Terse cynical version of story:
Breaking: Study finds that buses are cheaper to run on the waterfront than streetcars. Metro not asked whether bus route 99 was a hit, or whether electric buses would be quickly value engineered into regular diesels.
Slightly longer and less biased version:
Waterfront Seattle, Parametrix, and LTK Engineering Services have produced a set of documents that provide a detailed analysis of what it would take to reinstate the Benson Waterfront Trolley as well as a complete comparison of two classic trolley options, a modern streetcar option, and two bus options.
The first document provides quite a bit of detail about the state of the Benson line vehicles, and considers two options to bring these vehicles back into operation. The base case simply restores the electrical systems, adds doors to one side, reconfigures the seats, and generally prepares the vehicles for a total cost of $1.36M. The alternate case adds several features including upgrading the electrical systems to work with our modern streetcar system voltage, and adds wheelchair lifts and automatic doors for a total of $14.6M. This would potentially allow Seattle to tie in the waterfront line to our modern streetcar line.
The second document is a comprehensive comparison of the systems we could build with both options listed above, as well as a modern streetcar line and two electric bus options. Although there is no direct recommendation of a system, the two bus options are highly rated on cost, safety/ADA, and effects on the environment. It should be noted that these are by nature quite subjective ratings, and some might question dropping the modern streetcar option to a lower safety/ADA rating than buses because of median platform loading (yet not mentioning the need for wheelchair lifts on the minibus option in this section), or why all three streetcar options rate low in “effects on the environment” due to potential for wheel noise compared to vehicles that would at least occasionally be replaced with diesel buses if not permanently. But considering subjective ratings are unavoidable, this report does quite a good job looking at all options in detail. We can debate the details (feel free to in the comments section), but this gives Seattle a great starting point to begin the conversation. Speaking of conversations, Waterfront Seattle will be presenting these reports today at 5:30 at the Convention Center.