SEPTA Buses Not As Green As They’d Like You To Think

August 23, 2012 | by Mike Szilagyi


Photo: Hidden City Daily

Editor’s Note: Hidden City Daily frequent contributor Mike Szilagyi is also the editor of the website Philadelphia Trolley Tracks, which he founded in 1996, and a streetcar advocate.

Recently, SEPTA’s PR department has been engaged in a full court press, trying to convince us that hybrid diesel transit buses, which are powered by a combination of diesel fuel and a charging battery, are “green.” Cute graphics applied to hybrid diesel buses inform us of “cleaner emissions for a happier earth.” The investment in the hybrid buses and the marketing campaign to go with them has born fruit–SEPTA this year was awarded a Gold Recognition, by the American Public Transit Association, one of two major APTA awards the agency received this year.

But the PR–and the award–mask a serious policy shift inside the agency away from relatively clean electric-powered streetcars and electric trolley buses and toward a dirty all diesel bus fleet (no matter what the ads say). This shift belies the direction that dozens of other transit agencies in the US and around the world are taking away from diesel and hybrid diesel toward cleaner and more progressive electric-powered vehicles.

The retirement last month of SEPTA assistant general manager Luther Diggs, a powerful administrator who has been behind the shift away from trolleys, was punctuated by the final removal of the electric wires that for decades-long electric powered Erie Avenue route 56, which went “temporary bus” in 1992. But Diggs’s retirement gives many Philadelphia transit advocates hope that instead of greenwashing hybrid diesel buses, SEPTA might change course and embrace its rather considerable history of employing the much quieter and emission-free electric trolleybuses–a true path to sustainability.

The Route 59 electric trolleybus runs on Castor and Bustleton Aves. | Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

Electric trolleybuses–often in Philadelphia called trackless trolleys–are a great source of civic pride in several notable cities. Running on rubber tires like a bus, but drawing electricity from dual overhead copper wires, these clean, quiet vehicles burn no diesel fuel whatsoever. (They are, however, powered by the combination of fossil fuels and renewables that power the grid. Some transit agencies overcome this lack of clarity by specifically purchasing renewable energy. SEPTA does not.)

Vancouver, San Francisco, and Seattle are among the cities that run fleets of hundreds on their city streets. Until 2003, SEPTA operated a small fleet of electric trolleybuses on five transit routes: three in Northeast Philadelphia (59, 66, and 75), and two in South Philadelphia (29 and 79). All five routes were replaced with diesel buses at that time, with the claim that the substitution was only temporary, until new electric trolleybuses could be procured.

As they have done so many times in the past, pro-diesel bus forces within SEPTA took that opportunity to cut the electric network yet again. SEPTA turned down available federal funding that could have purchased enough new trackless trolleys to equip the two South Philadelphia lines. Only 38 trackless trolleys were purchased–just enough for Northeast Philadelphia lines 59, 66, and 75. The option for 23 more electrics to restore service on the two South Philadelphia lines was ignored. Federal subsidies, which reimburse transit authorities per mile of electric transit provided, were left on the table.

When a coalition of seven South Philadelphia community groups let SEPTA know that they wanted the electric trolleybus service restored through their neighborhoods, they were flatly told no. SEPTA declared that it would cost $50 million to restore electric service. With most of the overhead wires still in place, and electricity available from the nearby Broad Street subway, that figure seems grossly inflated. Those in a position to know said so, but as is so often the case, were simply stonewalled by SEPTA.

Trackless trolley lines on Morris St. at Broad | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

Moreover, the agency’s usual objection to streetcars–that they get blocked by illegally parked cars–doesn’t apply to trackless trolleys, whose long roof-mounted current-collection poles swivel on their bases and are long enough to allow for steering around obstacles such as double-parked cars.

The true reasons seem to have more to do with SEPTA’s narrow institutional mind-set than with honest economics. Regarding SEPTA’s insistence on running diesel buses on what are supposed to be electric transit lines, long time City of Philadelphia Commissioner of Public Transportation Ed Tennyson has this to say: “It is absolutely true that buses are easier to manage than trackless trolleys. But taxpayers pay SEPTA management to do a good job, not to make life easy for themselves.”

Hybrid buses aren’t green

It is true that if one compares hybrid diesels to “straight diesel” buses, there is an improvement in emissions. The problem is that in recent years, SEPTA has chosen to replace four 100% clean, quiet, non-polluting electric streetcar and electric trolleybus lines with hybrid diesel buses. This is by no means an improvement. This is in fact a significant step backward.

Four years ago, the Toronto Transit Commission, a large system in many ways comparable to SEPTA, ended its infatuation with hybrid diesel buses. TTC found that the massive battery packs on the hybrid diesel buses were far from reliable, and more importantly, that the bus manufacturer’s fuel economy claims fell far short of what the hybrids actually delivered. A TTC spokesman admitted that hybrid bus “fuel economy savings have only been 10 percent, compared to a 20 to 30 percent cut promised by the manufacturer.” Using that math, ten of the much-touted hybrid diesel buses burn as much diesel fuel as nine straight diesels. This slight gain should hardly justify the smiley-face clouds and happy slogans SEPTA has been painting on its buses.

Futhermore, what SEPTA won’t tell you is that earlier this year, SEPTA managers decided to quietly disconnect the electric batteries on its first batch of hybrid diesel buses. One wonders if some of the buses with the green-leaf advertising wraps are running as straight diesels.

Electric trolleybuses versus diesel buses

There has been a long-running debate within management at SEPTA about the merits of operating electric streetcars and electric trolleybuses on city streets. The anti-electric, pro-diesel bus faction within the organization has over the years gained the upper hand. The pro-diesel Diggs often made it quite clear that the debate wasn’t even worth having.

SEPTA trackless trolley, Green St at Windrim Ave. in Germantown, Oct., 2011 | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

The result is that Philadelphia’s electric streetcar and electric trolleybus lines were dismantled and replaced with diesel buses through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and even now in the 2000s, in a remarkable display of backwards 1950s thinking. This, while no less than forty cities and towns across the country plan and build new electric streetcar lines. Pro-trolley voices within SEPTA, worn down by being ostracized, ridiculed, and excluded from decision-making, have largely fallen silent, finally conforming to the overwhelming bureaucratic culture whose attitude seems to be, “This is Philly. Buses are good enough.”

The problem with the two recent APTA awards, particularly the Sustainability award, is that the pro-diesel bus faction at SEPTA will doubtless feel vindicated. They’ve gained “Gold” Sustainability status, by buying hybrid diesel buses and not bothering with electric trolleybus restoration. Unfortunately, the award may make the pro-electric argument with SEPTA even harder to win.

The office I work in every day has a second-floor conference room with windows that open onto the 1500 block of South Street. On all but the handful of very hottest days of the year, fans and open windows keep this space comfortable.  Opening windows is healthier, thriftier, and certainly more sustainable than closing the windows and turning on air conditioning. The occasional downside of conducting meetings in this otherwise bright airy space is street noise.  SEPTA’s Route 40 bus serves this block of South Street. Greenwashing advertisements notwithstanding, when a SEPTA “sustainable” hybrid diesel bus pulls up to the intersection outside, with its piping-hot exhaust stack aimed right at our windows, all conversation stops. It is simply impossible to hear while that “lean green hybrid machine” is idling there. The light changes, the hybrid diesel bus roars away, and we can begin the meeting again.

Imagine the difference if an electric trolleybus was serving Route 40: near-silent operation instead of a hammering diesel engine. One less dose of heat and one less dose of carcinogenic diesel particulates in our lungs.


About the Author

Mike Szilagyi Mike Szilagyi was born in the Logan neighborhood of Philadelphia, and raised in both Logan and what was the far edge of suburbia near Valley Forge. He found himself deeply intrigued by both the built landscape and by the natural “lay of the land.” Where things really get interesting is the fluid, intricate, multi-layered interface between the two.


  1. Joseph says:

    Depressing article was depressing. Is there anything the public can do about this? Or are we just supposed to be left with the notion that our city sucks a little bit more today?

    Honestly, articles like this, that are essentially like “Hey, you know that thing you thought was really good about the city? Well it’s a lie and everything is horrible” is why people start hating the city and move out. Seriously. I appreciate the candor and openness, and if something is wrong somewhere, we should know, but if theres a problem with something as important as the transportation system, people should be offered solutions or a way to make their voice heard.

    For instance, why not give a link to the contact page of the Public Relations team, so that people may email and say that is isn’t cool that they’re promoting something dirty as green, when they could be doing so much more? http://www.septa.org/media/team/index.html Maybe if they get negative feedback about it, they’ll bring it to management. It is their job to manage the relations to the public, after all.

    1. njnjk says:


      1. B says:

        You have sources to back up all these claims, right?

  2. Mike Szilagyi says:

    Point well taken Joseph. SEPTA really needs to hear from us. Try the comment page:


    It’s the public relations department’s job to toe the line; they’re paid to do so by SEPTA management. Any one of them says anything good about electric streetcars and electric trolleybuses and they’ll likely find themselves out of a job.


  3. Mike Szilagyi says:

    Ultimately it’s the SEPTA board that has the final word. From the SEPTA site:

    correspondence should be addressed to:
    Carol R. Looby
    Secretary To The Board
    10th Floor
    1234 Market Street
    Philadelphia PA 19107

  4. David G says:

    Ridiculous. Yes, Septa might, if it spent some large amount of money were spent (be it $50 million or lower), be greener per mile traveled. However, that money could be spent throughout the organization to increase ridership (or even just maintain current routes) which would reduce personal vehicle miles which would… you guessed it, reduce Septa’s carbon footprint. While greener technologies within Septa are great, reducing personal vehicles miles is the road to the most serious carbon footprint reduction.

    Not to mention, your “long arms” getting around parked arms is a red herring. Maybe that works in larger streets, and that’s a big maybe: more serious obstructions can cause serious delays. But one of the routes you bemoan is the 29, which runs through one lane Tasker and Morris. No arms are long enough to deal with that.

    I can pose another hypothetical to match your loud route 40 one: imagine if Septa spent hundreds of millions of dollars adopting trackless trolleys. Imagine how quiet numerous now loud bus routes would be when Septa had to cut down service and routes to make up the shortfall.

    In an ideal world, sure, Septa would have enough money to do both. It doesn’t. And the state and the federal government aren’t ponying up the cash any time soon.

  5. Mike Szilagyi says:

    “reducing personal vehicles miles is the road to the most serious carbon footprint reduction”

    Getting drivers away from gasoline-powered autos and into diesel-powered buses does no good at all. Daniel Sperling of the Institute for Transportation Studies found that the average auto driver’s carbon footprint is equal to that of the average bus rider’s. This is because buses have a large diesel powerplant, buses often run empty, etc.

    Electric streetcars and electric trolleybuses can be green if the transit authority contracts with renewable electricity providers, as Calgary has done. Ride the Wind, they call it.

    It’ll never work here, right?


    1. Veillantif says:

      That’s an argument for more people to ride the bus. Empty trackless trolleys wouldn’t exactly be a leap forward in efficiency over empty busses.

    2. David G says:

      Does that include the footprint of car vs. bus manufacturing?

      My major point is this: there’s no money to do this. The environmental benefits are not anywhere near as great as you claim. And the costs–from a flexibility and operational standpoint–are not minimal.

      And I assume I can take your silence on the 29 that we can agree: routing a trackless trolley through narrow one-lane streets is a bad idea.

      1. Mike Szilagyi says:

        “I assume I can take your silence on the 29 that we can agree: routing a trackless trolley through narrow one-lane streets is a bad idea.”

        On the contrary. Routing trackless trolleys through narrow one-lane streets, like Tasker and Morris, is a better idea than running diesel buses through those streets, which is the unfortunate situation we have now.


    3. Jon S. says:

      It’s not ridiculous. Remember, it’s not just that SEPTA isn’t investing in electric transportation – they are wrecking the existing system they inherited.

      Remember also, drivers are NOT likely to switch to a bus. As has been shown over and over again, drivers WILL switch to a rail or electric vehicle.

      1. David G says:

        “As has been show over and over again, drivers WILL switch to a rail or electric vehicle with a dedicated right of way.” FTFY.

      2. barryg says:

        We already have an example of a bus-to-electric restoration–the 15. It didn’t increase ridership.

        These studies you guys spout off are not relevant when talking about a line that runs through dense South Philly, as part of an already built up transit network. People aren’t going to start riding the 79 because it has a pole on top, they will ride it if it makes their commute more convenient.

      3. njnjk says:


        They are insanely great at their job and their fleet is very green and they don’t “wreck” anything.

        1. B says:

          Sources please, njnjk.

        2. Mike Szilagyi says:

          SEPTA doesn’t wreck anything? SEPTA took over city transit operations in 1968. SEPTA almost immediately started converting 100% electric streetcar and trackless trolley lines to diesel bus. So far SEPTA has converted NINE electric transit lines to diesel bus (and counting). Here are the route numbers, with a description and the dates, in chronological order:

          Route 47, 8th & 9th St., 1969;
          Route 60, Allegheny Avenue, 1978;
          Route 50, Rising Sun Ave 4th & 5th St., 1980;
          Route 6, Ogontz Av., 1986;
          Route 53, Wayne Av., 1986;
          Route 56, Erie and Torresdale Av., 1992;
          Route 23, Germantown Av. 11th & 12th St., 1992;
          Route 29, Tasker & Morris St., 2003;
          Route 79, Snyder Av., 2003.

          Next up? The Route 75 trackless trolley could be next on SEPTA’s hit list. SEPTA planners are considering joining the Route 75 with the 53 — oh by the way the new 75-53 combined line would be a diesel bus line.

          THIS while no less than forty (40) American cities are vying for federal funding, planning and building new electric transit lines. (One commenter insists that there is “no money for this.” That is simply not true).

          That SEPTA is proudly running hundreds of diesel buses on what were until recently electric transit lines — and then is given a Sustainability Award — is remarkable.

          Mike Szilagyi

  6. barryg says:

    “Getting drivers away from gasoline-powered autos and into diesel-powered buses does no good at all. Daniel Sperling of the Institute for Transportation Studies found that the average auto driver’s carbon footprint is equal to that of the average bus rider’s. This is because buses have a large diesel powerplant, buses often run empty, etc.”

    Mark, you know this isn’t true in big cities with high ridership like Philly. If all the bus commuters on SEPTA decided to drive, they would be putting out a lot more carbon than the buses. And any empty buses are already running. Adding riders to the current system would not spur SEPTA to add more low-demand buses. You sound like wingnut.

    1. njnjk says:

      wrong. cars are massively filthier.

      1. B says:

        Sources please. You work for Septa, don’t you?

  7. John says:

    Trackless trolleys may be quieter and better smelling, but I don’t see an environmental benefit that would justify the cost. At least in these parts, trackless trolleys and hybrids both ultimately draw their electricity from coal — the worst of the worst. Using electric vehicles instead of gas/diesel just moves the pollution elsewhere.

    So in fairness to SEPTA, you’re asking them to take on a two-step project: invest tens of millions in trackless-trolley infrastructure, and then either lobby for some replacement for coal to come along, or seek out a niche wind farm somewhere (as you suggest). Given the long list of infrastructure repairs SEPTA needs, I just don’t see how this should be a priority.

    Also — how do trackless trolleys deal with detours? That is, when you’re dealing with a complete street closure rather than just double parking. Can they operate off the grid for a short period?

  8. Bob says:

    well the newer trackless trolleys have batteries or a small motor that will move them a couple miles on a detour. the ones in North Phila run By SEPTA have the small engine and can run for a couple hours on backup power

    the vast amounts of money make little sense when the infrastructure is already there on two routes #29 & 79 and if the trackless trolley can’t get thru neither will the bus since they share the same vehicle body.


  9. Al Achtert says:

    Modern trackless trolleys have off-wire capability with a small diesel engine. The biggest problem with diverting in the narrow streets would be making the turns if both sides of the street have parked cars all the way to the intersection. Streetcars are being developed which have batteries that can be charged from the overhead wire and used to propel the cars over reasonably short distances. This same technology could be used in trackless trolleys.

    While life cycle costs for trackless trolleys and diesel buses may be approximately equal on account of the longer useful life for the trackless trolley and the more predictable fuel cost, the upfront costs are greater especially if it involves converting a diesel line to trackless. Thus the transit agency is likely to ask what is cheaper now.

    Ultimately it becomes a political question. Do we elect people who believe in investing in our infrastructure or do we elect people who believe in letting people fend for themselves?

  10. Tom McHugh says:

    Mike, Thank you for an interesting and informative article. You are right about electric trolleys (and, of course the same can be said for electric commuter rail) being the most efficient and least polluting form of public transportation. Coal is being phased out quickly at electric power plants by cheap and much cleaner (much less CO2) burning natural gas. There is a glut of natural gas that is holding the price down and that situation shows no sign of ending anytime soon. Of course clean renewable wind energy is the ultimate way to power the transportation system and the cost is competitive. The physics are clear. Nothing can match the efficiency of steel wheels rolling on steel rails, so eventually the trolleys with their tracks will come back to Philadelphia. Double parked cars and SUVs will simply be towed and impounded. The days of the Single Occupant Vehicle are numbered, as well they should be. The question is, how many decades into this new century will have pass before SEPTA joins the 21st century?

    1. Sam says:

      Tom – If I didn’t know any better, I would think you were some Environmentalist wacko lefty who wants to make sure that we don’t have the freedom to ride in our cars anymore. You’re probably cheering for the price of oil to keep increasing so that only the well-to-do (or the politically well-connected) will be able to afford to drive. (After all, if really wanted cheap(er) oil, you’d be advocating for more domestic drilling and fracking. Why don’t you just come out and say it: “Petroleum should be banned immediately. I don’t care if people don’t have personal mobility anymore, as long as I can breathe without fear of any carbon emissions. MY (perceived) health quality is way more important than anyone else’s freedom of choice and movement.”

      You and everyone else of your ilk would have some credibility if you would advocate for a GRADUAL AND ECONOMICALLY VIABLE shift from fossil fuels to so-called renewable energy sources (wind and solar). That way, we really could have it both ways. But instead, all of you insist on taking away fossil fuels BEFORE we have the capacity, infrastructure, ALONG WITH ECONOMIC/MARKET EFFICIENCY to support renewable energy. And that reveals your true (RED) colors that you are all nothing but a bunch of “stateists” who want nothing more than to de-industrialize America in order to “cut her down to size” and to control every aspect of people’s lives, such as the type of cars we can drive (if you’ll even allow that), the type of lightbulbs and toilets we can use in our own homes, the type of healthcare insurance we can have, whether or not we can eat peanut butter in school, etc.

      1. Tom McHugh says:

        Oh Sam, you’ve got me all wrong. The average car and light truck lasts for about 11 years so it will require time to switch to more efficient forms of transportation. And what about all of the people that bought homes in the sprawl of the far suburbs? The problem is that we can’t afford to dither like we have been for so long. Freedom is great. I hope that people will use their personal freedom to do the right thing. I think that the best solution to both our addiction to fossil fuels and the CO2 that they emit, is Dr. James E. Hansens’s carbon fee and dividend program. A gradually increasing carbon fee placed on energy companies will be 100% distributed equally and electronically to every legal citizen. Hummer owners and soccer moms can still drive their Hummers and Chevy Suburbans but they will pay more in higher fuel costs than they receive in dividends. On the other hand, conservative people will get dividends significantly larger than their fuel costs. The economy will boom with investment in energy efficient products and clean renewable energy sources. This plan lets the free market system put us on a path that is more economically and environmentally sustainable and will reduce both our dependence on foreign oil and our CO2 emissions. If America wants to remain a superpower, we must do this.

  11. Transit Jeff says:


    Modern trackless trolleys {including SEPTA’s new trackless trolleys} feature off-wire ability. There is a small Diesel engine that generates the electricity to power the coach off wire. The operator simply presses a dashboard toggle switch and the trolley poles lower automatically. Another switch turns on the engine. Modern electric trackless trolleys have all of the flexibility of a Diesel bus.

    There are other ways to generate electricity besides coal. Among the cleaner methods are solar and wind power. It’s easier to control pollution at a single source rather that from hundreds of tailpipes spewing pollutants in narrow, congested streets where people are exposed to it. And let’s not forget that noise is a pollution too. Electric trackless trolleys are almost silent in operation.

    Regarding the infrastructure investment, many streets in Philadelphia are already lined with steel {and new concrete ones} trolley poles that used to hold up the trolley wires of long abandoned trolley routes. It it no longer necessary to build huge elctrical substations to power electric transit lines, like what was once needed years ago. What used to require huge, expensive buildings can now be easily placed in small, underground vaults every few miles along a route.

    Speaking of costs, have you checked the price of oil and Diesel fuel lately? We fight wars to keep us in oil from foreign countries that hate us. Thousands of lives are lost, not to mention those maimed for life that we have to support for the rest of their lives. Does anybody factor those costs into running Diesel buses? Remember, electricity is generated locally.

  12. David Lane says:

    I would seriously question Mr. Sperling’s conclusion as described in your comment above.

    If I’m not riding the bus every day I would be driving my car–as I used to do. The bus is running regardless. In fact the bus enables my wife and I to eliminate our second car altogether! The answer is to increase bus ridership.

    1. Mike Szilagyi says:

      David, the idea is not that we transit users start driving cars instead of riding buses, as Sperling seems to be suggesting, but rather to change the equation. The idea is simply that clean buses (100% electric ones) are better than diesel burning buses. If you look past SEPTA’s greenwashing, their hybrid diesel buses still burn 90% of the diesel, still pollute the air. SEPTA could run true electric trackless trolleys but their managers choose not to do so. Instead, SEPTA has had a policy of allowing the electric trolley infrastructure to fall apart. Not-so-benign neglect. Then they turn around and tell us they can’t fix it because fixing it would cost $X million.

      Last year Seattle Washington considered eliminating their trackless trolley system and substituting diesel hybrid buses instead. What they found is that averaged out over the life-span of the vehicles (true electric vs hybrid diesel) the trackless trolleys are the more economical choice. A fleet of diesel hybrid buses will cost Seattle $15.5 million a year. A fleet of ETBs (trackless trolleys) will cost $11.8 million a year. So: Seattle is buying new tracklesses. How about here in Philly? Here SEPTA sticks cutesy green-leaf decals on diesel-burners.

      This is how it’s been for years at SEPTA. But with the change in management that’s happening now, there might be an opportunity for a change in leadership.

  13. JB says:

    My experience with SEPTA has been unreliable bus service, filthy subway and trolley stations and inadequate service to certain areas of Philadelphia. I think some of these concerns are probably shared by others, and seem like basic building blocks of public transport. Compared with cities like Boston or Berlin (or Paris), SEPTA’s service seems like a joke. I am so surprised to hear that SEPTA has won any awards that I am moved to comment.

    1. John says:

      I was in Brooklyn last week and used the subway, and I gotta say, those stations were gross. I’ve been all over Philly on transit and have never seen anything like that. And the trains didn’t even come that often. Sure SEPTA could do better in terms of cleanliness, but come on — the system’s old and the money ain’t there.

    2. Sandy Smith says:

      I’ve not ridden any European transit system, but I have ridden on all of the Northeast’s subways and light rail systems as well as those of Chicago, Miami and San Francisco/Oakland, as well as Seattle’s trolleybuses.

      Just as Philadelphia isn’t as bad as Philadelphians say it is, SEPTA isn’t as bad as its riders believe it is.

      Mike’s points about the long-run economics of electric vs. diesel transit notwithstanding, SEPTA has actually been a pretty good fiscal steward of its resources over the past decade. Repeated audits searching for (in the words of a now-departed critic familiar to many reading this) “waste, fraud and abuse” in the agency have found almost none.

      And I’m sure that you would rather be in Pittsburgh right now, where the Port Authority of Allegheny County has been reduced to running an old age pension plan instead of a transit system: Pittsburgh has half the transit service it had five years ago, and while the Port Authority was slashing service, it continued to plow half a billion dollars into a lovely subway extension for the benefit mainly of the baseball and football teams and little else.

      Or how about Washington, where “America’s Subway” is falling apart around the riders right now? The Metro has reached the end of its design life, and the Takoma crash two years ago revealed how badly the system’s safety features had deteriorated. An expose of WMATA revealed the agency is run mainly for the benefit of the politically connected and accepts slacking off as the norm. And nobody’s yet figured out where the billions needed to bring the Metro back to good repair will come from.

      San Francisco’s BART faces that same repair bill question. Meanwhile, most of SEPTA’s system IS in a state of good repair, thanks to some well-timed if not always well-executed repair and reconstruction work.

      And SEPTA hasn’t had to implement a Doomsday Service Plan – yet. (It will if the transportation funding picture in this state doesn’t improve Real Soon.)

      In Boston, riders have had to pay through the nose for the Big Dig. In Chicago, things were so bad a few years back that key parts of the ‘L’ operated under yard speed restrictions and trains derailed while standing still.

      Sure you want to trade SEPTA for any of these? I’ll take what we have here, thanks, even if it does strand me at Arrott Terminal at 1:15 in the morning when a driver decides to skip the last run of the evening.

  14. Matt Mitchell says:

    Two reasons that SF Muni kept its trolley coaches (their term) around are that Muni gets cheap electricity from the city-owned Hetch Hetchy dam, and that SF is a very hilly city. Electric traction is quite advantageous on hills, and it’s desirable if you tunnel under the hills as is the case on some of the city’s busier transit routes.

    1. Sandy Smith says:

      We note that hills are a prominent feature in two of the three U.S. cities where trolleybuses make up more than a small fraction of the overall surface transit network, namely, Seattle and San Francisco.

      The third is relatively flat Dayton, Ohio. Perhaps we should be talking to that city’s transit planners about why they chose to stick with large-scale trackless in an era when most other cities abandoned trackless trolleys about as fast as they did the ones on rails.

  15. David Lane says:

    Mike thanks for your article and comments. I very much appreciate your support for trackless trolleys, which I regard as treasures, but I think you are way too hard on diesel-electric buses. Please check your facts regarding hybrid buses. And I’d love to see content from the Seattle study on trolley replacement quoted in the article to make your point.

    What Toronto decided to do years ago (regarding hybrids) is not particularly relevant. They were using a different energy storage system and a totally different hybrid design. There is every reason to believe that today’s SEPTA hybrid buses get 20-30% better fuel economy than comparable straight diesel buses. Just look for articles regarding hybrid buses with Allison parallel drivetrains.

    Also, SEPTA’s gold award had a lot to do with their pilot project to develop wayside energy storage technology to capture, store, and reuse electricity generated from regenerative braking on trains on the Market-Frankford Line.

    Trackless trolleys are not anywhere near 100% green if they are plugging in to a lump of coal—as others have pointed out here.

    I’m going to submit this now and check out your website on Philly’s trolleys!

    1. Ninjk says:

      Toronto is junk. They use SEPTA’s old equipment because they can’t maintain or afford to buy new stuff. Which is often nowhere near as well constructed as it once was. Toronto is a very small, system with only a few modes. Only SEPTA runs all these modes efficiently on a large scale and has room to be green and set an example as well.

      1. This from Wikipedia on public transit in Toronto:

        Established in 1954, the TTC has grown to comprise four rapid transit lines with a total of 69 stations, as well as over 149 bus routes and 11 streetcar lines, of which 148 routes make 243 connections with a rapid transit station during weekday rush hours. The TTC operates the third most heavily used urban mass transit system in North America, after the New York City Transit Authority and Mexico City Metro.[2] In 2011, the average daily ridership was 2.59 million passengers.

        This makes it very comparable, but quite a bit larger, than SEPTA.


  16. B says:

    Sources please.

    1. Mike Szilagyi says:

      B, glad you asked about sources:

      1) “Metro wants new trolley buses to replace older models. Study says trolleys more cost effective than diesel-hybrids,” Seattle Post Intelligencer, April 27, 2011.

      2) Toronto finds hybrids get only 10% better fuel economy: “TTC going diesel again after hybrid bus glitch,” The Toronto Star, October 18 2008.

      3) SEPTA grossly inflated the estimated cost to restore trackless trolleys to Routes 29 and 79: Email correspondence from retired City of Philadelphia Commissioner of Public Transportation Ed Tennyson, dated July 15, 2010.

      4) The electric batteries on at least twelve SEPTA Hybrid Diesel buses, no. 5601H-5612H, have been disconnected due to ongoing “maintenance issues.” (The “H” in the unit number stands for Hybrid.) Those within SEPTA that know about this do not want their names used.

      Mike Szilagyi

      1. Ninjk says:

        Nope. They purchase it from the company I work for and I can’t speak release documents. Nor does SEPTA need to. They generate their own green power on a few lines that use regen braking and that’s all the public really needs to know. Most agencies don’t even go that far.

        Also, they never disconnected any batteries ever. That’s NY.

        Mike acts like he knows what goes on inside a private agency. He doesn’t. This whole article is false.

        1. Actually, SEPTA is a public agency. All its records and documents are in the public domain. If you have real information about SEPTA’s purchase of sustainable energy, this would be the place to report it. –ed.

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