Trolleybus Systems

Trolleybuses are often associated with the Soviet Union, communism and Cold War era Eastern Europe. But how much of that is still true today?


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Map of the trolleybus systems in the world.

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Trolleybuses are electric buses that get their power from overhead wires using spring-loaded trolley poles. Trolleybuses are often linked with the Soviet Union. On this map we can see that it’s partially true. Most of the trolleybus systems that currently exist, are in former Soviet states. The first trolleybus didn’t run in Russia or the Soviet Union, but in Germany in 1882. Trolleybuses were very popular and common in the first half of the 20th century. Over time, the number of trolleybus systems has been declining. It’s estimated that more than 800 trolleybus systems have existed. Currently there are 276 trolleybus systems in the world.

Trolleybuses have several advantages to trams: The infrastructure is cheaper than that of a tram network, it can climb hills better, is generally quieter and can avoid traffic more easily. Trolleybuses also have several advantages to (normal) motorbuses: They are more environmentally friendly, quieter and usually require less maintenance and last longer.

Despite those advantages, trolleybuses also have several disadvantages. Compared to trams, trolleybuses require a lot more directional control by the driver. Compared to motorbuses, trolleybuses can’t divert from their route very easily, due to the overhead wires. This can be very disruptive when the bus needs to re-route due to a traffic accidents or road construction. The overhead wires also prevent trolleybuses from overtaking each other. Driving a trolleybus also require more training than a motorbus. Trolleybuses are also more expensive than motorbuses. The overhead wires can create obstructions for tall motor vehicles (e.g., double decker buses or certain trucks). These wires may also be seen as unsightly.

Looking at this map, we can see that the majority of trolleybus systems are located in Europe and Asia. Russia has by far the largest number of trolleybus systems (79), almost a third of all trolleybus systems worldwide. Ukraine comes in second with 41 trolleybus systems. The largest trolleybus system in terms of route length, can be found in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Looking at the orange dots on the map, we can see that they are mostly concentrated in former Soviet states, Eastern Europe and the communist countries of China and North Korea. The stereotype of the trolleybus still seems to be true. There are however two non-communist countries outside of Eastern Europe that have more than 5 trolleybus systems: Italy and Switzerland.

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