After a Metro audit recommended doing away with the trolleybus system to save money, there’s been a lot of anxiety about its future and questions about the conclusion that the system is, in fact, more expensive. In response to these concerns, the King County Council commissioned a detailed study on the cost/benefit tradeoffs associated with trolleys. Last week Dow Constantine’s office transmitted a plan to conduct this study.
In this kind of thing assumptions and ground rules are all-important. After considering a wide array of technologies, Metro has narrowed down the comparison to diesel-electric hybrids vs. trolleys. Conventional diesels, battery electrics, compressed natural gas (CNG), and fuel cell systems were dismissed for various reasons.
The evaluation criteria fall into five categories: environmental impacts, likely to favor the trolleys; scheduling impacts, likely to favor the hybrids; cost advantage, which the audit gave to hybrids but is disputed by trolley proponents; and both the impact on both state/federal grants and existing legal agreements, which I can’t even begin to assess.
Importantly, the cost study will include a sensitivity analysis of energy costs, which will capture the benefits of relatively stable-cost electricity. The study is expected to begin this fall and release a draft report early next year. Some other thoughts about the trolley argument here.