Electrobus was a trolleybus scheme that Metro pursued between 1980 and 1990. It was originally a proposal to bring trolleybuses back to Bradford. But when this failed to win government funding, routes in Leeds were added to the scheme. It was thought that these were more viable and would therefore be more likely to gain government funding. When the revised scheme also failed to win government funding, Metro decided to go it alone. But when a private bus operator began to operate a diesel bus service along the proposed first trolleybus route, the Electrobus scheme was quietly dropped.
Alternative Traction Options
In February 1980, Metro began looking at “alternative traction options.” There was only one alternative option available, electricity. On the 11th December 1980, Metro chairman Bill Proom attended a meeting of the Electric Vehicle Group in London at which a demonstration of electrically powered vehicles was given. After the meeting, Councillor Proom said, “We would like to put on a demonstration in West Yorkshire. I am talking about trolleybuses, not trams. I think trams are far too expensive at the moment, but they will have their place in the future because one man can operate a train of trams.” On the 20th February 1981, a presentation of the proposed system was shown to Secretary of State for Transport Norman Fowler at Brotherton House in Leeds.
Initial Trolleybus Schemes
It was subsequently announced that a route in Bradford had been chosen for a trial of either modern trolleybuses or electric/diesel duo-buses. Design work continued through 1981. The plan was for 21 trolleybuses to begin operation on the Wisbey-Bradford-Eccleshill route by November 1983. It was hoped that funding would come from the EEC and the government. But the EEC refused funding and Transport Secretary David Howell said it was “not a proper use of national resources at present.” The County Council and Metro applied for a Parliamentary Act giving them the authority to run trolleybuses anywhere in West Yorkshire without the need for further parliamentary approval. The Act received the Royal Assent on 30th July 1982. In July 1982, a further application was made to the government for money but it was again rejected.
In addition to the Bradford proposals. from late 1983 and during 1984, Metro was also working on plans for a trolleybus system for Leeds. It was thought that these plans were more viable than the Bradford plans and might make the government more interested. The project was launched on 22nd February 1984. It was for six trolleybus services to operate in Moortown, Roundhay and Middleton.
A report to the County Council’s Public Transport Committee said that whilst the cost of a trolleybus was double that of a diesel bus, it could be justified. The report said that the cost of the Bradford scheme was £2.1 million and the cost of the Leeds scheme was £5.9 million. There would be 52 trolleybuses in Leeds and 19 in Bradford. The proposals were developed during 1984 and 1985. Meanwhile, the government had ended Transport Supplementary Grants for public transport schemes.
In November 1985, Metro announced a new scheme called ‘Electrobus’ which would involve three stages. Stage 1 would have have 44 trolleybuses running between Moortown and Middleton through Leeds city centre and would cost £9.6 million. Stage 2 would have trolleybuses running from Bradford city centre to Buttershaw. Stage 3 would link Bradford to Leeds via Stanningley. The estimated cost of Stages 2 and 3 was £7.7 million. Metro said it would ask the government to provide the money for Stage 1 by means of a grant under Section 56 of the Transport Act 1968 and would ask the EEC to provide £3 million towards the other two stages. An application was made to the Secretary of State for Transport for a £4.8 million grant towards the cost of Stage 1.
In February 1986, the government rejected the application. A Transport Department spokesman said, "The attitude is that the Government would not want to become involved in spending a lot of money on a new scheme like this just as buses are being deregulated . . . We would want to give things time to settle down and see what the position is then.” On 7 May 1986 the government again refused to provide funding on the grounds of impending deregulation.
Deregulation came into effect in October 1986. At about the same time, Metro decided to apply for EEC funding for a grant towards another new scheme, which it designated ‘Phase 1.' The estimated cost was £9.15 million and the EEC was asked for £5 million. The proposal was for 29 trolleybuses on a 23 mile network from Bradford via Stanningley to Leeds.
By September 1987, EEC approval had not been received and a reduced scheme was launched. Metro invited tenders to build eight Electrobuses for Stage 1, the section of the route from Bradford city centre to Buttershaw. The estimated cost was £2 to £3 million. Metro chairman Councillor Simmons said the work would “definitely start” in Bradford the following year on Britain’s first new trolleybus system. Stage 2 from Bradford to Leeds would cost £6.5 million. Stage 3 would link Moortown and Roundhay.
In October 1988, Transport Secretary Paul Channon gave approval for Stage 1. Half of the £2 million cost was to be met by Metro. The cost of the vehicles was to be borne by the operator. Metro met in October 1988 and added a city centre feeder service to the scheme which increased its cost to £2.2 million.
Yorkshire Rider said it wanted to be the sole trolleybus operator, otherwise it would compete against the trolleybuses with its diesel buses. Yorkshire Rider was chosen. In May 1989, Councillor Simmons announced that the scheme would open on the 20th June 1991.
It was then found that all previous cost estimates had been wildly inaccurate. The business case had been built on the assumption that each trolleybus would be twice the cost of a diesel bus. This was because European trolleybuses were twice the cost of European diesel buses. But a UK trolleybus would cost three times as much as a UK diesel bus. The revised cost of the scheme was £4.8 million. At the same time, Metro estimated there would be an annual operating loss of £70k. Yorkshire Rider estimated that the annual operating loss would be £200k. In March 1990, Yorkshire Rider’s managing director Bill Cottham said the high costs would make the proposed Bradford to Buttershaw route “totally uneconomic.” As a result, the company was unwilling to pay for the required eight trolleybuses.
In May 1990, Metro asked the government for a grant towards the cost of the trolleybuses. The government told Metro that it would allow it to give Yorkshire Rider a grant from its own resources towards the cost of the vehicles provided it wasn’t anti-competitive. It was agreed that Metro would provide £1.3million of the £2.4 million cost. Metro and Yorkshire Rider both felt that the trolleybus should look very different from conventional single and double deckers.
Consideration was being given to purchasing the Mercedes Benz 0405 GTD duo-bus when another private bus operator 'Pride of the Road' registered a new diesel bus service on the proposed trolleybus route from Bradford to Buttershaw. The new service began on the 6th August 1990. There was no further mention of Electrobus from either Metro or Yorkshire Rider.
What Went Wrong
In a lecture entitled, “The Modern Trolleybus, Phantom or Phoenix” given to Transport Science at Liverpool on 10 March 1992, Dr R G P Tebb concluded that the trolleybus had failed on three counts:
The economics were bad, the threat of competing bus operators made trolleybus operation decidedly risky and thirdly, the technology had become too complicated, too unproven and too expensive - the passenger would never be able to afford it.
- Soper, James. "Leeds Transport," Volume 5, 1974 to 1986. Leeds Transport Historical Society, 2011, p. 1808