CHICAGO—The streets of the Windy City have featured many forms of public transit over the years, from horse-drawn omnibuses to cable cars (at one time, Chicago’s extensive network was much larger than the more well-known one in San Francisco). For the latest chapter, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has gone “back to the future” with a fleet of electric buses.
Six electric buses produced by Proterra are currently rolling around on the city’s North Side as part of a test. The CTA has a contract with Proterra to acquire 17 more buses if the test is successful.
“Once these prototype vehicles pass the testing phase and we purchase additional electric buses, [we] will be one step closer to [our] goal of having a 100 percent electric fleet by the year 2040,” says Dorval Carter, Jr., president of CTA. “In addition to lower emissions that improve air quality for everyone, the new electric buses will offer significant savings in fuel and maintenance costs for the agency. For customers, the buses will provide a smoother, quieter ride, producing noise levels equivalent to a human conversation.”
As part of its EV initiative, the CTA has also installed quick-charging stations at several bus turnarounds, including popular Navy Pier. The overhead, cantilever-type chargers enable buses to “reload” while on route, allowing the vehicles to return to service quickly. The buses can run 75 to 120 miles on a single charge.
Chicago was once home to a huge fleet of rubber-tired trolley buses that used overhead wires from the city’s vast streetcar network. The electric buses operated from 1930 to 1973.  At its peak, the CTA operated 700 “trackless trolleys,” which was the largest fleet in North America. Many of the vehicles, which were built by companies such as J.G. Brill Co., Marmon-Herrington and Pullman-Standard, featured General Electric and Westinghouse traction motors.
The Illinois Railway Museum in Union, IL, has six vintage Chicago trolley coaches in its collection, including several vehicles that are in regular operation on the museum grounds.