Trolley study timeline.

King Country Metro has a message to the residents and politicians of Seattle: the bus agency has barely begun to study electric trolley buses, so please… Well, please calm down. “We’re just at the beginning of this process,” said Linda Thielke, a Metro spokesperson. “No decision has been made. All the options are still on the table.”

At a presentation before the Seattle City Council yesterday, Metro staff outlined some of the parameters of study that will be conducted over the next year and then presented to the King County Council around March, 2011. The County Council will decide by November, 2011 whether to purchase new electric trolley buses or move toward hybrid buses as part of the Metro biennial budget process.

Some blogs have accused Metro of trying to kill of the trolley buses with this study, but Thielke says it is being done “with a blank slate and open mind.” She said that recognizes that some benefits of trolleys — like quiet operation — aren’t strictly monetary savings. The study — called the “Trolley Bus System Evaluation” — is budgeted to cost $850,000.

An earlier audit of Metro estimated the county could save $8.7 million a year by buying hybrid buses instead of new trolleys when the current trolley fleet is retired in 2014. Some — including Metro staff — have accused the auditor of using optimistic numbers for hybrid costs, noting that trolleys were cheaper to operate than hybrids when deisel was expensive in the summer of 2008, according a report in the PI. Theilke says that Metro understands it can’t “go just by the price off the shelf” and must also study “oil prices over time.”

More after the jump…

But much of the savings identified by the auditor would come from scheduling and efficiency improvements that may not be able to be accomplished as long as trolley buses are confined to their overhead wires. Notably, Metro is the only trolley bus operator in North America whose buses can’t operate when disconnected from the wire. Newer technology might address that issue, but new trolleys are costlier than hybrid buses because few transit systems in America use electric trolley buses (just five, according to Thielke).

Thielke said the study would be happening no matter what the auditor had found, because of the tremendous costs involved in replacing the 159 trolley bus fleet. The 2014 retirement date is a hard deadline, Thielke told us, because some of the buses are falling apart and some of the replacement parts “are no longer being made.”

The trolley infrastructure has been around in Seattle since 1940 when “Seattle’s sytem of streetcars were replaced by a network of electric trolley buses,” said Jonathan Dung, a transportation planner for Seattle’s Depoartment of Transportation.

The next step will be a trolley open house that we reported on earlier today. In September, the commission handling the study will outline their methodology to the King County Council.

89 Replies to “Metro Tells Seattle: No Decision on Trolleys”

  1. According to Metro’s website:

    A trolley cannot operate if it is not connected to the overhead power. Unlike a hybrid bus, a trolley has no on-board energy storage system. So, when a trolley is braking or going downhill, the extra energy that is developed is dissipated through resistors. Some energy can be put back into the power lines, but only if there is another trolley on the line that needs the energy.

    That only applies to our current equipment, and not all equipment. Wish they would’ve clarified that.

    1. Most new equipment can run off-wire for a short distance. In fact, a certain city whose name I forget has trolleybuses run on battery for a few hundred feet in their downtown as part of their route.

      1. Vancouver’s new trolleys have propulsion battery backup. However, the air compressor is NOT on backup so you’re really limited by the amount of air pressure on board for operating the brakes. Once the air pressure goes too low the emergency brakes “hand grenade” and lock up. The driver I spoke with said the range of the backup propulsion is about 8 blocks but that’s obviously dependent on a lot of conditions and how much you need to use the brakes.

      2. SEPTA’s new Flyer E40LFR trolleycoaches have small generators for off wire movement as well. Indeed, Seattle tested a Trolleycoach in the early 80s built by Renault that also had this technology, as well as the Neoplan E-Bus an early diesel electric hybrid before settling on the Breda duobuses for use in the DSTT.

      3. The new Orians are serial hybrids where the diesel motor can run at essentially constant rpm and the electric motor driving the wheels can draw down battery power when demand exceeds the generator output. The current crop of hybrids have a special transmission (Allison I think) that bolts up to the diesel in a conventional mannor but has auxilary inputs that are fed by electric motors. The serial hybrids are much easier to adapt to tolley use. You just pull out the diesel and replace it with the electrical power controls from the overhead. I’m pretty sure Daimler has experience with trolley systems in Europe. It might also be possible to save some money by reusing the existing pick-up systems from buses being scrapped. It wouldn’t be the first time that buses were ordered and completed here after delivery.

      4. Well, the key point is that you no longer need the very complicated junction work at intersections with new trolleybuses; the battery in a modern trolleybus is always good enough to cross a single intersection!

        This eliminates the most expensive portion of wire maintenance.

  2. I don’t know how accurately Thielke’s statements were represented here but I’m certainly not hearing the words I want to hear. Some of the benefits such as the “quiet operation” are indeed important but the number one benefit that should be a huge advantage is the fact that the trolley buses are 0 EMISSION VEHICLES!
    All I want to hear is that Metro understands how important that is and will consider it in their open minded analysis.
    Another couple ideas that I hope make it into their eventual analysis-

    -Metro should get a better deal with Seattle City Light- particularly for off peak energy usage. Let’s capitalize on our low cost evening and weekend hydro power generation in the Northwest.

    -Operations and scheduling will be much simpler with new trolley buses that have auxiliary power and will therefore be able to go off wire for a few blocks. This could even open up new route possibilities like driving over drawbridges.

    -Long term vision: Trolley buses give us the ability to eventually make a comprehensive oil free transit system. We have a huge head start with the existing trolley network and we can’t afford to lay rail everywhere (nor can we on steep hills). What is the long range vision in becoming more dependent on diesel buses?

    1. This could even open up new route possibilities like driving over drawbridges.

      The current trolley network crosses both the Montlake and University draw bridges.

      1. … although they slow to a crawl going over the metal grating in the middle of the bridge. The diesel buses don’t, so is it possible that future trolleybuses won’t have to either?

      2. Maybe one of the operators will comment on this, but I assume it’s because there are probably some dead spots or switch work in the wires across the the bridge to facilitate disconnecting the wires when the span opens.

        In other threads, operators have said that they basically have to coast through intersections where various trolley wires cross as a result of switches. It seems reasonable that that’s why they’re going so slowly over the draw spans too.

        As for future buses… Your guess is as good as mine. If there wasn’t a risk of the poles coming loose from the wires and the off-wire capability could cut in quickly and automatically, they probably wouldn’t have to slow down. I’d bet they still will, though.

      3. Slowing down the coach at special work is required so you dont de-wire and tear the overhead down. The fact you may momentarily loose power coasting through insulators and the like is a moot point.

      4. As I recall, we have to slow to 5 (10?) mph crossing the draw bridges because the wire on those bridges is designed to go slack as the bridge raises. Because the wire isn’t rigid, it can bounce around more so it’s easy to become disconnected.

        I’ve never seen Vancouver’s trolleys disengage from the wire but it can be done with the push of a button. That said, there is some time required for the operation plus the drivers are supposed to verify that the current collectors are secured properly. In the short conversation I had with a Vancouver driver, I didn’t get the impression that the backup propulsion was designed for regular operation. It’s probably best to just continue the current slow order operation over the bridges but that’s just an educated guess.

      5. Of course. My mistake. I was thinking about the Fremont Bridge and wondering why none of the trolley lines that go up Queen Anne continue to Fremont. Does anyone know why?

      6. I’ve wondered that too. I think it’s historical accident. The 26/28 on Dexter do go to Fremont so maybe that was considered close enough 50 years ago, or maybe there just weren’t that many people going from QA to Fremont.

      7. How would you get there? You’d either have to wind your way back down to 15th, build a new high level bridge across the ship canal. It’s way too steep to get back down to the Freemont Bridge.

      8. The 26/28 and the 17 switched places at one point, maybe in the 90s. Previously the 17 went on Dexter and the 26/28 on Westlake. I don’t know why they were changed.

        It has long been an inconvenience to the people on the top of Queen Anne that there are no buses to Fremont or north Seattle, except the 45 to UW at rush hour. It just shows the downtown-centric nature of the early system. People asked for a Denny Way bus for decades until the 8 was created.

    2. Our trolly buses already go over drawbridges, but the advantage of short distance operation without wires are still important from a cost/schedule POV. It’s interesting that of the 5 cities that run ETB’s ours is apparently the only fleet that doesn’t have this capability (at least for short distances).

      1. yeah because all the others replaced their fleet with brand new vehicles in the last 10-12 years

  3. isnt the trolley infrastructure in seattle from around 1979 not 1940?

    can we have a conversation about trolley expansion too, extensions to northgate, north seattle and west seattle, madison park (so logical to do), fremont, the long talked about 15/18 electrification? what is the latest typical cost per mile of ETB overhead?

    1. I think you’re right about the 1979 date. We had infrastructure before then, but it may have been different.

      1. It was different before then. They used the power-on/power-off switches, as well as a different type of wire and distribution system. These were discussed by a member of MEHVA on the Twin Coach trolleybus during the recent excursion.

      2. One of the major differences is that the overhead is “slack” now and was formerly tightly tensioned. I grant that in many places the wires look taught, but even during cold spells they are much less so than pre-1979.

        Out in the neighborhoods, one could tell when an ETB was coming for several blocks because the overhead would “sing”. It was quiet enough not to disturb residents in adjacent houses, but for people outdoors it was an unmistakable part of inner Seattle.

        “Slack wire” requires less maintenance and with the new light fiberglass poles that became available in the 1970’s, it became possible to keep dewirements down to an acceptable level.

        The buses can’t go as fast, though. Tight wire allows speeds as high at 50 mph.

      3. Even with the “slack wire” the maximum speed is around 45 MPH, which, is faster than you can legally move in the city anyway. You can use various Speedwire installations to increase your speeds through curves and other special work though. K&M is/was a vendor and its widely used in europe. Most of seattle’s system is OB or whomever is manufacturing it these days.

    2. Madison Park is the most obvious place for ETBs. Ballard is superceded by RapidRide. (I think both the 15 and 18 will be going away, and the 17 is too minor for a trolleybus, especially if it’s going to be split between a 32nd branch and a Seaview branch.) The 28 maybe, and that would also serve Fremont, but it would duplicate the Fremont SLUT if that’s going to happen. West Seattle is getting Rapid Ride and maybe light rail, so we’d have to avoid duplicating that. Northgate is pretty far away (i.e., it would require a lot of trolley wire). Which Northgate route, the 66? People going from downtown or UW to Northgate will take Link because it’s faster. Perhaps a trolley on Roosevelt would serve the in-between people and encourage Metro to make it a 15-minute corridor full time?

      1. And the 8. At least Denny Way should have a trolleybus; it’s got high ridership and steep hills. Not sure about the MLK corridor; that would set in stone the detour to 23rd & Jackson and back.

      2. The 13 could be extended to Woodland Park. East on Nickerson, north on Fremont,left on 43rd like the 5, right on 50th to the terminal. Return south on Fremont to Nickerson, continue Cremona and regular route.

        Crossing the University Bridge takes me about 15 seconds at a speed above 10-14mph.

  4. When Seattle Transit merged with to form Metro, wasn’t there a contractual agreement that Metro would continue to provide ETB service in Seattle? If so, what has changed now?

    1. The deal in the 1972 vote that put Metro into the transit business was that Metro pledged (promised, really) to rebuild and expand the electric trolleybus system. And it went on to do exactly that. It tore out all of the old infrastructure — all of the old overhead, power supply system, substations, etc., and replaced it with an entirely new system. And of course bought a brand new fleet of 40-foot trolleybuses from AMG (later supplemented by 60-foot MAN trolleybuses from Germany).

      Unfortunately, the 1972 agreement said nothing about keeping the rebuilt and expanded trolleybus system indefinitely. Consider it vulnerable, very vulnerable given the suburban bias on the County Council, the suburban majority rules, when they want to.

      And also remember: The George Benson Waterfront Streetcar line bit the dust in the dark of night in January 2009 when the big-bore tunnel deal was cut. No public input. No public discussion. No public hearing. Just done and gone.

      If they can do it to the WF streetcar, they can do it to the trolleybus system.

      1. No, the WF streetcar was killed by the Sculpture Park, but will come back if there are enough supporters who want it. Nickels wanted to push the First ave line so he made some comments incorrectly asserting that the First Ave line served the same demo, but that is easily shown to be false.

  5. The Seattle PI story from today linked to a pdf slideshow which including some very nice SDOT GIS electric trolley bus overhead maps from 1963, 1973 and 2010… where can one get a full size version of these maps?

  6. One huge assumption I’m hearing is that the entire fleet “MUST” be replaced in 2014-2015. Two points I’d like to make are:
    1. Yes, the Gillig 40′ buses are powered by cannibalized 70-80’s motors and controllers, but the buses won’t be worn out until about 2015-2020, depending on who you talk to. WHAT’S THE COST OF BUYING NEW MOTORS AND CONTROLS?, instead of replacing the whole bus early.
    2. HOW MUCH DID METRO SAVE?, as a result of not buying new trolleys, and opting to put old motors into new Gillig bodies, and then not buying new artics, and cannabilizing the mostly worn out fleet of Breda’s, except for the motors, which had very little use over their lifespans.
    If Metro saved some money, that savings should be ammortized to the current value of cash, then applied towards the “decision to defer purchased equipment”. I suspect that will make the ETBs pencil out far better.

      1. I thought the motor was the thing that lasted the longest, and that’s why we bought Gillig shells–because the old shells were worn, old, and ugly.

      2. Motors get rewound and new bearings all the time to make them ‘good as new’. The frames don’t wear out.
        As far as controls go, newer trolleys have DC control packages, so it’s a matter of sizing for amps/volts from current suppliers and figuring out where to mount the stuff, and running wire harnesses. Far from rocketeering.

      3. You could repower the shells of the gilligs, but who wants high floor coaches anymore? Really an intergral solution like Vancouver’s E40LFR and E60LFRs needs to be purchased. With new Kiepie motor and controller packages, EPU built in (without being gafted onto the gilligs), and the other modern finerys of low floor coaches coming from the factory.

        I really have to wonder, is the overhead and other infrastructure worn out more than the coaches? Remember that what was left of the STS infrastructure was removed and totally replaced in 78-79. Mind you it has been kept up over the years, however i’m sure the wire is starting to age and wear some, along with the substations and the like.

    1. According to Metro’s web site, they saved about $200,000 per coach or about $20 Million on the entire order back in 2001.

      As much as I’d like to see the life of current equipment extended, they really do need to look at purchasing new buses. Low floor equipment with a more open floor plan and AC would be a welcome addition to the trolley routes. More buses and investment in more passing wire and/or express wire would also be a really good idea.

  7. I think it’s time for everybody who (1) wants a trolleybus system in Seattle and especially (2) has direct technical knowledge of the technology to get seriously involved in transit politics.

    I also think that it would be good politics to start talking about trolleybuses and streetcars as part of the same system- including shared shops, training, and facilities.

    In addition, as was mentioned in public comment several times at yesterday’s City Council meeting, if PACCAR and anybody else local needs and employment generator, an electric transit manufacturing industry might also generate the tax revenues to solve the present budget disaster.

    If we want to save trolleybuses- and the transit system and the rest of local civilization, we have to focus attention on the credit side of the balance sheet.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Not only that, but as CD News pointed out the “money goes to a completely different place, into the pockets of local workers vs. paid to overseas oil producers.” It’s not just the tax revenue, it’s the entire local economic ecosystem.

    2. Hmm, and perhaps Link as well. Surely there could be some sort of shared facilities and maintenance equipment for the different types of overhead wire.

      1. It’s probably more likely that they’ll share with the streetcars. In fact, does anyone here know where the streetcar gets its power from, and whether it’s part of the DC power distribution system used by the ETBs? I know in San Francisco, the F Line and ETBs actually share wire along Market Street.

      2. Theres a siemens cabinet north of the last streetcar station in lake union. i dont know if this is connected to the line, but i’d guess it supplies part of the power for it anyway.

        I’d wager that the rest of the power comes off of Metro’s exisiting trolleycoach capasity in downtown.

        The overhead crew, electrical dept, Equipment, etc. could be shared amonst LINK, Streetcars and Trolleycoaches.

        It’s only diffrent voltages to work with (1500 vs 700)

      3. There’s another Siemens cabinet on Terry just north of Denny and I think there is one underground near Westlake and Virginia. I believe the streetcar power system is completely separate from the trolleybus supply. I remember a few times during the initial testing that the power system for the streetcars went out when the pantograph of one streetcar shorted across the trolleybus overhead at Westlake and Stewart.

    3. I would love to see the trolleybus system and streetcar system integrated. Streetcars for the major corridors that are relatively flat, trolleybuses for steep hills. They should both be seen as elements of a future all-electric fleet. Maybe the city could develop a dedicated revenue source and take over the trolleybus network and just contract with Metro to drive them? The Streetcar division at SDOT seems very capable and they could be in charge of the trolleybus system as well. Or maybe they just take over the trolleywire maintenance and expansion component. I don’t know what the best method is, but Seattle needs to step up on this.

  8. I’ve never understood the $3.1 million extra in scheduling cost to operate the trolley fleet. It isn’t explained in the original study, other than to say that the trolleys lack off-wire capability. How was that number arrived at?

    1. I think it’s simple: you can’t make a 43 turn into a 71 at the end of its run because the 71 routes doesn’t have overhead wires. Do in a lot of edge cases like this, buses wait or return to bus when they could be utilized if they were hybrids.

      1. Still doesn’t make sense to me. Even a hybrid 71 sits around between runs, as do diesels they put on some trolley routes on the weekends. Around peak commute is almost the only time I see buses deadheading to base, and they could just put hybrids on the few extra runs there. The ETB routes are almost all relatively short high-frequency routes that aren’t deadheading all the time.

      2. Schedule inefficiencies are real even if we don’t understand fully why they exist. I’m sure we can dig into more details by looking into the audit or asking Metro.

      3. I can understand that a trolley has to deadhead or return to base along the existing wires while a diesel can just take the straightest route back to base. But does that really add up to $3.1 million per year? Or is there some other inefficiency of trolleys that wastes $3.1 million/year that a diesel would be saving?

      4. On most all-day routes, whether diesel or trolley, they have a layover and then return on the same route. Unless the layover is extremely long it would waste more time and money to deadhead somewhere else. If you really want to turn a 3 into a 4, you can do that at either end. If you made the 15 and 18 into trolleys and want to turn them into each other, then just bridge the outer terminals with extra wire. I can see that there may be some inefficiency at the first or last run of the day as the trolleys pull out or into the base. Any other savings, including at peak times, are likely to be eaten up by costs of deadheading (Would you save much by having some buses deadhead non-revenue back to downtown during the afternoon peak?) These savings really seem marginal.

      5. I can see that happening when a 44 has to go through the University District to get to Ballard rather than taking the quickest route. Of course, one solution to that would be to electrify the 18.

      6. in addition, there are few spots for trolleycoaches to pass one another. For example if you have a bunching situation on the 44, all 2 or 3 coaches will have to slog behind the first one that’s already running late until they can either pass, or if the operator is smart enough to stop, pull his poles, let them pass and resume. Also, since he cannot run off wire he cant easily short turn to get back on schedule.

    1. Because the capital expenses are the problem with ETBs too. Maybe if certain areas such as Eastlake were OK with a LID to cover streetcar construction cost, but otherwise no.

      1. Has there been much discussion of more LIDs in Seattle? I’m curious if there are any proposals in the works? They seem like a great way to raise revenue, get local neighborhoods involved in the improvements and address improvement more holistically. The SLUT definitely showed that Seattle developers recognize the value that transit brings to a neighborhood. Could ETB expansion generate such clout?

    2. Streetcars can’t go up steep hills, whereas trolleybuses are ideally suited to steep hills. That should be the main factor from a planning perspective in deciding between the two. Cost is always a factor as well, but trolleybuses could be used as placeholders on future streetcar routes until LIDs or other funding sources come up.

      1. I’m sorry, but the technology to climb hills existed in the early 1900s with streetcars climbing Queen Anne hill on Queen Anne Ave N (I believe the grade reached 18% in one section).

      2. They were totally able to climb it.

        They just did it very slowly, compared to the ETB’s that came along.

        I believe racing the streetcar up Queen Anne was something the first “demonstration” ETB did when the makers were pitching them to the city. It won soundly.

      3. As Mark Dublin mentions below, it was a counterbalanced cable car. Modern version of these do exist but the Skoda streetcars in SLU couldn’t do Queen Anne Hill, James St, etc.

      4. Streetcars can climb grades from 8 to 10%, depending on the weight of the streetcar and how many axles are powered.

  9. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but I’m starting to read “All the options are still on the table” as “yes we really will remove the electric trolley bus system to save a few bucks unless you show us the money, Seattle.” As this point they should not be talking about all options, they should be quoting Martin about “a useful hedge against oil price volatility.”

    We know KC Metro doesn’t have the money and won’t next year either, and the county doesn’t have any extra funding. That leaves grants or… Seattle. The city doesn’t have spare cash either of course, but we have a lot more funding methods (LIDs, new levy, repurpose parking revenue, BTG, etc.). We’re talking about roughly $44m cost difference in 159 new ETBs vs new hybrids–by the way that is almost exactly the amount of maximum yearly transit funding in Bridging the Gap.

    1. We’re far away from that point, and I really don’t think we should be faulting agencies for studying things. I think there are plenty in the agency who work with trolleys and trolley infrastructure and want them to remain in place.

      1. You are correct that we have not reached that point yet, but we’re basically just 1 year out. Kevin Desmond was pretty clear in the city council meeting that he is still considering hybrids, and we know Metro has a whole lot less than $44m. I’m about 90% sure there will be some sort of deal made, but it really freaks me out that Metro really could and would make a decision like this for short-term finances.

      2. Desmond should consider hybrids because they are a close substitute for trolleys. Why would they remove things from the table before the study is done?

        I don’t know how things will shake out. It’s possible that some routes benefit from trolley use less than others and have more significant costs than others. It’s possible that the benefits simply outweigh the costs. As for Seattle bearing some of the costs — I don’t know how I totally feel about that. It doesn’t strike me as completely unfair (since its infrastructure mostly for our benefit), but it also doesn’t seem right to me.

        I think the best thing to do is to pay attention, give Metro a chance to study issues (and help guide them by telling them that emissions and noise are non monetary benefits but are benefits nonetheless), and be on the lookout for ways the study may or may not be headed down the wrong path. But this victimized attitude — which I’m not saying you have — of “Metro is gonna study away our trolley buses!!!!” I find a bit repellent.

        Unrelated to your comment, the idea that one day oil will shoot up and stay at a high price is really unsupported by history, so I don’t believe that anyone is being “short-sighted” for not plugging in $10 diesel into a model. (For the record, just because one recognizes that oil is killing the earth doesn’t mean one must assume that oil will eventually be in very short supply.)

      3. Ha ha I guess that’s one way to look at it. Why worry about a few electric buses when we’re killing the whole world.

        My basic problem is that it seems like evaluating apples and oranges. The only possible conclusion is that they’re different. On the one hand we’ve got electric buses, which have zero local emissions, support local jobs to maintain the wire, and climb hills more smoothly; on the other, hybrids, which are cheaper. How do you even do a “fair” comparison of those fundamentally dissimilar things? The numbers placed on things like pollution or emissions, like the $4.60/gal in Ezra Klein’s article, are pretty arbitrary.

      4. I don’t think it’s that hard. Seems clear to me the issue here is short term budget shortfall vs. lifetime system cost.

        ETB’s comprise about 14% of Metro’s fleet. According to the SDOT handout I received attending the MEHVA excursion they serve 1/4 of riders in King County. In other words these routes are almost 2 to 1 more heavily used than the rest of the system. Fuel costs, while a small percentage of operating cost is about 1/3 less for ETBs. Further, the routes the ETBs serve would not come close to the average fleet fuel economy because of high load factors, terrain and frequency of stops.

        Again, from the SDOT handout the cost to maintain the network is estimated to be $2.75 million. Again a very small percentage of the cost of running transit.

        Sooner or later if Seattle is serious about the environment (as opposed to Nickles just wanting toy trains) the DT will have to be closed to all but zero emissions vehicles. ETB’s are the only technology that can provide this from a transit perspective at a reasonable cost. And their flexibility makes them hands down the best choice.

        Expansion is expensive. The SDOT estimate was $4-6 million per mile. Compared to light rail that’s basically free. Even compared to a streetcar it’s negligible and I’d argue that although both excel in different areas overall the ETB is a better system.

      5. Why worry about a few electric buses when we’re killing the whole world.

        ETBs and hybrids on the Seattle routes we’re talking about are both much lower emitters of CO2 per passenger mile compared to driving, so let’s not act like this is between death and survival.

        My basic problem is that it seems like evaluating apples and oranges. The only possible conclusion is that they’re different. On the one hand we’ve got electric buses, which have zero local emissions, support local jobs to maintain the wire, and climb hills more smoothly; on the other, hybrids, which are cheaper. How do you even do a “fair” comparison of those fundamentally dissimilar things?

        I guess you can define the substitutes as narrowly or as widely as you’d like, but they’re both types buses and they’re operated by an agency that — just like every other entity in the world — must make trade-offs between scare resources. You actually did a good job of contrasting the two buses in your post within one sentence. A study could show that some of these benefits exist more on routes that climb steep hills and exhibit less benefits in other locations. That way, we could save some money without entirely removing the ETB network.

        But just because something is emissions-free doesn’t mean it is exempt from study or economic analysis, especially since that hydro-electric power would be serving something else if it weren’t for an ETB using it…

      6. “Desmond should consider hybrids because they are a close substitute for trolleys”

        Actually, hybrids are a close substitute for diesels. All of the energy they consume is provided by diesel fuel. They emit exhaust and noise like a diesel. They temporarily store some of their braking energy, as do modern trolleys. There was a promise of 15% better fuel efficiency, but my understanding is that Metro’s hybrids to date have delivered less fuel savings than was promised by the manufacturer.

        When people frame the debate that a hybrid is somehow different than a diesel and a close substitute to an electric trolley, it is an intellectually dishonest debate and there is an agenda behind it.

        The real debate is, now that diesel bus technology has improved 10%, should we replace the electric trolleys with improved diesels?

      7. Just to clarify, I agree that ETBs do not make the difference between “death and survival”. Though locally pretty important, it’s a very small piece of the worldwide climate change problem. Enabling people to drive less, getting off coal electricity generation, fossil fuel farming, etc. all have the potential to make a much bigger impact–speaking of which, this is Jon Stewart at his best:
        Funny yet depressing.

        That said, if somehow the FTA wanted to establish a huge funding program for bus electrification across the nation that would be awesome, and would make establishing a local licensed manufacturer of modern European ETBs an even better idea. Those designs made in USA might compete well for “rubber tire streetcar” systems being studied around the country.

        By the way, interesting note from wikipedia is that the 1979 AMG ETBs were the only trolleybuses AMG ever built!
        Pretty impressive that those motors have lasted 30 years.

      8. Anybody considering replacing a ETB with a diesel hybrid needs to ride both up Seattle’s steep hills and talk to the mechanics who work on both before they make their decision. I can understand replacing flatter routes like the 43/44 with hybrids, but the 3, 4, 2, 13, 10, and 12!? They’re nuts if they think a hybrid is anything close to a substitute for an ETB.

      9. It’s even worse than that on in-city routes according to the 2006 “[PDF] King County Metro Transit Hybrid Articulated Buses: Final Evaluation Results” done at National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

        These were all brand new flyers (D60LF/DE60LF) in 2004: “The new hybrid articulated buses cost $645,000 each. The diesel articulated buses, which were essentially identical to the hybrid buses without the electric propulsion system, cost $445,000 each.” The table on page 9:

        Ryerson Diesel 2.50 mpg, Hybrid Atlantic 3.17 mpg, Hybrid South Base 3.75 mpg

        Since a bunch of the in-city hybrids run on express routes like the 41/71/72/73, these numbers make me think that running on local routes like the 70 or 49 would get even worse mileage.

      10. “Unrelated to your comment, the idea that one day oil will shoot up and stay at a high price is really unsupported by history,….”

        Bullshit. Oil prices have gone straight up in real terms, barring short-term price shocks, since approximately, what, 1930? In the same time period electricity prices have gone *down* in real terms.

      11. They’re wasting $850,000 in order to try to convince people that they should waste even more money by ripping out the overhead wires.

        Dumb dumb dumb….

  10. Careful of the word “just” in any transit discussion. It’s often a four-letter word for hundreds of millions of dollars, and also violations of the laws of physics.

    For starters, streetcars need tracks. Also, read some history, and ride some buses. You know why the steep part of Queen Anne Avenue is called “The Counerbalance”? It’s because the streetcars that used to operate that hill required a counterweight under the street to negotiate the grade.

    Between the Courthouse and Harborview Hospital, same problem. Now you could probably argue that Rainier Avenue is now developing the same kind of all-day standing passenger loads that streetcars really can handle better than buses.

    I can’t overstress the importance of going to look for yourself. A huge percentage of transit problems result from decisionmakers, especially elected ones, who never either ride transit or see anything about it in person.

    Good luck and welcome aboard.

    Mark Dublin

    1. @ Mark

      “I can’t overstress the importance of going to look for yourself. A huge percentage of transit problems result from decisionmakers, especially elected ones, who never either ride transit or see anything about it in person.”

      The importance of these 2 sentences cannot be overemphasized. We need to be well informed, not just by looking at a google map or watching a you tube video. Go, look, see, feel, experience, pull your earbuds out and listen to what people around you are talking about – spend hours doing these things. Ride a Metro/ST bus or two to some places you’ve never visited, take the train to Portland and sit in the lounge and eavesdrop. Then, challenge the politicians and so-called decision-makers to do the same and come back to the next “hearing” and see how their perspective might have changed. Most importantly, follow the money with these birds – how are theses decision makers lives being “richened” as a results of their errant decisions?

  11. The very fact that Metro and SDOT are spending so much time and energy on the trolley/hybrid issue should be sufficient warning that ETB’s are an endangered species. Metro plans to finish their fact finding in 9 months. After that, it’s just process.
    Recall the navel gazing discussions on the Waterfront Streetcars, before they were quietly removed from service, with a promise “We shall return”. Ha, ha.
    I smell a compromise, where maybe half the hill climber routes remain (2,3,4,10,12,14) and the rest get shelved for the sake of efficiency and system flexibility.

    1. Then, you would have twice as many vehicles as needed, so a delayed purchase decision would allow another round of cannibalizing the fleet, and wire for somebody else to deal with. Politicians love that approach.

    2. Politicans are often short sighted when it comes to finances, when gasoline and diesel rises to the $4 and 5 range again, i’m sure they will be kicking themselves for their stupid moves (or be out of office and wont care). If the city is co conearned they need to pass a green transportation ordinance.

      Simply stating that; Electric public transportation systems or portions thereof may not be removed from the city; Any motorized lines of continuous x riders per hour are required to converted to be electrified, and any base routes that operate wholely within x area on x date are required to be electrified by x date. If any transit manager, or county executive violates this ordinance by removing electric public transportation systems they are to be punished the same as a class “C” Felony.

  12. The mere fact that there is any kind of discussion about what should be an absolute no brainer issue is disturbing. What’s worse is the money ($850K) being wasted on “studying” this issue. Don’t study, act. Replace the current fleet as it wears out with newer model ETBs and if the price isn’t too high get them with off wire capability.
    The ETBs are a compromise (between fossil fueled buses and electric powered rail vehicles) that historically were used in areas of lighter ridership to justify removal of rail. Now the cities that uses them (SF, Vancouver, etc.) find they have certain distinct advantages – much higher torque to operate on steep hills, non-pollution (even close to 0 pollution depending on the power source) and a much longer life than diesel buses.
    Those “decision makers” who would replace ETBs with anything except streetcars should be replaced with decision makers who realize we a killing the planet and ourselves with the entire loop involved with oil — from extraction to its eventual use in an internal combustion engine. As a bike rider I have a great deal of difficulty sharing the road with a diesel bus (and all of those cars as well), as a bus rider I appreciate the smoother starts of an ETB, and as a citizen I’ll work like hell to kill the political future of any politician who advocates their removal and/or supports administrators who do.

  13. “the bus agency has barely begun to study electric trolley buses, so please… Well, please calm down.”

    Ok, We kicked a hornets nest and it hurts! So Stop…. but we won’t it’s still a stupid idea to become more dependent on non electric vehicles.

  14. I’m getting the sense from the comments that people simply don’t trust that Metro is being honest here. We all know that in some cases “process” is simply a way to justify a predetermined outcome. I don’t know enough about Metro to say if that is what is happening, but clearly the onus is on Metro to be as open, responsive, and transparent as possible so people know this a real study that will not be skewed for political reasons.

  15. John totally wins the thread with “the idea that one day oil will shoot up and stay at a high price is really unsupported by history”.

    As is the rest of the situation we find ourselves in.

  16. please heed the warnings from Dublin, Skehan, and Bromwell. The ETB replacement is in play. Why spend so much scarce money studying a question that should have an obvious answer: yes, buy a new fleet of ETB. Why does Metro have sufficient funds for a study while they are cutting service? Boston, SF Muni, and Boston all renewed their fleets before the last spike in diesel prices. The ETB is perfect for Seattle’s hills. the audit compared the life cycle cost of new hybrid coaches on their routes v. old ETB on more difficult routes. should not it have studied the lifecycle cost of new ETB and new hybrids? is the audit relevant at all?

    Seattle may have to step up to find five votes on the KC Council.

    the other issues include upcoming increases in diesel, global warming, and environmental quality in urban centers (noise and emissions).

    1. The audit was indeed a case of “garbage in garbage out”. It feels like someone was trying to kill trolleybuses by failing to look at what NEW trolleybuses are like.

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