Today the first 5 of Metro’s 174 new trolley buses hit the streets. From here on, Metro will steadily roll out 110 of the 40′ coaches, while the 64 articulated 60-foot trolleys are anticipated to start rolling next year. All in all, the entire legacy fleet will be replaced within the next two years.

Metro’s spokesperson Rochelle Ogershok says that for the first 3 days (today through Friday), the trolleys can be spotted in service on Routes 1, 2, 3, 36, and 70, and will thereafter go into general rotation on all trolley routes. If you’re so inclined, please take some photos if you see one in service and add them to our Flickr pool.

These trolleys will be smoother, quieter, and greatly improve the rider experience in ways that really matter. They feature user-initiated back door opening, off-wire capability to detour around obstructions or construction, air conditioning, all low-floor boarding, and more. The days of waiting for the wheelchair lift to go down, while sweltering on a 95° bus, unable to get out the back door without yelling? Soon a distant memory.

80 Replies to “New Trolleys Hit the Streets Today”

      1. Care to back that up with one shred of evidence, Bruce? For starters, what’s albino about it? Easter egg, maybe.

        Smooth, quiet, driver loving it…having test driven, operated in DSTT service, and ridden on Bredas, my trolleybus ride today showed absolutely no similarity.

        Did you even ride a block on the new trolleybuses today?


  1. There were a few problems early on:

    “4321 (2/2) was 15 minutes late out of Atlantic Base because it didn’t want to move. 4310 (3/4) made it from Atlantic Base to 3 Av/Virginia before the power steering quit and is waiting for the hook.. 4318 (36/7) was due out of Atlantic at 5:41 and just left. It had some sort of charging issue.”


    I did see 4310 (signed TO TERMINAL) going southbound on 3rd with a wrecker following it. 4313 is on route 4.

      1. Just kidding of course. It used to be embarrassing cruising down the HOV lane at 53 mph, watching the stop and go traffic pass you.

  2. Hooray!

    It was only just yesterday that I allowed a 43 to roll by on 23rd Ave to wait for a 48 instead, so that sitting in Montlake Bridge traffic could be done with air conditioning.

  3. Do the new trolleys feature passive-restraint mobility-device slots, or can they be easily converted to have such slots?

  4. Woah, hold the phone: passenger-activated rear doors??

    You mean I may never have to hear the siren call of “baaaaackkk doooooorrrrr” ever again, at least on trollies? Amazing.

    1. It doesn’t say HOW they’re activated… They could very well be voice-activated, so people will still have to yell “BACK DOOR” to get them to open.

      1. The video shows bright yellow strips right there on the door — it doesn’t get much clearer than “PRESS HERE TO OPEN”.

      2. Adam: so you would think. A couple of months ago I was riding a Sound Transit 566 when they were using an ordinary Pierce Transit bus. Those buses don’t have driver-activated rear doors, just a sign saying “PUSH HERE TO OPEN” and a green light that comes on when the front door is open. One rider who has never been out of King County stood by the back door and kept yelling “Back door!!!” but the driver just rolled his eyes and didn’t tell the passenger about the instructions that were right in front of him. He went on to the next stop, and the passenger marched to the front door to try again.

        The Vancouver BC buses I rode during Expo ’86 had back doors that opened under a floor pressure switch.

    2. It took a little getting used to when I rode Pierce Transit for the first time, but I believe it’s going to be a beneficial change.

    3. “user-initiated back door opening”

      And the choir rejoiced.

      The back doors aren’t just a problem when the driver doesn’t open them. They’re a problem always because there seems to be a built-in couple-second delay between when the front doors open and the back doors open. The bus is stopped and people are waiting to go out but the door doesn’t open until a couple seconds later. Sometimes it’s because the driver doesn’t notice there are people at the rear door, but other times that’s impossible and the door still takes longer to open. In other cities the green light comes on right when you’d expect it and the doors are openable immediately.

      1. That’s likely due to the back door interlock, which sets the parking brake or otherwise activates the brakes when the back door is open. In the interest of not stopping abruptly, drivers wait until the bus is totally stopped before opening the back door. The front door does not have the interlock, so drivers can start opening the front door before coming to a complete stop.

      2. SF Muni’s Orion hybrid buses have the Press-to-Open doors. They use a sensor above the door to detect when someone’s arm is in front of the yellow stripe. Unless the New Flyer’s system is improved, there is a 1-2 second delay between putting your arm there and the door opening. Many people tend to hit the yellow stripe as if it were a touch sensor, but the door won’t trigger unless you hold your hand there.

      3. “BACK DOOR!” was perhaps my single biggest pet peeve about riding buses in Seattle. I’ve been introduced to push-to-open back doors since moving to LA. I had concerns about them at first, wondering how they prevented some sort of exploit, but I can’t even remember what it was.

      1. This particular option is not new to Metro Coaches 500 to 599 Flixible and 700 to 769 GM coaches when they were new had this Feature it was disabled when the Ride Free area when into effect in 1973
        MEHVA Coach 724 and Coach 598 have this feature activated when they were restored

      2. To put a clearer point on what Frank said…

        Seattle Transit HAD this in the past, as far back as 1963. It was eliminated from buses in 1973 at the birth of King County Metro, to accommodate pay-as-you-exit.

        Now that pay-as-you-exit is dead, we can have self-opening back doors again.

    4. We have this feature in Vancouver, but the ingratiating shout of ‘BACK DOOR!!!” is heard far to often. Mostly by people who have misinterpreted a bus stopped at a light or sign as being at a bus stop

      1. Yes, we have that in Portland too. Sometimes the drivers forget to engage the rear door mechanism.

        I think Seattle will like this.

        The new Gillig buses require that passengers push extremely hard on the door to get it to open. I much prefer the New Flyer version of this.

    5. Depends on the implementation. SF has this, but on old high-floor buses it’s controlled by stepping down into the stairway, which most people don’t understand the first time. Therefore, on routes with high numbers of tourists, instead of just shouts of ‘back door!’, you get a shouting match between the passenger and the rest of the bus:

      “Back door!”
      (everyone in unison) “Step down!”
      “Open the door!”
      (everyone in unison) “Step down!”

  5. These sound fund to ride. I look forward to seeing them on RT 44.

    I also hope this can be the beginning of expanded electric bus service. It will do a great deal to bring cleaner (smelling and environmentally) transit to most places in the city.

    1. It’s the first step in expanding the trolley routes. But I don’t know if Metro has funds for that or it would require something like Prop 1 or city funding. The city is preparing 23rd for the 48S to be electrified someday. But at the same time the Capitol Hill restructure may dieselize several trolley routes, and that would be a contraction until/if new wire is strung.

  6. Does the battery feature allow these trolleys to travel through the dead wire zones without risk of stopping? If so, that would be a huge improvement in reliability.

    The dead zone next to the freeway on 6th downtown (on the 12) is brutal, and it is not even the worst-located zone in the network. I’ve had several 3-5 minute delays in the last few weeks as drivers get stuck in the dead zone without power, then can’t reverse to get back on the power because traffic is backed up behind.

    1. From what I hear, no. The driver has to do a few things to switch from poles to battery (and back), so it’s not an instantaneous/continuous power supply.

  7. When these are fully rolled out, will this be the end of weekend desielfication, does anyone know?

    1. Depends on how long the reroute is. I forget what the spec is, or what distance they actually achieved, but Metro’s service guidelines are to keep them battery-only trips to one mile. So this will likely significantly reduce weekend dieselization but probably won’t eliminate it.

    2. Reducing weekend dieselization is one of Metro’s goals with the off-wire capability, but don’t expect there to be full electrification during weekends, at least not for awhile.

  8. For a second there I thought they’d revived the old 174 route. That would have been interesting with a trolley bus.

  9. Has Metro explored converting any additional routes to trolley buses? If I recall, when they did the initial study on trolley replacement, people overwhelming preferred the trolleys, due to the limited noise. Having lived above routes of both kinds of buses, I can attest to the fact that the diesel buses are exponentially louder and more annoying.

    I understand that it would be a massive, and expensive, undertaking, but as neighborhoods get denser, and buses get more frequent, I really think converting as many routes to electric trolleys as possible would add immensely to the livability of the urban areas.

    1. +1

      I came here to ask this. I’d love to see trolley routes expanded as wide as possible. I live on the steepest portion of Madison St on the eastern slope of Capitol Hill, and I can’t keep my windows open at night or when I watch TV because the sound of diesel buses trying to make it up is so loud.

    2. When I attended one of the public meetings about the trolley conversion a couple years ago, they said that trolleys’ base cost is higher than diesel but a federal fixed-guideway credit makes them less expensive, so it depends on that credit remaining in place.

      Converting other routes would probably be done one by one based on past experience, and it would take the usual several years of planning and decision-making before it’s done. There are also some small segments that aren’t quite new routes, such as Yesler Way on First Hill to allow the 3/4 to move off congested James Street. Those things would probably happen first.

      1. unless they come as a capitol investment for a new rapid ride style upgrade…

        You could imagine a project like Madison Ave Streetcar, but in an area not likely to see LTR anytime soon.

      2. I don’t think the National Transit Database includes the credits.

        It certainly doesn’t include such credits for the streetcar.

        The cost per mile is higher, but on average they spend more time stuck on traffic. Per hour of operation they wind up cheaper.

      3. The most sensible thing would be to convert “fill-in-the-gap” routes where *almost* the whole route has trolley wire already. Like the #48…

    3. When 23rd Avenue is re-built it will have the foundations necessary for electrification on the #48 but I don’t believe Metro has yet secured the money to actually hang the wire.

      Yesler is also an obvious candidate for the 3/4 reroute but I believe it would require a new bridge over 4th Avenue.

      1. No, if I understand correctly, the current Yesler bridge has been retrofitted for trolley wire, making it trolley ready like 23rd once funding is found. Sadly, the Yesler wire project was cut from Move Seattle at the last minute, for reasons still unexplained.

      2. I understand that the motive for moving the 3/4 to Yesler is because of congestion on James, but wouldn’t James need service as well? Yesler is quite a bit south of the Jefferson/Cherry service area of the 3/4, so it seems like two distinct corridors. What’s the ultimate plan for the 3/4?

      3. The only deleted service would be between 3rd and 9th, which I think is a small enough gap to be unproblematic.

      4. But what path would the 3/4 take to get back to Jefferson/Cherry? It seems silly to detour down to Yesler when they’re just going to go back north to Jefferson/Cherry.

  10. I caught a ride on one of the new trolleys this morning. Saw it coming and jumped on for a joy ride. I immediately noticed a “new bus smell”. No complaints, but there are very few longitudinal seats on the new trolleys. Front facing seats seem to be preferred although I personally prefer the longitudinal seats. I sat on one of the forward facing seats over the rear wheel well. It was comfortable. I’ll be glad to see more new trolleys on the streets.

    There also was a problem with the stop bell. The driver stopped twice to yell at someone in the back row who apparently was accidentally pulling on the bell chord. Don’t know if that’s going to be a recurring problem or not.

    1. The seat arrangements were a source of significant consternation back when they were ordered.

      Metro’s 40-foot trolleys go literally nowhere other than high-volume, high-turnover, hilly short-haul routes, but Metro simply can’t get through its head that the (inevitable) standing loads on such routes become infinitely more manageable for standees and much faster for egress and turnover with urban-style open floor plans.

      Now we’ll have to wait yet more decades to correct the error.

      1. There was a small concession for sensibility in the new buses in that there are fewer overall seats. They’re still forward-facing, but instead of 2×2 it’s 1×2 most of the way between the front and back doors.

      2. Hmmm, I think the bus I rode was mostly 2×2 with a few forward-facing single seats across from the back door. I don’t remember any 1x2s (but I wouldn’t bet my life on it).

      3. Sitting sideways, however, is so much less comfortable on buses that I prefer to stand if the only remaining seats are between two people. You’ll get squished from both sides if the driver enjoys mashing the accelerator & brakes, as many do.

      4. @GuyOnBeaconHill, you might be right. I was going by the layout detailed on page 7 of this:

        I have, however, heard that the 60 footers feature a RapidRide-like seating layout, which is definitely better than the standard layout. It would really be a shame if Metro did 2×2 for all the 40 footers. As d.p. says, there’s basically zero service on these routes that requires that much seating space at the expense of standee maneuverability. Chalk that up to good old Seattle conservatism.

      5. GuyOnBeacon is correct. The arrangement Ian describes was cut, at least for the 40 footers, because Metro bigwigs never use their own services and cannot imagine having fewer potential places to park their rear ends on a shorter coach.

        Of course, we all know that plenty will be forced to stan anyway. Now that will be more awkward and uncomfortable for them, will slow down the bus, and will make the trolley routes a generally worse experience for all.

      6. That level of sheer idiocy is really just mind-boggling. Has there not been enough in-your-face, 100% unambiguous evidence that the 2×2 layout of the current trolleybus fleet makes things worse for in-bus maneuverability?

        Was there some public outreach process that Metro did which led to them thinking 2×2 was superior or was that decision made in-house?

      7. Metro once sent a lone modified 2×1 trolleybus out into the field for like a week, waited for the predictable trickle of complaints from a tiny minority of know-nothings, and then unceremoniously cancelled its own future ability to operate anything resembling “mass” transit.

        Because, you know, Seattle. Where whiners know best.

      8. I’m on the 4316 currently, running the 70. The seating layout is not as bad as I imagined, it’s still a huge improvement over the Gilligs. It’s goofy and inefficient, but it’s better than nothing. The back section is mostly 2×2, adjacent the rear door is two rows of one seat, and then then the front is mostly 2×2. The main improvement over the Gilligs is the size of the rear door and the standing room around it.

      9. The coaches have 7 “jump seat” style longitudinal seats in the front section (the same style as the seats used on the drivers side of the RapidRide coaches). Those seats force you to sit upright, which should create a bit more floor space for standees. They also have a space where walkers cans be folded and stored out of the aisle.

        After that is a row of 2×2 seats designated priority for seniors/disabled.

        In the rest of the low floor section there’s 2 less seats than normal (call it 2×1 if you want) and a large area for standing passengers around the rear door. There’s definitely more standing space than most Metro buses, with the exception of the RapidRide coaches.

        The rear high floor section is mostly 2×2 forward facing seats (only 2 longitudinal seats) and its tightly packed (nothing like the ridiculous legroom on the Orion’s). I’m frankly okay with that since passengers very rarely stand in the high-floor section of Metro buses (I think they fear being trapped).

        Also bear in mind, longitudinal seats would suck on many trolleybus routes. The trolleybuses spend so much time climbing and descending huge hills, with longitudinal seats you’d spend a good portion of your ride squished into passengers on either side of you.

      10. Yeah, I would understand using 2×1 over longitudinal as a way to widen the aisle of a bus that frequently stops on steep grades.

    2. There is a poor design regarding the rear bell cord in all Xcelsior coaches.

      This is not limited to just Metro’s orders.

      Because the rear bench lines up with a wall, someone sitting has their shoulder lined up with the bell cord. On older New Flyer coaches, your shoulder lines up with the window, with the bell cord above.

      Don’t know what it will take to get NFI to re-engineer this.

    1. When will the transit in this town be designed efficiently enough that no one feels the need to settle into a lounge chair and whip open a laptop on a 2-mile jaunt?

      1. Door-to-door, a typical 2-mile jaunt is something on the order of 5 minutes walking, followed 5 minutes of waiting, followed by 10-15 minutes of riding, followed by another 5 minutes of walking at the end. Add it all up, the total travel time is nearly 30 minutes.

        By contrast, I can walk a 2-mile jaunt in just over 30 minutes or run it in about 15 minutes.

        In Manhattan, the subway is actually fast enough and reliable enough to be worth walking to and wait for on 2-mile jaunts. The buses in Seattle – not so much (unless you get lucky and happen to see something coming).

      2. You do not routinely walk 2 miles in 30 minutes. No one does. The standard deviation for preferred human walking speed is actually smaller than you would expect.

        In the absence of significant external factors, humans tend to walk at about 1.4 m/s (5.0 km/h; 3.1 mph). Although many humans are capable of walking at speeds upwards of 2.5 m/s (9.0 km/h; 5.6 mph), especially for short distances, humans typically choose not to do so. Individuals find slow or, especially, fast speeds uncomfortable. Horses have also demonstrated normal, narrow distributions of preferred walking speed within a given gait, which suggests that the process of speed selection may follow similar patterns across species.

        I come from a region of notoriously faster walkers, and I am among the habitually fastest walkers I know. Over a 2-mile journey, I tend to save 3-4 minutes versus the mean.

        You do not save 8-9. Sorry.

        15 minutes would be a perfectly feasible 2-mile running time for a relatively young, healthy person with some practice. But of course, that requires specific footwear and a non-casual level of exertion (a.k.a. the definition of “running”), and is therefore not comparable to public transit in any way, shape, or form.

        The world is full of cities where taking transit just a mile or two, surface or otherwise, is undeniably worthwhile. Even in our stubbornly slow Seattle paradigm, the demand for such trips is clear: Our peak-loaded trolleybuses are seen between downtown and Broadway. That’s one even mile on the 10/11/49, and quite a bit less than a mile on the 2 or 12.

        But again, that anyone would demand wi-fi or maximal seating (as if it were some long-haul commute) on such short journeys speaks to how terribly accustomed Seattle has become to moving glacially.

      3. When will transit use in your city not require the use of WiFi signals to research schedules, maps, bus locations, and arrival times that may or may not resemble reality, and adjustment of optimum routing over those two miles based on what isn’t working?

    2. It really isn’t necessary now with the rise of smartphones and 3G/HSPA/4G LTE.

      1. Which is pretty much how the signal is delivered to a rubber tired vehicle WiFi router anyway.

        (Other methods exist for railed vehicles, but those methods aren’t common yet.)

      2. Actually, the rise of smartphones would be one of my arguments for continuing the wifi on buses.

        While the data’s coming over the same Sprint LTE network that many of the phones would use anyway, the bus’ router/access-point has the virtue of being a larger device with better antennas and radios than what’s in all the riders’ individual smartphones. When the bus drives through a low-signal area where many people’s smartphones would fall back to 3g or slower speeds (or drop data entirely), the bus hotspot is able to maintain a reliable high speed connection.

  11. Managed to catch a ride on one this morning, I knew they were coming today but as luck would have it the next bus that arrived was one of the new ones. Driver made it clear to all onboard that they were new brand new buses and explained at each stop how the back door works.

    During PM rush hour I saw one as a #14 by Macys.

  12. Waited for the SLUT which never came so I crossed the street (Fairview @ Yale) to wait for whatever bus showed up — SCORE — brand new ETB with AC turned up really high and a driver literally jumping in his seat he was so happy. They ride very nice and quiet with great acceleration.
    The back door — I didn’t get to experience it since I as a bad boy and exited the front door so I could tease the driver again about his brand new toy. But SF MUNI PCC cars had a step on treadle to open the back doors as did most (all?) of the MUNI gas and trolley fleet in the ’60s. I couldn’t believe the driver had to open the back door when I first road a Metro bus.
    Small progress here in Seattle — I can’t wait for the 60′ ETBs, the Bredas are falling apart one screw (or back door yesterday) at a time — I hope they last till early next year.

    1. I rode the 43 a bit this evening, but it was one of the same old Bredas we’ve been riding for decades. I guess it will take awhile for the new trolley buses to trickle down to all the routes.

      1. Zach noted this:

        …the 64 articulated 60-foot trolleys are anticipated to start rolling next year.

        Route 43 is almost always a 60′ doublelong bus. They just started fleet testing the new longer coaches so it will be a while yet.

  13. @dp

    I will sometimes walk two miles between the newsroom and downtown in 30 minutes, when it’s going to faster than dropping in and out of the bus tunnel, sitting in gridlocked surface traffic, or driving a Car2Go where there’s noplace downtown to park. On deadline, I walk 4 mph, though often slowed by traffic lights.

    More often, biotech and Amazon workers will walk south 1 mile in not much more than 15 minutes. when the SLU streetcar gets stuck, to make transit connections at Westlake Station or Third Avenue. My SWAG would be that walking replaces more than 200 weekday streetcar boardings. Good for fitness!

    And I’ve interviewed some people who walk east-west instead of taking Route 8.

    All of which illustrates the value of more transit lanes.

    1. Your newsroom is barely 2/3 of a mile from Westlake, and only 1.7 miles from the International District, which is almost certainly further than you have even been heading in your above downtown-defined sample set.

      4 mph is beyond “walking with purpose”; it is exertion-level walking. Meaning that it would be nearly impossible to maintain such a walking speed over any significant distance without elevated breathing and mild perspiration and other physiological indicators that unmistakably resembles active and intentional exertion. It cannot be mistaken for a “deadline hurry”.

      Sorry to harp on this. Avid walkers — of whom I am one — are notorious for overestimating their walking speed. But combined with Seattle’s tendency to report what “feels true” as if it were demonstrable fact, the 4mph foot commute has become a particularly stubborn meme to repeatedly debunk.

      You are, of course, absolutely correct that people will walk great distance — and spend a great deal of time doing so — rather than deal with the nightmare of the 8 bus, or the pointlessness of the SLUT. (Though ineffectual routing is the SLUT’s primary problem, and even with ~200 extra boardings it would still be failing.) And you are absolutely correct on the need for transit lanes.

      But one should not dismiss the utility of transit in aiding trips that would otherwise require spending a good chunk of an hour traveling not all that far, which can be an unintended (or in ASDF’s case, very much intended) implication of misstatements about walking speed and range.

      1. Incidentally, 1.5 miles — all the way from your newsroom to the pergola of Pioneer Square — would be the expected 30-minute walking range for an average non-hurrying human, if we didn’t live in a city that was obsessed with a fictional autocentric concept of law and order that does nothing but harm urban mobility and, in many cases, safety.

        Given our terribly timed lights and rigidly rule-obsessed culture, however, I would agree that achieving such a distance in 30 minutes would probably involve some hurrying.

        Regardless, there is no point in downtown that is 2 miles from the Seattle Times.

  14. Rode one yesterday on the 14/1. Most riders seemingly didn’t understand the instructions in English on the back door and so yelled up to the driver anyway.

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