This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Following up on serial catowner’s previous posts, here’s a bit in the Seattle Times from Mike Lindblom on the shaky future of Seattle’s electric buses:

At the Sodo maintenance base, trolleybus-maintenance manager Mike Eeds pointed to a crack in a steel roof member, near the rear door of a bus. It’s not a safety hazard but could cause leaks — and cracks are expected to spread through the fleet. Worn-out teeth were being replaced on the same bus’s drive axle. Metro has been cannibalizing spare parts, but those will run out by 2016, he said.

County elected officials must decide by next year whether to retire the old trolleybuses, buy new-generation models or switch to some other technology.

The Times also mentions the Metro audit, noting that switching to hybrids “could ostensibly save $8.7 million a year compared to trolleybuses.” Orphan Road contributor Matt the Engineer dissected the audit last fall and raised some serious questions about its assumptions.

Best-case scenario, according to the report, is an annual savings of $8.7M. Not an insignificant amount, but still only a piece of a $142M budget shortfall in 2013. And it must be weighed against what we’d be giving up if we switched to diesel/electric hybrids:

  • quieter neighborhoods
  • transit powered by clean energy
  • operating costs that are not subject to the vagaries of the oil market
  • better acceleration and performance on Seattle’s hills
  • the “permanence” of overhead wire, which leads to increased transit-oriented development

Is that worth the trade-off? Remember, we’re talking $8.7M in the best case, assuming that:

  • all $3.1M in efficiencies and $5.6M in capital savings are actually realized
  • the hybrids magically achieve 5mpg even though we know they only get 3.8mpg in practice
  • the price of diesel fuel doesn’t spike, which it almost certainly will once the global economy recovers and/or some kind of carbon bill passes Congress

Doesn’t seem at all worth it to me.

Capitol Hill Seattle has more information, including the contact information for many local representatives.