As many readers probably know, it’s been widely announced and reported that King County has decided to replace the existing trolleybus fleet with a new fleet of trolleybuses, each of which will include modern features commonplace in other trolleybus fleets worldwide, including low-floor boarding and the ability to travel off-wire for limited distances. This decision followed an independent report comparing trolleys to modified diesel-electric hybrids (geared down for hill climbing) and a public open house, and was finalized two weeks ago with the unanimous adoption of the 2012 King County budget. The new trolleybuses will start to enter service in 2014, and the old ones will be phased out as that happens.
Metro will now move forward with procuring the buses, a process that involves drawing up a specification for each of the two different models (40′ and 60′), creating a detailed purchase contract, and bidding it out. Metro will probably request bids in the spring of next year, perhaps with a prototype seen 18 months after that. As I detailed in a previous post, the 40′ coaches will be replaced in the same quantity (100), but four fewer 60′ coaches (55) will be purchased, as Metro expects to be able to obtain more platform hours out of each new 60′ coach compared to its unreliable Breda counterpart. The fleet size is chosen to maintain the existing number of platform hours delivered; i.e. it assumes the trolleybus network will remain the same size.
There will be no public meeting regarding the design of this bus prior to asking for bids, so if you have any thoughts on the matter, you should email them to the community outreach contact for this project, Ashley Deforest. One of the perks of being an STB blogger is that I get to write my opinions (not to mention my silly mistakes) across the sky, so here’s what I’d like to see in these new trolleybuses, after the jump.
- Passive restraint for wheelchairs is essential to capture the full benefits of low-floor buses. While still only being trialled on the B-line, passive restraint is in widespread use around the world, and my anecdotal experience (as an observer) leads me to believe it is the future. By the time this contract is bid out, B-line riders and operators should have gained enough real-world experience that even hyper-cautious King County Metro will take the plunge. City center routes with low speeds and very high passenger turnovers are perfect for this technology.
- 60′ trolleys should have three doors, just like the Bredas they replace. Metro understands the additional utility of the extra door, as evidenced by its inclusion on RapidRide coaches. Metro’s 60′ trolleys will work at least as hard as — probably harder than — the RapidRide coaches, and the extra up-front expense will pay off over the 12 year lifetime of the bus in the form of a few seconds shaved off the dwell time of every busy stop.
- Prioritize standing capacity and speed of boarding over seated capacity. In the forward section of the trolleys, Metro should use either inward-facing seats or a 2+1 forward-facing arrangement. In the vicinity of the passive restraint system, there should either be no seats or the seats should retract up automatically (like those on Link) to speed wheelchair boarding. Trolleybus trips tend to be shorter and lower-speed than those on other bus types, and the existing 42-seat Gilligs routinely carry standing loads, even though their narrow aisle makes moving around the bus awkward and slow. Rather than fight this tendency, embrace it, by slightly reducing the seated capacity in favor of more open floor space. This alteration would save money up-front and throughout the lifetime of the bus.
- On-board electronics should include headway control. This technology gives the driver a live readout of how many minutes ahead the prior bus is (it may be standard in new buses — I’m sure one of my readers will know). Some trolley routes would be great places to start using this system. For example, the revised route 2 will operate at low headways through a very congested part of downtown with no layover. It’s very hard to schedule such a route accurately, but headway control can help maintain an even spacing, dramatically improving the rider experience. Routes 36 and 70 would also benefit particularly from this.
So what do you guys want? Metro’s staff do read these posts and the comment threads, but I always recommend you email Metro (at the aforementioned address) to ensure your comments are formally considered.