technologies to find the best solutions. Instead, the T has gone all in with just one option. I hope for all our sakes it works, otherwise we’ll be stuck with diesel buses for much longer than two years.

    The TransitMatters report is here: https://www.sierraclub.org/sites/www.sierraclub.org/files/press-room/MBTAReport_Final2.pdf

    1. There is an engineering judgment call to be made about the importance of standardization and the feasibility of a fleet that mixes modern in-route-charging trolley and batteries. I find the T’s perspective persuasive.

  13. I will miss the trolley buses but this plans sound like it will improve things. Hopefully they keep the current 71/73 schedule in place while this is going on.

  14. Does this mean the overhead trolley lines will eventually be taken down? That would be a big aesthetic improvement!

  15. I hate to be the killjoy at the party, but I am not so sure that this is the best thing. I’m all for swapping diesel buses for electrics, but I see no evidence that the MBTA has done due diligence in terms of choosing technology.

    Rather, they have taken the route (pun intended) of making decisions outside of the public view and then offering “informational sessions” once decisions have been made by bureaucrats. Given the MBTA’s poor history with purchasing (there have been serious problems with all rolling stock recently purchased), there is little reason to believe that this purchase will be done wisely.

    The T has also let Watertown yard go disused even as it complains that it cannot increase the bus fleet numbers (badly needed) for lack of garages to service them. It is difficult not to conclude that they are banking the property for future sale to a developer, rather than utilize it to improve service to our community. Indeed, in recent years, the T has failed to act on many recommendations that would have improved our bus service. Why should we trust them now?

    Finally, it is probably too much to ask of the T and the City of Watertown to work diligently to avoid service disruptions while Mount Auburn construction is in progress. The track record here too, does not inspire confidence.

    So the result threatens to be five years of poor transit service and the Watertown transit users becoming the beta testers for an unproven transit technology. The MBTA has done little to give the ridership confidence in their choices.

    1. This decision has been heavily vetted — advocates of different approaches have definitely been heard. The Sierra Club perspective on in-motion-charging (discussed in comments above) was definitely weighed by the decision-makers. Time will tell.

      1. I agree that e-buses should be wireless. One advantage of the in-motion option is that such buses could circumvent the construction sites you said are coming to Cambridge and Watertown and buy time for the T to find the right e-buses for its overall fleet (assuming reliable and performant ones can be had) and test them on other routes. If that pans out, the trolleys can be replaced next and the wires taken down. Whether the T prepared to buy and deploy a bunch of in-motion vehicles soon enough to serve such a scenario is something I doubt, but surprise me. And while it’s at it the T could mount PV arrays on the power poles to charge the in-motion buses. I think this would be an option to consider if it isn’t too late in the game to change minds in the T’s boardroom.
        Eventually the in-motion buses could be sold off once they were no longer needed.

      2. Will, as much as I admire you and your work, I have to disagree. There has been a distinct lack of opportunity for public input. The decisions may have been heavily vetted, but the vetting was done in back rooms without transparency or accountability. It seems that we are headed backward to the bad old days of little accountability to the ridership. The T’s decision making processes do little to inspire confidence.

        1. Exactly.
          Geoff – PV panels should be where they are cheapest to install and will capture the most sun. Think the roof of any big-box store, high school, warehouse, etc. That will give the most solar for the $.

  16. It’s so sad to see the old electric trolley buses go. They’re weirdly anachronistic, relying on their Rube Goldberg-like hodgepodge of overhead wiring systems, and are truly unique within the Boston area. But they’re also a quirky reminder of home. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and have always felt a pull and a fascination for San Francisco’s extensive network of electric trolley buses. Very few of these systems operate in the U.S., and they’re unfortunately all under threat. Must they all be consigned to the dust heap of public transit history?

    1. Not under threat. Vancouver is ordering a new fleet, Seattle and Dayton and San Francisco have all renewed and expanded theirs in the past decade. ETBs have amazing off-wire capabilities and are proven to be environmental and reliable.
      They can run off wire and re-wire themselves, at least on modern systems like this one in Seattle:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8W0AcsCJ4ac

      1. Agreed. But the cities that are going this way are cities that have broad network of trolleys instead of just a couple of lines. I buy into the engineering perspective that says we need flexibility and standardization in our regional fleet.

        1. If they need to ‘standardize’, they should do so by increasing the electrification infrastructure. Also – you don’t even to electrify all of the routes to benefit. A bus can run the 73 route, charge up, and then go out as the 77 on battery, return again, and do the 73. Does the T think is too complicated? There is software designed for sorting out these kind of schedules.
          So, rather than rip out what we have, we should be expanding it. The entire system don’t need to be electrified. Just key points in the MBTA network. I would wager it is not just environmentally beneficial, but economically as well (to the extent those are different things).

  17. Lousy decision, of course made without any public input. Trolleybuses are a clean, reliable, and low maintenance solution. The MBTA should be adding to the fleet, not scrapping them. Electric battery buses have less uptime and break down in cold weather and are less green because they have to carry a heavy battery around. Of course, the T will suddenly realize that once the last catenary wire is pulled down, and then it will be diesel buses for the rest of time.

  18. I remember one peaceful snowy night where the wires must gave been glazed with ice and the buses made a shower of beautiful sparks and crackles as it made its way down Trapelo. (Maybe the lines weren’t grounded properly)

    Bunching is not that big of a deal. Yeah it happens, sometimes, but is it more of a psychological bother than a net time waste? The unwired buses catch up to each other and leapfrog (pass) each other frequently.

    I agree, definitely not enough legroom. (The needs of the many eh?) I have to sit at an angle if I’m forwarding facing.

    I haven’t been off Trapelo for a while. Did the new trolleys have a middle door on both sides like the model before, which let you off on the platform side in the Harvard Square busway? I don’t like getting off on the wall side of the lower busway, because that side get a build up of muck.

  19. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the T to replace the buses on some diesel lines with battery buses BEFORE replacing the existing electric buses? It would be MUCH better for the carbon footprint.

    1. This argument has been made by several transit advocacy and environmental organizations. They feel, rightly, that it would be more beneficial to replace diesel buses with battery buses in areas where there is a documented problem with high levels of diesel particulate. This approach would yield better environmental and public health benefits.

      The T has ignored their arguments.

      1. In the short run, yes. But getting the battery buses into circulation starting with a single small garage feels to me like a prudent way to start.

        The T has rejected these arguments, but it has not ignored them. They just came down a different way. In my conversations with T planners they show a lot of recognition of these arguments.

  20. Although I will miss the trolleys. Hopefully the conversion to electric buses will make our 71 and 73 routes more efficient for all the other comments above stated better than I could. I do have one concern that I want to mention. I can only speak to Harvard station where the trolley doors are safer because the door opens even with the platform. Deisel buses open on the other side so one has to navigate around the bus, the step is high unless you walk down to handicap point making it not as accessible to those who are not as agile as others. I mention it to be part of the planning that the conversion means station modifications as well. Thanks for the opportunity for input.

  21. I’m always suspicious of the MBTA’s motives as they do not always act in good faith. Newcomers might not have noticed that the Green Line has B, C, D and E trains, but no A trains. What happened to the A trains? The Watertown A line was “temporarily suspended” due to “a lack of rolling stock” in 1969, the tracks were removed 25 years later in 1994. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that there won’t be battery powered buses on the 71 and 73 routes in 2024.

  22. Senator, respectfully, why are you are cutting-and-pasting the MBTA’s press release here?? You obviously are not aware of the severe issues that Battery-Electric Buses have had, even in comfortable climates:

    https://www.dailybulletin.com/2021/07/23/what-to-do-with-13-inoperable-electric-buses-foothill-transit-mulls-its-options/

    https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-electric-buses-20180520-story.html

    …and you seem ignorant of the advances in off-wire capabilities in modern Electric Trolley Buses (what Boston and Philadelphia still refer to as “Trackless Trolleys”)

    Here is a video of one of Seattle’s NewFlyer XT40 running off-wire:
    https://youtu.be/hHu0x4xKxR4

    Why didn’t the MBTA borrow a demonstrator from NewFlyer or one of the new Gillig ETBs from the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority?

    https://www.masstransitmag.com/bus/article/21206832/dreams-become-reality-as-last-innovative-nexgen-bus-rolls-into-dayton

    It’s truly unfortunate that the MBTA is allowed to take this step backward and “Diseaselize” routes 71 and 73 joining 72 and 77A plus 69 which all were run with trackless trolleys in living memory, not to mention the extensive networks in East Boston and Roxbury. And Diesel they will be as the cleaner Natural Gas buses cannot operate in the Harvard Bus Tunnel due to the fire hazard. This will also result in reduced frequency and more incentive for residents along these routes to travel instead by automobile. A real shame considering the all the work done on Belmont Street and Trapelo Road in recent years to make them into a “Complete Streets”.

    This needs to be stopped.

    Link to brochure for NewFlyer’s XT40 and XT60 Trolley Buses:
    https://www.newflyer.com/site-content/uploads/2021/10/NF-Xcelsior-Trolley-Brochure.pdf

  23. This is a terrible take on the situation. It sound like you’re unfortunately drinking the MBTA’s kool-aid. There is absolutely no reason to remove the trolleybus infrastructure. Many cities have been replacing the older trolleybuses like we have with in-motion-charging trolleybuses. These have are the best of both worlds: trolleybuses and battery electric buses (BEBs):

    – they run from overhead electric wire, which is the cleanest and most efficient way to operate
    – they have on-board batteries which charge while the bus is in motion
    – when there is a problem with the overhead wire the bus can run from the battery
    – buses can run part of a route entirely from battery, meaning that you don’t need overhead wire on the entire length of every route
    – they don’t require hours to charge the batteries while parked like BEBs
    – they don’t require diesel heaters like BEBs

    The T is setting themselves up to fail. Current BEB technology would require them to greatly expand the number of buses in their fleet because the limited amount of time they can run from battery and the amount of time needed for them to be parked and charging. The T does has no spare garage space to store additional buses. Replacing their existing trolleybuses and diesel buses will require them to either build a ton more garage space or drastically cut service.

    The T keeps showing math that BEBs are cheaper than in-motion-charging trolleybuses but their math simply doesn’t add up. They are foolishly trying to standardize their entire fleet with BEBs. It makes no sense though. It’s more expensive and more polluting to do that rather than use modern in-motion-charging trolleybuses. TransitMatters has done a thorough analysis of the T’s plan and poked giant holes in it. Please don’t believe the T’s nonsense.

    https://commonwealthmagazine.org/opinion/mbta-has-a-bad-plan-for-electrification/

  24. Instead of the trolleys of the *future, we’re getting diesel and a soft promise of not ready for prime time electric busses???

    *Sounds like the future of trolleys is now in other cities.

  25. This seems like an utterly artless and short-sighted decision by the MBTA.

    I imagine a far more resounding and profitable effect -in prestige, nostalgia, interest, &c.- by upgrading to the state of the art in trolleys.

    Where were the commuter watchdogs, town boosters and the like? Why was there no vote, or discussion?

    We’ve gotten Li out from under the boot of internal combustion. The clock won’t go backwards, but is the technology ready to strip the earth of lithium for all these road ready golf carts?

  26. I think the big advantage here is the freedom we get to install separated bike lanes. Cambridge/Water have been held back by these wires interfering with fire access. Now that they’re gone, they can be installed without parking lose !

  27. Thank you, senator, for this information! Do you know if battery electric buses have a bicycle rack in the front? Trolley buses don’t, which is why 71/73 have been the only two routes on the T where you cannot travel with your bike.

  28. This seems like a terribly misguided plan, if the MBTA is serious about reducing bus emissions. The 71/73 lines are the only existing zero-emissions bus lines, and according to this plan they will be replaced by battery-powered buses that need diesel backup for heating.

    Instead of throwing out this existing piece of electric infrastructure, the MBTA could be transitioning to in-motion-charging electric buses, such as are being used by trolleybus systems around the world (the first example I found was this article from 2018 in Dayton: https://www.urban-transport-magazine.com/en/first-new-imc-trolleybuses-in-dayton-ohio-with-in-motion-charging/).

    With new trolleybuses like this, the MBTA could use their existing infrastructure of overhead wires and the North Cambridge garage to transition additional routes to use in-motion-charging trolleybuses (the 77, 79, and 96, for example); and of course the modern trolleybuses would not have the limitations of the current trolleybus fleet (not being able to pass one another, not being able to maneuver around a traffic blockage, etc.).

    This decision seems incredibly short-sighted, and not in keeping with the MBTA’s stated commitment to reducing bus emissions.

  29. I hope the MBTA will take rider experience into account when procuring the new buses. The trolleys have nice, solidly constructed seating, whereas the newer buses used throughout the system have flimsy, bouncy plastic seats that just aren’t as comfortable to ride. I will be sad to lose the trolleys even if only for this reason. Purchasing the absolute cheapest rolling stock without any regard for comfort really sends a message of disrespect for transit riders.

  30. It was totally uncalled for that the MBTA management did this very stupid, unfortunate and dastardly thing. Especially now, with the world oil situation in a state of crisis. All it takes are one, two, maybe three people in positions of authority at the MBTA to make a foolish, inept decision like this. Not only should they be fired for gross incompetence,, but they should go to prison for the wanton destruction of valuable public property. It would cost a tremendous amount of money to replace that trackless trolley infrastructure that will be cut down, destroyed and sold for pennies on the dollar. It includes power substations, feeder cables, spare parts to maintain the fleet of trackless trolleys, etc. The vehicles themselves will probably be sold off at scrap prices. I am very angry that the MBTA has gone ahead with this incredibly idiotic and foolish move and not at least have postponed it, pending the volatile and unpredictable world oil situation.

    The MBTA is using road construction projects as an excuse to scrap the entire Cambridge trackless trolley system. But modern trackless trolleys have ‘off-wire’ ability. The MBTA is quite familiar with dual-mode technology, operating it on the Silver Line. And they know the ease with which the automatic trolley poles raise or lower with the use of a dashboard button and pans on the wires. The operator never has to leave the seat. That’s especially helpful in bad weather and at hazardous traffic locations.

    Nobody here has even discussed the fact that by scrapping the trackless trolleys, the MBTA gives up the Federal ‘fixed route’ subsidy. Don’t expect the MBTA to tell you.

    SEPTA, the {Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority} in Philadelphia has a fleet of battery buses that turned out to be a colossal failure and have been stored away, hidden out of sight for two years. They’d like you to just forget them. They acted with great haste and glee to cut the overhead trolley wires down in South Philly, to make sure those lines could never come back. Of course they’ll say, “see, it would be too costly to bring the trackless trolleys back now”. Forget the fact that the residents in South Philly wanted the trackless trolleys to be kept. What SEPTA should have done is purchase dual-mode trackless trolleys like the new ones in Dayton, Ohio. Those new dual-mode trackless trolleys charge the batteries while the poles are up on the wires. But SEPTA, like the MBTA does nothing to hide the fact that they hate trackless trolleys. Any excuse will do to get rid of them.

    Dayton’s new dual-mode trackless trolleys are capable of operating at 50 mph, both on the wires and off. Take a look at this video, which shows the last trip of the night on Route 7, one of seven trackless trolley lines. Note the ease with which the operator switches modes from trolley wires to batteries.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1NngYnca-0

  31. I seem to remember the MBTA investing heavily in that other iffy bus technology…compressed natural gas. Years ago, a commitment was made to no longer purchase diesel buses and huge amounts of tax dollars were spent upgrading garages for the operation of CNG buses. But as the fading NO CNG BUSES sign at the entrance to Harvard Square’s west portal tells you, they couldn’t be run under trolley wire due to safety concerns. At the time, CNG technology didn’t seem mature enough but the MBTA still bought in and after a while, the transit authority reneged on yet another promise and started buying diesel buses again. Only this time they said the diesel buses had filters so that made everything okay.

    And now I read close to a BILLION dollars will be spent just upgrading the Charlie Card system? Utterly ridiculous. Such waste on the T. As I scrape by in my lower middle class job it’s unconscionable how much this state takes out of my meager paycheck despite being one of those “working people” the politicians speak so high of. I bet no one running the T ever had to miss a meal.

  32. Busses already cannot pass each other at Harvard Station.

    Since bus schedule data are digital and busses transpond at each stop, please, please, please put real-time performance metrics in real-time and make it available by app, or on-line.

    I want to know – I need to know what the probability is of any specific bus running late, or on-time so I can make choices that won’t make me late.

    Man, these trolleys were nice. They make life better. It was nice to have one less diesel vehicle on the road to leave soot on my tongue and in my airways.

    De-electrifying the 71 and 73 is not about progress, it’s about not valuing people who need to use public transportation.

    I wish I knew about this long before Senator Brownsberger’s email.

    I didn’t catch anything about this on WHBG and WBUR until last week. So, basically by not reporting on this when it was incipient news they made themselves the mouthpiece and delivered an MBTA announcement.

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