King County Metro got two of them. It has a rear window so I like it already.

58 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Proterra Electric Bus”

  1. One thing they didn’t touch on in the video for the Protrera Electric was what the cost of this bus is to operate compared to different fueled buses e.g. diesel, CNG, or electric trolley type that accesses the catenary. I’d be interested in the comparison. I would guess you’d have to factor in also the hardware needed to maintain the bus such as charging infrastructure etc.

    1. All new technologies have a bug here & there, it’s par for the course. But like anything else, they will be figured out & the finished product will be even better than before.

    2. There have been issues with the first 3 buses. See my post below.

      But before that, why not enjoy watching the bus recharge at the lovely Downtown Pomona (former Southern Pacific, Sunset Limited still stops there) Train Station which Foothill Transit insists on calling a “TransCenter”?

      1. Wow, those Pomona electrons must have a high THC content. Did you see that route number sign whizzing. That was one blithered bus!

    3. Even worse than unexpected problems, Nathanael, are the ones which every single technician across the entire company predicts- and the machine gets bought anyway. Mostly due to selection by low bid.

      Prime example: Breda’s whole Tunnel fleet. And from some recent travels to Gothenburg, Sweden, Oslo, Norway, and San Francisco- the one with the cable-cars- everything Breda has ever put on either rails or pavement.

      Excuse is always that problems are the fault of whoever wrote the specifications- who can be forgiven for the very human failing to appreciate the range of Steven King horrors that the most careful wording possible will allow.

      And used to full advantage. Really makes a good case for corruption. Because anybody experienced in corruption always specifies an unspoken contractual stipulation that: “You screw this one up an’ I’ll moider you, even if you are my little brudder!”

      Take a ride on a Breda, take a deep breath of the smell, listen to what the brakes do on every application, notice the ride quality- and think what you’d do if you were a gangster and your little brother went against The Family like that.


      1. I’m absolutely amazed Breda gets any contracts at all given their reputation.

        I suspect at least in the US they win some bids simply by being the lowest bidder. A smart agency would drop them at the RFQ stage based simply on their poor performance in past contracts. Unfortunately I’m fairly sure some agency’s rules don’t let them disqualify a vendor on that basis alone.

      2. A quick google search turns up a long list of projects they’ve failed on. In addition to general reliability problems overweight vehicles, corrosion problems, and late deliveries seem to be a common theme.

        It appears some agencies have wised up as Breda was disqualified from several recent competitions including one for new SF Muni LRVs.

        Finmeccanica is tired of the financial losses caused by Breda and is looking to sell both the rail car business as well as the Ansaldo signal business. Hitachi and a Chinese consortium are the final bidders.

  2. Why Middle-Class Americans Can’t Afford to Live in Liberal Cities – The Atlantic
    “Blue America has a problem: Even after adjusting for income, left-leaning metros tend to have worse income inequality and less affordable housing. ”

    Is that the future of Seattle and other blue metropolises? Limousine-liberal cities with ‘preserved’ charater – San Francisco style politics, expensive rail projects to nowhere, pockets of fashionable hipsterdom, single family housing with islands of mediocre urbanity?

    1. That’s an out of context quote & you know it. Otherwise you wouldn’t have posted that remark in the first place.

      1. ??? Out-of context quote? It’s the lede. I don’t understand your post. Hakuna matata.

      2. Unless you’re selling dog food, “less” and “worse” always need an answer to question: “Than what?”

        In urban connections you cite, first question on any point is: Give an example of a city of same size as Seattle that’s better in the relevant categories. And then let’s hear from people who have actually lived there, who aren’t rich.

        Rail evaluation above needs an answer too: where’s “nowhere”, and for how long? Bet there’s more than one road to that destination somewhere in the US.

        Also, seem to remember being on roads in a few states that go rapidly from freeway to two-lane- generally until money to keep enlarging arrives. Road or rail, if they know they need corridor transportation, not many wait to start building until whole line can be completed.

        Always hated this “blue state red state” crap. Anybody remember which election that came from? Or wonder why we keep it? “Red” used to mean “Communist”, too. Why not blue and grey- would match present politics better.

        Rail, bus, or automobile share this with sanitary sewers: liberal, conservative, or monarchist, conduit contents flow one way and have to be pumped the other.

        Anybody who doesn’t know that: Kweli shida mbaya, wewe idiot!

        Kwaheri and don’t let the door hit you in the kitako -mwisho!

        Mark Dublin

      1. No. But I am sure San Francisco and Detroit represent the complete dichotomy of liberal cities!? (/sarcasm)

        Affordable housing for instance ain’t rocket science. Neither is useful transit.

      2. A model of what exactly, and when? For decades, Detroit was a model of a strong and healthy industrial city.

        Or of what happens to a city in that puts its entire existence in the hands of a single industry in its suburbs. Or maybe two?

        Ballard’s change of economy from light industry to heavy real-estate speculation is a good bet to become a better model than Detroit of something much worse.

        Final thought about models: in current cinema, few of them turn out to be as good actresses as Frances McDormand.

    2. When the price of beef goes up, people eat more chicken. When the price of milk goes up, non-vegetarians discover soy milk and soy ice cream. Why isn’t this happening in the demonized blue cities? Because people want to live there. And they can often find the best job with the best salary there, and the most contacts to line up their next job after that. The most universal fact is that cities are more liberal than their surrouinding countryside because a concentration of people makes it impossible to sidestep social issues: you have to address them with practical solutions, you can’t get away with religious or libertarian ideology. Those practical solutions are the same thing as the good parts of liberalism: viz. how well Canada and Sweden and New Zealand are functioning compared to us. (This is not to excuse the bad parts of liberalisim like San Francisco’s double-standard rent control and extreme activists.) And in fact the Sunbelt is growing too, with many new residents citing the low cost of housing as the reason. So there’s our chicken and soy milk. Bot note: that’s discount because it’s cheap, not moving there because you otherwise want to. And it remains to be seen whether they’ll still be as content living in the South when living in sprawl becomes more difficult or the shale boom ends or the consequences of voting restrictions, abortion restrictions, and lack of healthcare become more acute.

      What we need is a large increase in housing units, frequent transit, and walkable neighborhoods in every region that’s experiencing price pressure — both in the core cities and in the suburbs. That’s the way to reduce inequality, let people live in the environment they want to, and make it more convenient to fulfill their everyday needs without driving. We don’t even have to outlaw sprawl: we just need to make enough compact neighborhoods for everyone who wants them. That’s really the same as the GI bill was. There was a severe housing shortage in 1945 because construction had been frozen since 1930, so the government poured money into new houses, which also created the middle class and postwar prosperity.

      There’s an article linked tfrom the Atlantic one which is much better. How Burrowing Owls Lead To Vomiting Anarchists (Or SF’s Housing Crisis Explained). It’s an in-depth putting together of the different phenomena. The first several points make sense. I got lost at #13 (Who are the protesters?) with all the irrelevant anarchist tomfoolery and didn’t get my bearings again until #21. But #20 raises an interesting question: Why doesn’t Google move to Detroit?

      And in fact, I did something of the same. I went to SF in 1998 looking for dotcom work, since my family was from there and I was raised on stories of how wonderful San Francisco was. But I returned home because I realized I’d have to run three times as fast to make ends meet in SF, so even if I was offered a job I wouldn’t want to take it. I did the Bailo thing and lived outside the center of the universe, in a smaller metro where costs are lower and distances are shorter, and that was an acceptable tradeoff for a lower salary/less transit/less walkability. At least Seattle isn’t as bad as San Jose or San Diego. Now that Seattle has recently become more like San Francisco, I’m not sure what I’ll do long term. Probably I’ll just stay in the city and live in an ever-smaller unit graduallly moving further out. Or maybe I’ll find a reason to move to Spokane. Or Chicago, which has 10 times better transit and walkability, and a shriinking population so prices are stable. But those cold winters and humid summers…

      1. “That’s really the same as the GI bill was.”

        In the sense of increasing housing. it did not increase compact housing because it did the opposite. But it did house people.

    3. For what it is worth, no city in the USA is less affordable than New York City, and they had Republicans as mayors from 1994 through 2013.

      Their measure of “liberal” is the voting margin of Obama over Romney. This is a single election, and shouldn’t be considered a measurement of anything other than how many people preferred one candidate over the other.

  3. Last night, I had occasion to drive down 12th Ave., from Beacon Hill to Capitol Hill, and I could not help but noticing that after Jackson Street, the bus routes along the north/south corridor seemed to all but disappear.

    When I got home, I pulled up the route maps and realized that, except for the 48 down 23rd Ave., we have zero all-day north/south bus service through the central district that travels in anything remotely approaching a straight line. the 7 and 36 turn west on Jackson to make a long slog through downtown, even if the 7 does ultimately go back up to capitol hill when it turns into the 49. The 60 does connect capitol hill with Beacon hill, but the huge zig-zaggedy detour to serve the front door of Harborview makes it an extremely slow connection. The 9 is almost a straight line, but has limited hours that make it almost useless except for work commutes, and even the 9 still has an around-the-block detour at Jackson and Boren.

    I realize that the bus network here is somewhat constrained by trolley wire and our inability to spend money to relocate it, this has all the makings of a legacy service pattern oriented around everybody going downtown, over the system we want to have, designed for anywhere-to-anywhere trips. If nothing else, the operating hours of the 9 and 60 seem backwards – Beacon Hill to Capitol Hill is a day-and-night source of demand. While medical appointments, by and large, happen 8-5, Monday-Friday, except in emergencies.

    1. I made the opposite trip yesterday afternoon! From 12th & Aloha to 15th & Lucile (and on to the Industrial District). The lack of north-south transit on 12th has long been lamented, and I once turned down an apartment on 15th south of Spokane Street because of the 60’s limited schedule (although now it has more evening service, but it’s still not frequent, and that’s a problem given the multifamily housing and low income of the area).

  4. It really is good to see this specific an example of a technical change that’s this close to being able to implement- or to at least be able to use in, say, Seattle.

    Would be good if they could build these machines in Seattle too. Can’t think of any reasons why not.

    Question I do have is same as for uphill only catenary for the First Hill Streetcar: how steep a grade has any experimental propulsion had to carry standing loads of passengers on, and for how long.

    Also, in what weather. Or- and probably more easily answered in California right now- heat and possible fire. Very curious, incidentally, as to how well that composite stands up to fire from short-circuit or collision.

    Also, from real Seattle experience with the Breda fleet, if the composite cracks, will that balsa wood rot, resin or not? Want details of repair of that material too.

    But one way-off-base line of thought even for a comedian: Where’s it written that if a bus can go electric, sports-cars and SUV’s still have to burn a world-full of gasoline?

    Besides- every metro area is discovering that even if gas were free, cars-only living patterns are already running out of room. Which the whole Sixth Fleet can’t get back for us.


  5. I do think it should be pointed out that the current fleet of Proterra Electric buses that are in service each day at Foothill Transit are the second batch which arrived in 2012. F2001, F2002 and F2003 which were delivered in 2010 appeared to have many issues with breakdowns and are not presently on the road, as far as I can tell.

    Yes, the original 3 were often taken to show off the technology, as shown in the video above, but from my observations, they also were often on the side of the road with their blinkers on, waiting for a tow.

    So far the 2012 buses seem to be operating the entire route 291 schedule 7 days a week, with substitutions by the CNG buses being rarer since F2004-F2012 arrived:

  6. The 1980s buses had rear windows and also a clear panel behind the driver. Every day people get on a 43 in the U-District and want to look out the back to see if a 49 is there, or they get on a 48 and want to see if a 43 is there, and they can’t because the back wall is opaque. Likewise, people unfamiliar with an area need to see what’s in front of them so they can recognize their stop, but the opaque panel behind the driver blocks a lot of fhe view. I can understand drivers might now want people looking at them the whole time, but the need to view the street beyond is important too.

      1. Correct. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t find somewhere else for it to go. That said, I’m sure there would be added costs if you moved that equipment since the space over the left front wheel is unused anyway.

  7. This Congress for the New Urbanism Cascadia chapter summit on Friday might be of interest:

    2014 CNU Cascadia Regional Summit – Seattle – Nov 7 & 8
    The Inclusive Third Place: The Heart of the Neighborhood and the Community

    How can adaptive reuse and urban block infill revitalize neighborhoods by providing those “third places” where people can informally gather and meet? How can we create walkable, human scaled places to support human activity and interaction, diverse and sustainable communities, the local economy and innovation? The CNU Cascadia Summit is being held in a “third place” – Oddfellows Hall in the Capitol Hill Neighborhood of Seattle.

    Focused on the Pike-Pine corridor

      1. I wonder why they’re not on the roof, then. Maybe for ease of parts swap with the rest of the fleet? My far-fetched idea is that they stayed off the roof so trolley poles could, possibly, be put up there. I seem to recall that A/C can’t go on the roofs of trollies as they get in the way of the poles.

      2. I’d be skeptical about the idea that equipment on the roof makes trolly poles impossible. I’ve seen pics from other systems where poles are placed a good deal closer to the front than hours.

        But for trolly buses, rear windows have a special use. The best mirrors and cameras still don’t give the driver as strong a visual sense of where the poles are- like missing or making a switch- as the sight of ropes in a wide back window.

        Also, especially for city routes, it’s important for both drivers and passengers to be able to see- and maybe signal- a bus ahead or behind. It’s a measure that somewhat overcomes the fact that buses can’t be coupled.


      3. Plus, with low floor trolleys there will be some space above the seats in the low floor area, if you really need somewhere else to put stuff.

  8. Has Metro decided/disclosed what routes they’ll be using these on to begin with? I’d guess somewhere on the east side, since you’d want a location with multiple layovers at a transit center. The problem with deploying these on routes that go through downtown Seattle is generally you’d have to put the rechargers at far flung terminals, which would limit the buses use.

    There are a few routes that terminate downtown, but is there enough space to put a recharging station in?

    1. If they go on the Eastside then they are being powered by PSE and its coal and natural gas, which defeats the whole purpose?

      1. Well, what is the purpose? To test and verify that electric buses would work within Metro’s system, to reduce vehicle emissions?

        From the press release, its to do both.

        A full roadmap might be helpful. If these buses are successful, maybe Metro puts them on the eastside and makes arrangements to buy renewable power?

        There is also something to say with not having the emissions right at ground level where people directly breath them.

        This is one of those things that is good, but yes, isn’t perfect.

      2. Rumor is these will go on the 221 which makes sense since it lays at a Metro operated Park & Ride at both ends.

        As for PSE, their 2012 fuel mix was 50% renewable and they are continuing to add wind turbines to meet the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. I recently toured their Wild Horse Wind Farm and was told they are now at greater than 10% Wind energy in their mix.

        It’s not Seattle City Light’s very green energy mix, but it’s better than diesel made increasingly from carbon intensive Canadian Tar Sands. The area’s refineries receive oil from Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline and oil trains.

      3. The Foothills Transit route that uses these buses, according to the video, has a 10-minute stop in the middle. Talk about feel-good, do-nothing transit! The greenest bus imaginable can’t reduce tailpipe emissions of people that drive because the bus is so slow!

        We really shouldn’t be using these buses any place that forces us to degrade performance like that! Which limits us to routes that are never too far from a charger. And before we sink a lot of money into infrastructure for these buses we’d better do at least a back-of-the-napkin analysis of whether battery-powered buses will ever be able to meet the service requirements of our local transit network. Can chemical batteries achieve the necessary energy density at reasonable weights? And how much infrastructure is needed, and what are the impacts on operations when every layover has a hard minimum time?

        Until we have a really good idea of this stuff, the battery buses really shouldn’t touch the routes that the largest number of people rely on.

      4. Regarding “slow” I’ve used a speedometer app on my phone and have noted what speeds you get with buses and find that in town on a non-express route buses seldom go any faster than 10 – 12 MPH. The only times you get a bus going faster is if the bus is a limited stops express route or a bus that has the freeway as part of its route. On express buses I’ve never seen higher speeds than 30 MPH. It makes sense if the normal habit of buses is to stop every two blocks which is normal outside of the city center where buses stop every four blocks.

      5. Ideally, the charging spot would be at a layover, where it wouldn’t affect revenue service.

        One thing I was struck by in the video linked by Erik Griswold above was how long it took the bus to approach and dock at the charging station. I’d hate to be a rider waiting to get off while that happened. It reminded be of riding the MBTA Silver Line from the airport to South Station when they switch from diesel power to electric power.

      6. @Joseph: I’m not saying the bus is slow in the sense of maximum instantaneous velocity (if you want to measure that you don’t need a phone, just stand near the driver and watch the speedometer, it’s more precise). Generally top vehicle speed is a poor measure of real transit speed, and the amount of time the vehicle spends stopped and the number of stops the vehicle makes is much more important. That’s why the thing I mentioned regarding Foothill Transit’s use of electric buses was a 10-minute stop in the middle of the route, not the buses’ limited top speed, which indeed doesn’t matter for urban routes. And why the things I’m concerned about with Metro’s use of the buses are how they’d affect operations, including when late-arriving buses are delayed at the base because they need to charge and can’t start their next run on time.

      7. The mid-route stop is at a transit center/rail station where according to Foothill Transit, most passengers of that route transfer, so a few through riders are affected by the charging break. Also, the line carries 5% of Foothill’s total ridership, so it’s not an insignificant route.

        I went down to Pomona on Saturday to check out the bus and the driver asked if anyone needed to catch a bus that was about to leave the transit center before he pulled into the charging station. So there are workarounds if someone is in a hurry. The time that it took to dock with the charger seemed to vary by driver.

      8. Sounds like Lynnwood TC, where everyone is transferring, arrivals are kind of pulse-y, and sometimes you can get your connection held to avoid a near-miss. Of course, at Lynnwood they won’t hold the 512 because a CT local routes is running late, and I can’t imagine they’d hold the train in Pomona for that, either. Anyway, the transfer to regional expresses at Lynnwood is important and it’s fine for the many local routes that go through Lynnwood (112, 115, 116, 120) to put that transfer first, but on the other hand if you delay through-riders excessively the idea that the whole bus turns over at the transfer point becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

        The extreme example is Northgate TC, so poorly sited for everything except access to the freeway express ramp that by the time the 75 was split most people on it at Northgate were transferring. Do people’s local travel needs really stop at the transit center? Traffic on Northgate Way says, “No.” But the transit going through was too lousy to use for that purpose — even worse than sitting through the mess of Northgate Way in a car, which is what anyone with a choice does. Sometimes routes have to start and end, but we don’t want to arbitrarily create points where we force unnecessary waits or transfers. The point of advocating for transit is to make our city better, more efficient, more sustainable, safer. Yeah, transit can effect land use change and make trips shorter, but in order to have any impact it has to support the trips people make today.

    1. At 0:52 they use the cross over to get from main 1 to main 2. Is Link signalized to operate both directions on each track? The signals on MAX are only one direction.

      1. I’m pretty sure it is. They go to single track operation from time to time for maintenance.

      2. Yes – everywhere except in the DSTT. Reverse running is possible in the DSTT but there are no rail signals for this. Presumably the tunnel would need to be clear of bus traffic before trains could run reverse direction there. There was a manual bus signal for bus traffic to operate reverse in the tube sections operated by a supervisor at each station but to my knowledge it was never used and may not exist anymore after the rail retrofit.

  9. That’s actually quite a brilliant application of electric. The challenge with batteries is carrying enough of them to have decent range: using fast charging on fixed bus routes dramatically reduces the need for range. I’d like to know just how little energy those batteries store.

    Of course, I’m concerned about the lifespan of batteries that have to withstand rapid charge every hour, and I hope there’s enough excess capacity to get through traffic jams, etc.

    The real question is how these compare to trolly line. Both take advantage of fixed routes to deliver the benefits of electric power, but consequently have limited flexibility. What’s the price of charging infrastructure vs. trolly wire, the lifespan of the batteries, the downtime due to battery problems vs. hazards that trolly buses can’t get around?

  10. Did anybody notice what the guy said about CNG? They’re paying 40 cents per gallon equivalent! Natural gas also has the lowest carbon content per unit of energy content – anybody know why we don’t have more CNG? Has Metro looked into it?

    1. If I remember correctly, Metro Transit was on track to start bringing in CNG buses. But with a change of county executive, the new one canceled the contract. Don’t remember why.


      1. Metro cancelled plans for LNG when clean diesel engines that met EPA standards at the time were available. Portland had some LNG busses for testing but they chose to stick with diesel too.

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