King County Metro 4 in East Queen Anne
King County Metro 4 in East Queen Anne

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.

124 Replies to “Metro Moving Ahead with New Trolleybuses”

  1. I was told that the new trolleys would definitely have Air conditioning by one of the Metro staff people at the first public forum.

      1. I’d rather have windows that open. AC is a total waste around here except for maybe two weeks in the summer and then most buses I’ve been on can’t cool enough air.

      2. It might actually cost more to not have AC, this is a fairly standard feature and the coaches might need to be specially modified to remove the AC.

        Besides it is nice any time the sun is out and a coach is packed.

      3. All Metro’s coaches purchased since 2003 have had air conditioning. These will too. It’s an absolute godsend on a crush-loaded bus. It might not matter on a lightly loaded suburban route (except for those couple of very hot weeks a year), but on a busy route the AC gets quite a bit of use just to deal with the body heat from the crowd.

        And the AC on Metro’s coaches works absolutely fantastic if and only if the windows are kept closed. The climate control vents are all up around the ceiling, so if a window is open, the cold air will just get swept straight out the window. This is why transit agencies in hot climates order their buses with windows that cannot be opened. New Flyer builds their buses come with the exact same Thermo King HVAC units that we get, and they handle months and months of triple-digit temperatures just fine. If Metro would do the same and commit to permanently closed windows, rider comfort would be improved.

        It’s also worth noting that AC does NOT operate when the hybrid buses are using hush mode. I’ve seen a couple of creative operators switch hush mode off while in the tunnels between stations to keep the buses cool, though. They switch it back over to hush mode before stopping at the platform.

      4. What are you guys smoking? The A/C on these buses is terrible. It is engaged when it isn’t even 60 degrees outside and bellows very cold air right on top of people forcing them to don coats and hats if you want to have a prayer of being comfortable. It should be turned off and remain off unless and until the outside temperature exceeds 75 degrees.

        Hell, just this past week, a Sound Transit bus, instead of having the heat on in 35 degree weather actually was blowing cold air. I had to go ask that they turn the heat up. The driver simply turned the system off.

      5. The purpose of openable windows isn’t just to get cool air. It’s also to get fresh air and a breeze. Sometimes it’s hard to breathe if there’s perfume or marijuana fumes in the bus, and sometimes a breeze is just what you need after a sweaty walk to the bus stop.

  2. On the newer articulated buses, it is difficult and sometimes downright scary trying to walk over the articulation joint while the bus is moving because there aren’t any handrails or seats that a passenger can hold onto while moving in that area. For the sake of faster off-loading (through the back door, of course) it would be a good idea to give the passengers something to hang onto while walking over the joint.

    1. I second that! I think this issues also helps create situations in which the front half of the bus is backed while the back half has open room and sometimes even open seats. Once a person stops at the articulated section because they can’t get across without falling over, it is very hard to get everyone else behind them to move up as well.

    2. The newer articulated hybrids (6800 and 6900 series) have 2 straps in the joint area. Not sure if the RR buses do.

      1. I’m pretty sure the B-line does, don’t think the A does. In my opinion these aren’t a satisfactory solution.

      2. I rode a bus with those straps at the joint, and I agree, they aren’t enough. I want a hand rail in the ceiling that moves with the joint.

    3. I kind of like the adventure of jumping over the no-mans-land that is the articulated section. Of course I also enjoy sitting in that section because it can feel like a roller coaster at times. I also like to try and not hold on while standing… I call it bus surfing. Maybe I’m not the target demographic for interior design.

      1. Absolutely agree.

        Also, RR and Swift have fewer or no seats in that section vs. regular route 60s and express buses.

    4. +1. I’ve been reading artics since I was 14, and I have a good sense of balance. Even so, that middle stretch without handholds of any sort leaves me a bit nervous, and definitely slows things down in terms of passenger circulation.

  3. I understand the why, but is headway control (read: driver sits at stops for up to a minute) really a good idea? I mean, I’m sure everyone has been on a bus where the driver just sits there for 30 seconds to a minute at each stop. 30 seconds may not seem like much on paper, but it gets super annoying real quick. After all, buses here move so slowly as it is, I can usually walk to most destinations within a couple miles faster than taking a bus (time spent getting to and waiting for the bus included). Anyone disagree?

    1. Without headway control, there will be more empty trolleys following full ones. You’ve been there. It then takes more trolleys to provide sufficient capacity, and the trolley that is two behind ends up getting crushloaded, as well. (This is one reason I wish some of those double-articulated buses could have been studied for feasibility on certain crushloaded routes.)

      If you’ve sat on Link “due to traffic ahead” at Mount Baker Station going south or Rainier Beach Station going north, that is headway control most of the time, as you can see by the large outdoor clocks counting upward. Do you really find that annoying?

      If you’ve sat on a bus (other than RapidRide) for an extra minute, that is on-time control. It means the operator is following the schedule, and not leaving the timepoint early. It is not directly related to headway control. Leaving early is a violation of on-time performance, but also means riders can’t depend on the schedule, as they see the bus pulling away when they get to their stop on time. Following the schedule is very important for riders, like me, on infrequent routes.

      Headway control means a route can shift from following a schedule to merely guaranteeing that a bus will come along every fifteen (or ten) minutes. The timepoint would usually be at the start of the route, and leave the starting point at a scheduled time, but no earlier than fourteen (or nine) minutes after the previous bus.

      In practice, Link follows an unpublished schedule, so if you know that unpublished schedule, you can be there a minute early, and nine times out of ten a train will pull up within the next two minutes. I have no idea how good RapidRide is at following its unpublished (pick card) schedule.

      Oran has done an awesome job at providing Link’s unpublished schedule in a format better than Sound Transit’s.

      1. I have ridden the 75 (N) many times where the operator has stopped and waited for 5 minutes at 74th (Magnuson Park) in order to get back on schedule … (this only happens when there aren’t a lot of people getting on/off on Sandpoint Way).

        I have no problem with it … it might help if the driver explained why we were waiting … but its not a big deal. I would rather not have missed a bus because it left early than sit on board for a minute or two while not moving

      2. What about responding to bunching by expressing the bus in front rather than slowing the one down in the rear? For instance, if in future two #2s or #12s are bunched at 2nd/Marion, why not have the first announce that it will run express to, say, Boren and Madison and/or become drop-off only for a few stops? Boston’s Green Line does this all the time, and while it’s very annoying if you’re forced to deboard and get off and transfer, it’s the only thing allowing some Green Line trolleys to make it to their destinations AT ALL.

      3. “What about responding to bunching by expressing the bus in front rather than slowing the one down in the rear?”

        This already happens today, to some degree. If we see our follower in the mirror, we can pass a stop with people waiting. Additionally, we sometimes get calls from the control center to blank our signs and only stop to drop passengers off, typically on a trolley route where we can’t pass. (I had this happen several times while driving the 44)

        Ideally, headway control will be used with a schedule that has enough padding in it to allow for lots of wheelchairs, questions from tourists, gobs of cash payment, traffic, or whatever slows a particular route down. Headway control is the tool that allows the system to adjust for lighter than normal traffic and keep the buses evenly spaced – It’s not a panacea to solve problems brought on by schedules constrained by budgets.

      4. The 75 does that especially when the UW is not in session so it breezes through campus and ends up two minutes early. I wish it didn’t wait, but I also wish it were scheduled halfway between the 30s rather than 7 minutes before. (They both reach Magnuson Park within two minutes of each other, both directions.)

      5. Boston actually does both of these aggressively.

        On the surface lines, and occasionally in the tunnels, the operator will often announce, “This train is becoming express to Harvard/Boston College/Cleveland Circle”. Everyone who’s not going that far gets off (sometimes in the freezing cold), and waits for the next train, which is generally right behind it.

        Conversely, on Green Line trains at Park Street, they will often announce, “This train will be holding for a few minutes.” And it does, in fact, just sit there.

        What’s the difference?

        First, on a given Red Line train, a significant portion of outbound riders are in fact heading to Harvard; thus, in general, a significant portion of riders just stay on the train. On the other hand, in the Green Line central subway, every single stop is exceptionally heavily used.

        Second, on the branches and on the Red Line, expressing is actually useful. The train will whiz by, skipping multiple stations at full speed. In contrast, the Green Line central subway has trains every 90 seconds at rush hour, and not much less at mid-day. Thus, even if you expressed one train, it would inevitably get held behind someone else.

        It’s also important to remember that there are four branches of the Green Line, so even if one train is holding for a few minutes, there’s probably another one coming and leaving. So if you want to go from Park Street to Copley, you can hop on a train; the only people who have to wait are the minority heading to the particular branch whose train is holding.

        Given all that, whether it makes sense to hold buses or express them really depends on the route. For buses like the 15/18, expressing could be very useful. Imagine if a bus that filled up at 3rd and Denny suddenly announced that it was going express to Ballard — it could take the fast route, and only a minority of passengers (those going to Queen Anne) would have to get off and board the bus immediately behind it. Conversely, if traffic is bad on Madison, then expressing a 12 is practically impossible.

        Overall, I would say that expressing is most useful for buses that [a] have alternate routes, [b] have long stretches on fast roadways for which passenger stops are a significant source of slowdown, and/or [c] have focused demand at or after a certain point.

      6. For buses like the 15/18, expressing could be very useful. Imagine if a bus that filled up at 3rd and Denny suddenly announced that it was going express to Ballard — it could take the fast route, and only a minority of passengers (those going to Queen Anne) would have to get off and board the bus immediately behind it.

        The headway control system could automatically notify the driver AND the passengers that the bus was becoming an express. The sequence would go like this: Bus is behind so headway control sends notification to driver a couple of stops before express stop. Automated announcements are made to passengers which reinforces on-screen message to driver that Express route has been selected. At express stop, driver would also get on PA, preferably in “Voice of God” mode, to announce “Last LOCAL stop – Next stop …”

        And no, there is no “Voice of God” mode, but I have a way of holding the microphone to simulate it…

      7. I have mixed feeling about headway control. While it can be helpful for making wait times more reliable for people getting on later on the route, it has the side effect of making in-vehicle times less reliable for people who are already on the bus. With headway control, you can not only be delayed by a wheelchair loading on your bus, but you will also be delayed by a wheelchair loading on the bus before you or after you. It’s also annoying if the bus decides to sit and wait a few minutes right before the stop where you’re going to get off and you have to guess whether to get out and walk or wait.

        I can see it useful is some situations, particularly when the beginning of the route involves unpredictable traffic with lots of people getting on right after the bad traffic area. But I think you’d need to look carefully at stop-by-stop ridership data to justify its use.

        Nevertheless, I have a few suggestions that can help make the experience smoother for passengers:

        1) When possible, try to schedule waiting at major stops that are likely to have a lot of ons and offs, rather than at minor stops. This minimizes the number of people delayed by it. Similarly, the driver should be aware of the location and schedule of connecting buses and avoid intentionally delaying passengers just enough to miss a connection.

        2) Announce that the bus is waiting due to headway control (in a language that non-STB readers can understand), along with an estimated amount of time that the bus will be waiting. This way, the decision whether to walk or wait won’t be guesswork.

        3) Don’t intentionally delay an individual bus over the course of the entire route more than some maximum amount of time (~3-5 minutes??). This imposes an upper bound on delay time for people on the bus, which is essential if you need to make a timed connection to an infrequent connecting bus.

      8. Going express is the kind of thing that benefits experienced riders at the cost of alienating casual riders. If I’m downtown and thinking about heading to Lower Queen Anne, I might think about taking a 15. But if there’s some chance that if I tune out I’ll end up in Ballard without seeing my stop go by, that’s non-trivially stressful; maybe I’ll just walk. And if my first time riding the bus takes me to Ballard when I thought I was going to Queen Anne, there’s no way I’m trying again.

        It’s a little different for subways, where the platform for the reverse trip is easy to find and the frequencies are high enough that a mistake is not an hour of time lost.

        I’m not saying that going express can’t work. But you have to be really, really loud about it, and probably be able to tell people in multiple languages.

      9. Steve: That’s a very fair point. In Boston, where this is done, you have very high frequency (< 5 minutes) and clearly-marked platforms.

        But I think the biggest difference is that, in Boston, "experienced" riders outnumber casual riders 10 to 1. People don't ride the train/bus for a lark; they ride it because it's the easiest, fastest, and cheapest way to get where you're going. Occasionally getting on the wrong bus/train won't change that.

        Also, note that your argument can be used in the context of just about any alternate service pattern. What if you get on a 12 (or a 41), and don't realize it's turning back at First Hill (Northgate)? What if you get on a 2X and are surprised when there are no stops in Lower Queen Anne? (You and I know that X means limited-stop, but casual riders don't.) What if you normally ride the 43 when it turns into the 44, and one you get kicked off in the U-District? What if you get on a 43 late in the evening, and suddenly it turns left on Broadway?

        The latter case is especially interesting, because the alternative isn't much better. It can be agonizing to see one or two out-of-service buses pass you by when you've been waiting in the cold for your bus for 15+ minutes. But buses need to get back to the base somehow. So either you deadhead, or you let people ride but tell them it's an alternate route.

        And finally, you never know which riders are going to be forgiving, and which will use the littlest fault as an excuse to "never ride again". Yes, it sucks to suddenly go express, but it also sucks if your bus inexplicably holds for 5-10 minutes, and you end up missing a connection. And it also sucks if you have to wait 20+ minutes at a bus stop for a bus that is supposed to come every 10 minutes.

        The bottom line is that there's no perfect answer, but I'm leery of saying "don't do this because someone might stop riding". Like anything else, that goes both ways.

      10. Aleks: Sounds like we basically agree. One tweak that could be useful in the bus context would be that if possible, when a bus goes express, its signboard changes and it follows exactly the path of the express route. It’s easier to understand “this 15 is now a 15X, please get off (or don’t get on) if you wanted a 15” than “this 15 is going to skip the next three stops, then go back to normal”. This isn’t always going to be possible, of course.

  4. So what Bruce described is basically like the 60′ trolleys Vancouver operates. (rear section, forward section) I like that.

    Now that the RFA will be gone by the time be get these, how about passenger activated doors (with driver control option)?

    And there will be an auxiliary power unit, right?

    1. Rode some of Vancouver’s while I was there. I was hoping Metro would use those as a guide. They already tested one of them. They seemed optimized for carrying as may people as possible. One I rode was from the Commercial/Broadway SkyTrain station for a few blocks, and it was SRO. City routes are different than suburban routes. Seems that Translink is better at matching the right vehicle for the route.

  5. Even though they are only replacing their current fleet, they should negotiate an option for additional buses to allow for a future potential network expansion.

    1. +N

      It should be a mere matter of time and the right ballot measure to install wire to complete the 7 loop to Henderson Station.

      1. Henderson would be an incredibly bad place to put new trolley wire. I will have a post about this next week.

      2. To be clear, I am not making the freshman mistake suggesting that the catenaries cross, so don’t waste too much ink on that.

      3. Interesting. I’ve seen mention of a Henderson wire extension in a number of documents.

        It would seem connecting the 7 (or whatever route is serving Rainier) to the Link station would be a good idea.

      4. Crossing the Catenary is not a big deal, Edmonton did it and so do european countries. even NYC did it at one time. The voltage diffirential takes a bit of work, but again not that big of a deal either.

      5. I’m told that Sound Transit has flatly refuses t allow it, even though it’s been done elsewhere. I haven’t officially confirmed that yet with ST.

      6. If the buses have off-wire ability, can they just de-wire, cross Link, then reattach?

        [ot — please wait for next week’s post]

  6. I wish they’d buy more 60′ ETBs and fewer 40′ ETBs … especially since the ETB routes are some of Metro’s busiest.

  7. Only three doors? How much does an extra door cost over the lifetime of a bus?

    Zurich trolleybuses have four or (on the big ones) five doors. At busy stops where a significant portion of the bus gets in and out, this is a huge time saver — of course, everyone getting on has already purchased their ticket (or more likely has a pass). It also allows the bus to keep running when one of the doors fails: they just block it off and put up an out-of-order sticker on it.

  8. “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.”

    You mean the groupies and fat pay check aren’t enough?

    1. Hey, Matt, don’t forget to mention the Prevost tour bus with a full bar, a 72″ video screen, and a bedroom, with a paint-job featuring a dual-power artic with flames coming out of the stack and lightning shooting from the trolley-shoes, with wolves running alongside.

      Don’t “dis” these guys. Transit deserves not only street cred but grooved rail cred and catenary cred too.

      Mark Dublin

      1. But when are they going to replace the FTL drive. That component has been on back order for, what, four years now?

      1. Probably only the 7 or 36. The 43, 44 and 49 all have some pretty crazy turns that are hard enough on the Bredas. From 23rd to John is always a nail-biter. If it weren’t for 45th/15th, I think they would be nice on the 44’s.

      2. double artics have rear axle reverse-steering (like the old MANs) to help them track … wasnt really being serious but theyd be nice for the routes that could take their length (ignoring state law and such) would be great for rapid ride routes

    1. Articulated buses are limited to no more than 61 feet in length by state law (regular buses are limited to 46 feet).

      1. State law didn’t stop the Breda’s from exceeding axle limitations. So much for black and white.

      2. Wow, I knew the Breda’s were heavy, but I didn’t realize they were that heavy!

        That leads to a question, which is if the Breda’s were (still are?) exceeding legal axle loads, does KC Metro have a special permit or is this a case of the state/city/whoever not enforcing the limit?

        I ask because axle loading isn’t really visible to anyone (I couldn’t tell you the axle load on a Breda, or a New Flyer DE60LF, etc.), and consequently even if they’re not in compliance with the law, nobody really notices (except in our road maintenance budgets), which may explain how we’ve gotten away with this for so long. But with a long vehicle, you would most definitely notice; an 80 foot long bi-articulated bus would be pretty obvious.

      3. I think the bredas got a special wavier from the state. In the conversion since the diesel drivetrain was removed i doubt they are still overweight.

      4. @TRU: Same with bike racks and state law. I had read somewhere (here?) that it’s illegal for *anything* to block the headlights. Metro and other agencies apparently just “get away with it.”

      5. Metro filed all the proper paperwork and got a waiver for the Bredas axle loads.

        And the headlight issue on bike racks: It’s allowed if, in the judgement of the Washington State Patrol, the headlights still “reveal persons and vehicles at a distance of one hundred fifty feet ahead“, and do not blind oncoming drivers. So all Metro had to do to get that OK was demonstrate to the WSP that the headlights still illuminated a parked car from 150′ while shining through the spokes of a bicycle wheel.

        Most manufacturers of aftermarket decorative/protective headlight covers haven’t even bothered to do that, which is why they’re mostly illegal.

  9. Lately any time any public agency announces they’re not going to have public meetings on any subject, I get a powerful temptation to publicly insist they do. Since “Almost Live” went off the air, arrogance and pomposity of all kinds have lost their last natural predator in Seattle.

    For all the real intelligence and formal education of Seattle’s electorate and their officials, the digital and virtual industries located here leave too many influential people sub-illiterate on mechanical things like trolleybuses.

    It would be good if the aircraft industry really could deliver transit machines as good as their planes. But like a Boston “T” mechanic once told me about the Boeing Vertol car we were sitting in: “This car would work if it could cruise at 30,000 feet.”

    After about forty years, this country may finally be starting to notice the consequences of getting everything that has to work in the real world, meaning where it gets dirty and beaten-up, made someplace else. The PCC streetcar came from a land whose people liked machinery. When we restore the same attitude, transit equipment should follow.

    Not only should there be public meetings, but a lot of them should be held at community colleges and technical schools around the area. With ample encouragement for students to get into transit equipment from freshman year.

    But above all, it’s absolutely essential that the people who drive and maintain the new fleet not only be invited to meetings, but also put on the design and procurement teams from the beginning. The Executive Board of ATU Local 587 should insist, and so should everybody who can vote.

    Whatever vehicles result from this purchase, everyone who has to board them will be forced to live with for a very long time. Transit employees will have to drive and service them, but will be paid to do so. Passengers and other voters will have to pay for them.

    Mark Dublin

    1. um … its not like there are many options left in the world of ETB manufacturing … most likely the buses will come from New Flyer … with whom Metro has tons of experience with (the E60LFR is quite similar to the D60LFRs) and I would imagine could share many components (amongst the types)

      1. I’d bet that any series hybrid out there could be retrofitted as a trolley. It doesn’t seem like the Orion VII’s would care whether their electricity came from an on-board generator or overhead trolley wires.

      2. If there wasn’t a buy America requirement there’d be more options. Does Metro plan on using Federal money for this purchase?

      3. Once again, I ask why we don’t outfit all those new series hybrids with trolley poles, so that those buses could use electric power whenever it was available. I think this would be a fantastic solution for buses like the 8, 11, 48, and 15/18, among others. You save money on fuel and maintenance, and neighborhoods with trolley wire get to avoid the smog and noise. What’s not to like?

      4. if our Hybrid buses worked like Electro-Diesel locomotives … where the engine simply generates power for electric traction motors then yes … you could feasibly construct the bus so that the electricity could alternately be taken from OCS systems as opposed to the diesel engine. However, I do not think (I might be wrong) that our hybrid buses are designed with powerful enough traction motors … while they might be able to assist the diesel engine and lower gas consumption, I do not think they could move the entire bus by themselves over large distances

        but I may be wrong in that assumption …

      5. I think it’s a matter of cost. If I’m remembering right the basic stink bus is around $500,000. A series hybrid is ~$785,000. The new ETBs, were priced at $1.2 million. So you’re talking at least $415,000 to add the overhead capability. That’s an absurd amount to invest in a vehicle that has the same life expectancy (maybe less because of weight) than a standard coach. Buses “wear out” because of chassis fatigue.

      6. “That’s an absurd amount to invest in a vehicle that has the same life expectancy (maybe less because of weight) than a standard coach.”

        From everything I’ve heard, virtually every trolley Metro has ever operated has lasted longer than comparable diesel models. The one exception is the current fleet of Gilligs which are wearing out because they have 30+ year old propulsion units in them.

      7. For all the trash talk about the Bredas, they’ve been in service for over twenty years. They would be in service almost twice as long as expected by the time they’re retired. If a crappy bus lasts that long, I have no doubt we could run good buses just as long with fewer problems.

      8. “However, I do not think (I might be wrong) that our hybrid buses are designed with powerful enough traction motors”

        Gordon: You are thinking of a parallel hybrid, which is the system used in the New Flyer buses. The Orions are supposedly a Series Hybrid which means that all propulsion comes from the electric motor. Assuming that is true, it *seems* like it would be a relatively straightforward conversion.

      9. “That’s an absurd amount to invest in a vehicle that has the same life expectancy (maybe less because of weight) than a standard coach.”

        Metro’s trolleybus replacement study estimated the life-span of an ETB at 15 years compared to 12 years for a diesel-hybrid bus.

      10. Because you can run things past the point they should have been replaced doesn’t make it a good idea. Replacing/rebuilding expensive components that then end up being scraped when they are only half used up costs more in the long run than replacing the whole bus. It provides relief to a cash strapped capital budget but just digs the hole deeper and deeper. Adding over 50% to the cost of the already expensive serial hybrid because it might get to run on overhead for a small portion of it’s life would be crazy in good times. Within the current environment where the capital budget is being raided to prolong inevitable cuts it would be criminally insane.

        There’s also some serious doubt about how long the low floor buses will last compared to the stronger conventional frames.

      11. Metro’s trolleybus replacement study estimated the life-span of an ETB at 15 years compared to 12 years for a diesel-hybrid bus.

        Why is that? Perhaps the ETB is lighter (less frame stress) or maybe the additional bracing required to support the overhead gear (what’s the technical term for that stuff) add years to the life of the chassis. Another possibility is that maintaining older diesels isn’t cost effective. Or, a real possibility is because they cost so much more to replace Metro just runs them longer despite a higher cost of maintenance.

      12. I think the life-span numbers come from the FTA, but I don’t have a reference for that. The report covers the life-cycle costs in great detail in section 4.

        Bear in mind that the current fleet has bits and pieces that are 30 years old.

      13. The real question is, how in the name of god does adding two wires to a series hybrid — and taking out all the internal combustion parts — inflate the cost by 50%?

        (The answer, I’m sure, is that ETBs are so rare, and series hybrids so common, that the latter benefit from economy of scale. But still, I have to wonder why we can’t just call up the company making the series hybrids and ask them to add trolley poles.

      14. The real question is, how in the name of god does adding two wires to a series hybrid — and taking out all the internal combustion parts — inflate the cost by 50%?

        That is a good question. I just can’t come up with a rational answer other than the reason they charge that much is because they can. This is the same thing as the “built in Washington” clause for WSF. With the limited market in N. America it pretty much creates a monopoly in the ETB market.

      15. The real question is, how in the name of god does adding two wires to a series hybrid — and taking out all the internal combustion parts — inflate the cost by 50%?

        Because capitalism.

      16. ETBs, even a modified series hybrid are a very limited market. There are 7 cities with ETBs in North America and only 4 of them have extensive networks calling for a large number of coaches.

        The only recent ETB purchases we have for comparison went to New Flyer or Skoda. It is unknown if a bus maker with series hybrids like Orion would make a bid for replacing the current Gillig ETBs. Perhaps they will be able to come in at a lower price than the other bids.

        Hybrids on the other hand are quite popular with US and Canadian transit agencies which is why every bus maker doing business here has hybrid models. From what I understand the cost difference from standard diesel buses has come way down from when Metro put its first order in to New Flyer for DE60LF coaches.

      17. The price for the 60′ hybrids has gone up slightly faster than inflation. I think the latest price was $785,000 (as reported by STB) and the inflation adjusted price from 2004 would be $738,000. Sad since I’d have expected a series hybrid to be less expensive to build. MATA reported that a 40′ Hybrid Electric bus is about $525,000 compared to the cost of a clean diesel bus of about $325,000. So on a percentage basis the cost of that little green leaf is a lot bigger on the shorter buses; which probably explains why Metro opted to work on switching out the artic fleet first. Although that’s a false economy unless the route needs the extra capacity.

  10. Yes to all of Bruce’s bullets, plus option to purchase more, including four/five-door double-articulateds. I’m sending my email to Metro today.

    On the passive restraint, Metro enables the seat to still be used for forward-facing restraint. This is minutiae, but couldn’t there be a better place to install the overhead restraint retractor? Someone is going to bean themselves on the head if they sit under it and aren’t paying attention.

    1. Along with a check I hope. Understand that options cost money. You purchase an option with the hope that in the future the going rate is higher than your strike price. If the future cost of an ETB is lower than expected, which it should be if the become more common or the Buy American clause is eliminated, the option is worthless. And, since these options can’t be traded, if you decide not to exercise the option (can’t afford it, don’t need it) the option is also worthless.

      1. It’s a bidding process. The bus company provides a bid for 155 buses, but it might want to include an enticement for a later order. Of course, given the likely small number of bidders, Metro may not have a lot of leverage.

        But if they do get an option, why couldn’t they trade it? SFMTA and the Dayton RTA are planning to replace some ETBs in that timeframe. They might be interested if Metro isn’t. Maybe they won’t get any cash for it, but not a problem if it didn’t cost them. And do you really think that the per bus cost will be going down?

      2. The only future cost that matters is the strike price. Metro has already been whipsawed in the options market for fuel buying high and then feeling burned deciding not to renew the next year when price went up. Options were invented for farmers to insure a steady price for crops. If Metro were planning ongoing purchases then options would make sense. Their only leverage now would be to negotiate the entire contract for replacing the fleet based on a series of options and be ready to decline to exercise options if the price they can get elsewhere is lower than the strike price or ETBs value vs conventional or hybrid buses drops.

  11. Various comments:

    –By passive restraint, do you mean rear-facing securement for wheelchairs? Ask wheelchair users their views about this!!!! The ones I hear from REALLY hate rear-facing restraint. If I have a choice between what looks sensible to people not in wheelchairs and a lot of crabby, carsick wheelchair users, I would abssolutely categorically unambiguously ask the wheelchair users about this.

    –I definitely like the 2+1 seating arrangement I have seen on some newer buses. Another advantage I see to this. SOME people who get onto the bus with big shopping cards could be better accommodated if their carts (or MAYBE strollers but that is another complex issue) could be parked in the space left from folding up the one seat separately from the 2-person seat.

    –Again, prioritizing standing room and ease of boarding sounds sensible to someone who probably is not trying to find a seat in the disabled section of the bus. In my experience a lot of tottery elders and people of all ages who use canes and walkers are MUCH better off if they can sit down. The transit system is for everyone and needs actually to function to meet the needs of people who most need it.

    –I also wholeheartedly agree with the complaints about no poles in the long gap between front and back on newer articulated buses.

    –The issue of “industry standard” can be vexing if the wrong thing becomes standard. Low-floor buses are now standard. However I recently saw several users of manual wheelchairs demo boarding a low-floor bus at a stop without a curb. The users complained that when a ramp is deployed without a curb, the grade of the ramp is too steep for users of manual wheelchairs to handle easily. My sense is that there are probably a number of heavily used stops on Metro trolley routes where this exact issue is a problem. So Metro either gets to fix the stops or push something about bus design.

    –Even though I consider all the points I have listed here very important bus design issues, I actually am agnostic about whether a public hearing needs to be held specifically in King County. Here’s why: I currently sit on the King County Transit Advisory Commission. The views here are my own, NOT speaking for the commission. The consultant report about trolley replacement mentioned that King County, San Francisco, and a couple other cities I do not remember all putting contracts to bid at the same time. If more than one city winds up with contracts with the same vendor, there could be economies of scale in the manufacture part of the purchase. For their to be economies of scale in the design phase, transit activists could also be in touch with transit activists from other cities where people probaby have the same design issue concerns as here. There would need to be some steps to share information and ensure that what is learned in one area is applied as other contracts are let…. Just a thought. I probably have limited capacity to do this myself.

    1. I doubt there are many trolley stops with no curbs. Most of the curbless stops I’ve seen are outside of the city center, or in SODO.

    2. Dorene,

      Re passive restraint: My girlfriend recently started using a mobility scooter. She is super excited about the idea of passive restraint. Yes, the rear-facing is annoying, but so is the extra 5 minutes it takes to secure and unsecure a wheelchair. She’s just one voice out of many, but some folks with wheels do prefer the passive option.

      Another thing that’s worth mentioning is the fact that active restraint can function like a big sign that says, “Look at me, I’m disabled”. That’s the kind of attention that many people don’t want. (I’ve definitely heard many able-bodied users complain about wheelchair boardings, even when the person in question is within earshot.) In contrast, look at Link. Someone in a wheelchair can simply roll right onto the train and into one of the many areas reserved for mobility-challenged users, without any manual intervention necessary. That’s a large part of why I support passive restraint (at least as an option). And similarly, I’m a strong proponent of level boarding platforms on 3rd Ave and the immediately adjacent side-street stops. Imagine if someone with a wheelchair could board a bus on 3rd Ave without needing a ramp or lift or anything! I think that would be super-cool.

      I guess I’m biased — I’ve been riding trains my whole life. When I was a kid, facing backwards was a super cool novelty; now, it’s just part of life. It hardly seems like something worth fighting.

      Re 2+1: Don’t forget that a number of people currently sit down not because they need a seat, but because it’s so incredibly awkward to stand that no one does it unless every seat is taken. I’ve ridden lots of buses and (especially) trains with 2+1, and people are far more eager to give up their seat — in fact, many people don’t bother sitting down in the first place, especially for short trips.

      Re low-floor buses: To be entirely honest, I think the real problem is that we run buses on streets that don’t have curbs. :) If it’s important enough to run a bus down, then install a sidewalk; otherwise, reroute the bus. You make a good point, though. Still, I wonder if there are low-tech fixes — for example, carrying a “ramp extender” in the bus somewhere. Even if it had to be manually used by the driver, my bet is that it would still be faster (and less prone to breaking down) than the lift.

      1. On 2+1 seating and standing, look at the streetcars we have. Many people choose to stand instead of taking a seat because of the short trip. The new trolleys should match streetcars in terms of interior layout and amenities.

      2. Now that I think about it, I think there might be some streets without sidewalks way down on the south end of the Prentice St loop, but that’s it. Everything else has been in Seattle long enough to get sideways.

      3. +totally, Aleks.

        My ex-girlfriend didn’t think twice about using the T.

        She lived her first entire year in Boston without a car — and this was back before the lawsuit-instigated accessibility retrofits, so she couldn’t even use most of the Green Line, but she still managed to make the T work for her because of the independence and agency that the fully-accessible parts of the network allowed.

        In Seattle? In four years, she’s been on a bus about three times. It feels like going through airport security to her: special operating procedures, strangers’ hands all up in her personal space. Who wants to do that on a regular basis?

        Dorene, the key is to take a survey among disabled riders from cities where they have experienced strap-free transit, rather than a survey of riders here. (That’s not an indictment of the opinions of Seattle’s disabled. It is simply human nature to endorse a familiar option rather than an unfamiliar one, and therefore not useful to base future decisions of import on half-informed responses.)

      4. The trolley fleet would be a good place to try 2+1. The existing trolley routes are all either short (1,2,l3,4,10,12,13,14,44) or supplemented by Link (7, 36, and soon 43). That’s different from taking the 5 or 120 or 358 and having to stand most of the way.

      5. First reaction:

        Metro has also “tried” to educate its drivers about passenger rights. And yet I still got yelled at for not taking a seat on a 33 just a few days ago.

        I was only going from Interbay to Belltown, I had a couple of bulky items in my back pocket that were easier not to futz with, and I’m well within my rights to stand on public transit as long as I don’t prevent people from getting by me. If only there were a good spot on any of Metro’s buses to do so, like there is on every other transit system in the world. [See Aleks’ comment.]

        Second reaction:

        The switch to 2+1 / open floor plans must coincide with the route consolidations, the switch to all-hour 2-door usage, and all the other stuff that makes the system move faster and feel faster. Only then will people’s demand for lots of seats erode. It’s no wonder that reactions to the “trial” 2+1 may have been mixed, if surveyed riders couldn’t count on a predictably quick trip when choosing to stand or sit.

      6. Really? On the Bellevue buses? Man, I am just never on Sound Transit (save for Link).

        Yeah, Bellevue is a short enough hop that I’m sure very few passengers have the kind of luggage that screams “put me up here.” Tacoma trips, sure (they’re more like the commuter trains that stretch 50 miles from Boston or more than 90 miles from New York or Chicago).

        And few would want to stick their smaller/lighter items (i.e. backpacks) out of arms’ reach on a frequently-stopping trolley route: too many chances for someone to grab it and run.

      7. Re: open floor plans & luggage racks…

        Yeah, my above reply’s obviously in the wrong place. Carry on…

    3. However I recently saw several users of manual wheelchairs demo boarding a low-floor bus at a stop without a curb.

      AFAIK, Metro considers curbless stops non-accessible, period. You used to see those big “NO LIFT” decals on signs for bus stops without sidewalks, although I haven’t seen those stickers on the new signs. At least with the ramp, you can get something at those stops, where a lot of the older lifts won’t even reach the ground.

  12. I agree that we TWO passive restraints on the new trolleys–whether the bus has a lift or a ramp, the restraint systems are what causes the most delays on wheelchair boardings. And since trolleys cannot pass each other if they share the same wire, this is a boon to them. This way when one trolley boards a wheelchair, the others behind it are not delayed.

    Also–more passing wires on ANY stop where the spacing between any two buses of any route at any given time on any given day is less than 10 minutes. This way wheelchair-(de)-boarding trolleys can pull over and off of the main wire.

    1. Bad idea, as this would put the following bus in the lead position for future stops, potentially making both buses late.

      1. Without the ability or willingness to pass, both buses are definitely late. How is that possibly better?

        On routes where there is no technological impediment to passing, bunching is exacerbated by the refusal to pass. People get in the habit of squeezing on the first bus, no matter much the crowding worsens the slowdown. The followers remain empty behind the packed leader, and no one gets anywhere.

    2. Lifts and restraining/unrestraining take lots of time. But the killer is when the rules don’t allow boarding and alighting at rear doors, so everyone has to wait for the wheelchair to board or alight. Pay-at-the-front is bus gridlock waiting to happen when the RFA goes away.

      1. The gridlock will just be redistributed, not worse. Instead of occurring partly on entry and partly on exit (for pay-as-you-leave situations), it’ll all be moved to the entry portion. But the rear door will be able to open when it currently doesn’t (in pay-as-you-leave situations), which will decrease the gridlock. The prohibition against opening the rear door downtown after 7pm will hopefully be gone by next September, and hopefully (this is more iffy) drivers will stop applying the obsolete rule arbitrarily outside downtown. But most of the crowds are daytime anyway.

      2. I think Brent’s point is that, currently, it’s relatively rare to have a stop where [a] many people are paying and [b] the lift/ramp needs to be used. In contrast, once we have universal pay-as-you-board, this situation will arise for all use of a lift/ramp downtown.

        That said, at risk of sounding like a broken record, I will again point out that level boarding platforms for all stops on (or immediately adjacent to) 3rd Ave would solve this problem almost completely.

  13. I want “automatic chains” so that these buses don’t get stuck the few weeks that the roads ice up.

    You install them in late September and leave them on until end of March or April.

    Bellevue school buses have them and reports are they work well. As does the Bellingham metro fleet.

    1. They worked great on the Mach V too!

      Seems like the old automatic wheel sanders used to work OK plus they had the benefit of helping to sand the street. Doesn’t do much good for the bus to have chains if they’re held up by stuck cars in front of them. Maybe a modern upgrade would squirt citrus deicer although that doesn’t help if the snow is really heavy. Come to think of it, the front saw blades button on the steering wheel for cutting through traffic would be nice :=

      1. My memory of the last big snow storm was of buses sliding all around and blocking cars. At least when a car blocks the road, the bus riders can get off and push it out of the way. But when a bus is blocking, that’s it, everybody is stuck.

      2. I used to live at University Way and NE 56th Street. Every snowstorm there was always a 71, 72, or 73 stuck on that block.

    2. I remember hearing the chains clinking on my school bus when I was younger and wondered what they were. When I found out, I was impressed. (This was either Highline or Federal Way district)

    1. How about having it about to eat the troll while he’s concentrating on the VW he’s just grabbed ?

      Mark Dublin

  14. Yes to all your suggestions! Can we also please, please, please have a roomy seat-free standing room by one of the rear doors? I rode buses with an amenity like this in Europe and it made it worlds easier (and faster) to come on-board with a stroller, grocery cart, luggage, BIKES, whatever.
    Granted, it’s better suited for an off-board payment system, but isn’t that where we’re headed anyways?

    1. If they took out that bench seat right opposite the door that would work. Plus during crush times, it’s hard enough to let people by to get out, and more room by the door would improve that.

  15. If we’re limiting seating in favor of standing capacity, I’d like to see more cargo space throughout the bus. People commute with briefcases, strollers, groceries and one of the challenges to standing in a crowded bus is managing your personal belongings. I think that’s one of the reasons people don’t move back from the crowded front of the bus–they’re nervous about trying to hold on with one hand, hold groceries or other items with the other hand, and pick their way back without smacking every seated passenger along the way.

    1. Some of the ST buses have this open rack system hung above the seats. That works really well. The closed rack that’s more like an airline overhead bin is rarely used and you can’t tell your bag is in it, so there’s more chance of leaving it on the bus. With the open rack it’s obvious. I’ve used the open rack a number of times to stuff my shoulder bag up out of the way.

      1. I’ve never seen the racks being used on ST buses. I imagine people are reluctant to use them because they’re afraid they’ll forget their stuff when they leave.

      2. Most if not all of the 550’s I’ve been on have a luggage shelf above the seats. It’s “open” like DP’s picture. I’ve never seen anyone use it though.

      3. Really? On the Bellevue buses? Man, I am just never on Sound Transit (save for Link).

        Yeah, Bellevue is a short enough hop that I’m sure very few passengers have the kind of luggage that screams “put me up here.” Tacoma trips, sure (they’re more like the commuter trains that stretch 50 miles from Boston or more than 90 miles from New York or Chicago).

        And few would want to stick their smaller/lighter items (i.e. backpacks) out of arms’ reach on a frequently-stopping trolley route: too many chances for someone to grab it and run.

      4. I think all of ST’s artics have the overhead racks. Only the newer ones have the open bar style. Aside from the obvious visibilty improvements those are also significantly quieter than the enclosed plastic ones, which squeak ALL THE TIME when the bus is moving. They also seem to have more usable space.

        Personally, I use the racks frequently for my laptop bag when I get stuck on an SRO 545 in the morning.

  16. Metro has already given up on their present fleet of buses (Gillig and converted Bredas.) All the interiors of pretty much every bus are shabby and show acute signs of neglect. If we have a couple more years the present fleet is going to look pretty pathetic by the time we get new buses. I sure don’t recall the old M.A.N. buses looking this shabby before they were retired.

    1. I sure don’t recall the old M.A.N. buses looking this shabby before they were retired.
      That’s because one of the “efficiencies” metro has implemented to deal with budget cuts, has been cutting back on cleaning and cosmetic maintenance.

      Back in the last few years operating the M.A.N.s and AMGs, the interiors of all buses about twice as much the attention they do now.

  17. Please consider replacing the seats in the articulated joint with lean pads, like Vancouver. Those seats are a bottleneck and aren’t very comfortable to sit in anyway.

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