Transit Future Through the Past

By Jason Leach
Published February 18, 2008

As many cities, including Hamilton, look to a possible future of sleek modern streetcars, electric light rail trains and hybrid buses, it seems appropriate to take another look at one of the most loved transit vehicles in our lifetime ­ the fishbowl.

Those not familiar with buses or transit might have no clue what I'm talking about.

Ahh, but you actually do. Even if you never had the pleasure of riding one, you most certainly will recall seeing Hamilton's streets filled with these classic, shiny buses for the past several decades.

Saturday's Toronto Star does a great job of recounting the history of the fishbowl.

I was always a big fan of Hamilton's trolley buses and fishbowl buses. Sadly, the trolleys are gone and I think the fishbowls are just about gone too.

I rode one last year on the 51-University line, but don't recall seeing any recently. (Perhaps a reader in the know can confirm whether they have in fact been retired or where we can find one in the city for quite possibly a final ride.)

Much info can be found online about Hamilton's transit history.

I love the old photos, not just because of the buses, streetcars and trolleys, but also seeing familiar areas and streets that quite simply looked better, busier and more vibrant than today.

Of course it wouldn't be Hamilton history or politics without some controversy and possible sabotage.

Dr Richard Gilbert presented a ground-breaking report aptly titled "Hamilton: The Electric City" to City Council a couple of years ago.

So far no action has been taken on this report, yet virtually all of the report should be adopted into our planning process and documents.

It's clear, precise and in my opinion, a no-brainer. Dr. Gilbert laid out a wonderful path of opportunity for Hamilton. It's funny how all these years later, something as simple as a trolley bus can become a symbol of the future.

On a recent trip to Boston I was so amazed and impressed at the trolley bus network. It was quiet, quick and convenient.

Hamilton's transit future should include electric light rail, streetcars, hybrid BRT for suburban lines, and a return to the extensive trolley bus network we once enjoyed.

The fishbowls seem to have run their course, but today we look back in amazement at a well-built and well-maintained transit vehicle that tripled its life expectancy and served millions of Canadian transit riders.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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