CTA’s Original “Green” Buses

Like many other cities in the 1950s, Chicago was replacing its streetcars with buses. Motor buses weren’t tied to tracks or overhead trolley wires. They were considered the wave of the future.

Gasoline-powered buses had been around for decades. Most of the newer model buses used diesel fuel. CTA opted for a third way—liquefied propane gas.

Propane buses at CTA's North Park garage, 1956

Propane buses at CTA’s North Park garage, 1956

Propane was odorless. It was considered a “non-strategic fuel” that would be readily available even if the country got into another world war. And dollar-for-mile, propane buses were cheaper to operate than either gasoline or diesel vehicles.

CTA tested 31 propane buses in 1950. They performed so well that 520 more were ordered the next year, the largest single bus order in U.S. history. The lucky builder was the Twin Coach company of Kent, Ohio.

Propane was a volatile fuel, so propane buses might be unsafe—that was the argument made by companies who built diesel-powered buses.  Neighborhood opposition forced CTA to remove propane storage tanks from its Lawndale garage. Though there would be a few accidents over the years, there were no major explosions.

CTA propane bus on Western near Lincoln, 1975

CTA propane bus on Western near Lincoln, 1975

CTA continued to expand its fleet. By 1963 the agency was operating 1671 propane buses. Seeing the success of the Chicago program, about two dozen other cities followed suit.

Meanwhile, diesel technology was advancing. Running diesel-powered vehicles became more cost-effective. Twin Coach went out of business, and there was no other reliable manufacturer to replace it.

CTA phased out its propane fleet in the late 1970s. However, the recent push for more “green” energy leads some experts to believe that propane buses are due for a comeback.



3 Responses to “CTA’s Original “Green” Buses”

  1. 1 Ralph February 19, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    I never knew that these buses were propane and I use to ride them all the time. The WLAK FM has been around a long time.

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