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July 20, 2011

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End of the road for city trolley buses

SHANGHAI'S trolley buses will soon glide off into history, as the local operator is phasing out the aging vehicles.

They are expected to be replaced by new energy vehicles by 2014.

Many passengers said they will be sad to see the passing of the electric buses that, together with trams, helped shape the city landscape.

"I will really miss riding the trolley bus to the Bund for a day out," said Sun Shuying, a local in her 80s.

Sun said locals often call them "braid buses" because of the long traction line connecting to the overhead wires.

Trolley buses were first introduced in Shanghai 97 years ago.

The city now has 173 trolley buses on 10 routes, down from 986 in their peak in 1994, said operator Shanghai Bashi Co.

"Of course the buses use green energy and are environmental friendly, but they are slow and the wire causes many problems" said a manager surnamed Lei.

One trolley bus driver said if a bus traveled too fast, the connection to the wire would break and it would have to be towed away.

Bashi said trolley buses will be gradually replaced by capacitor electric buses and "supercapacitor" ones used at the World Expo site and already introduced on some routes on a limited scale.

Some passengers accused the operator of taking a backward step as they will be replacing the trolley buses with gasoline ones until there are enough electric buses.

But Lei did not accept this. "It's not right to say we are giving up the green energy buses," said Lei. "We are just waiting."

Lei said the capacitor bus technology "is still not mature enough."

The new buses would be priced at least 2 million yuan (US$300,000) each, and maintenance is expensive.

Concerns were expressed by bus staff. "I think the trolley buses are in good shape," said a senior dispatcher surnamed Wu.

Wu, who has worked on the buses for more than 30 years, said crews have found that the batteries on the capacitors are hard to handle and repair.


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