Right in front of my hotel in Luzern (aka Lucerne) was a bus stop where every five minutes (during peak hours) a 24-meter double-articulated electric trolleybus glided in silently and stopped to discharge and pick up passengers.
Since I was there during a heat wave which made cycling unattractive, and since I had a transit pass from my hotel which allowed unlimited travel within the city for the duration of my stay, I took the trolleybuses whenever I wanted to go to the theater, the railway station, the lakefront promenade or wherever.
For those who are not familiar with trolleybuses, I should point out that they have separate connections to two overhead wires, so as to complete the electrical circuit. Of course, the two wires must not be allowed to touch each other, as that would cause a short circuit.
Trams, on the other hand, need only one overhead wire because they are grounded by the metal tracks that they run on.
Trolleybuses are by no means a recent technology. I was surprised to learn that the first trolleybus was tried out for several weeks (by the Siemens company in Germany) in 1882. Luzern inaugurated its first trolleybus line in 1941.
My first experience with trolleybuses was when I moved to Bern in 1961. What I remember about them is that they had an unfortunate tendency to lose the connection between the trolley poles and the overhead wires, especially at a place where they had to make a sharp turn after coming down off of a hill. When this happened, the vehicle came to a halt, and the driver had to get out, go around to the back and fiddle with the pole rope, to coax the ‘contact shoes’ at the end of the poles back into contact with the overhead wires.
Now, six decades later, this is seldom a problem, since several mechanisms have been invented to establish and maintain the contacts. Also, most modern trolleybuses now have batteries that enable them to travel for short distances without an electrical connection.
Currently, twelve cities in Switzerland use trolleybuses as components of their urban transport systems. I haven’t been to all twelve, but of the ones I have visited, Luzern is the only one that uses trolleybuses for all of its major transit lines, those that are the busiest and most frequently served.
The other cities, like Zürich, Geneva and Bern, rely on tramways (with metal tracks) for their major lines. They use trolleybuses mainly for supporting lines that have to go up and down hills, since the rubber tires get better traction on slopes than metal wheels against metal rails. (Basel, which has hardly any hills, phased out its last trolleybus line in 2008.)
My photos and text in this post are from 2022.