1987: There’s a New Trolleybus in Town

October 29, 1987

A new trolleybus system was inaugurated in Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaanbaatar (also known as Ulan Bator). These trolleybuses have become a heavily used part of the city’s overall transit network, which also includes regular bus lines and a hodge-podge of privately owned passenger vans that are collectively called “microbuses.” The sometimes herky-jerky but generally sturdy trolleybuses have been nicknamed “goat carts” by many of Ulaanbaatar’s residents.

The only type of vehicle originally used for the trolleybus system in Ulaanbaatar was the Soviet (later Russian) ZiU-9 trolleybus. (ZiU is an acronym for Zavod imeni Uritskogo, which is a manufacturing plant named after Bolshevik revolutionary Moisei Uritsky.) A total of 40 of these trolleybuses were originally placed into service in Ulaanbaatar.

While the ZiU-9 vehicles have continued to be the mainstay of the city’s trolleybus system, several other types of vehicles have also become part of that fleet in more recent years. These vehicles include a more eco-friendly type of trolleybus that has been put together in Mongolia rather than imported in its entirety from elsewhere.

“Mongolia produced its first trolleybus domestically in 2006,” explained Jargalsaikhan Dugar, a mining economist and the one-time deputy president of the National Union of Metallurgy and Machine Production in Mongolia, at a public event in 2014. ”Since then, five types of buses and trolleybuses have been made in Mongolia, but the eco-trolleybus has been proven to be the most suitable for city service according to the experience of the past eight years.”

Along with their improved fuel efficiency, these homebuilt trolleybuses have also reflected both national pride and a more diversified economy in Mongolia. A 2014 article in the international daily newspaper Financial Times stated, “’Made in Mongolia’ trolleybuses bump along Peace Avenue, Ulan Bator’s main axis, alternating lousy braking with sudden acceleration. Most of their major components have been imported from abroad and the buses are only assembled locally. Still, they embody the ambition of local authorities to develop Mongolian industry.”

This point about greater economic sufficiency was likewise highlighted at that time by Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, the president of Mongolia from 2009 to 2017 when he spoke at the opening of a bus assembly plant in Ulaanbaatar. “Before, we were thinking of importing everything,” said Elbegdorj. “But things have been changing and today Mongolia can produce themselves, even buses.”

More than three decades after they began operations in a city that is home to nearly half of Mongolia’s total population of 3.3 million, the trolleybuses in Ulaanbaator comprise the only transit system of its kind in that large and landlocked East Asian country.

For more information on the Ulaanbaatar trolleybus system, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolleybuses_in_Ulaanbaatar

A video of one of the city’s trolleybuses is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoGg6354vks

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