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At a press conference this morning, King County Metro is announcing plans to purchase 120 battery buses by 2020, providing unprecedented opportunities for zero-emission electric bus service throughout Metro’s service network. After 3 years of federally-funded demonstration projects – with 3 battery buses on an interlined loop serving Routes 226 and 241 – Metro is making a bold bet that the technology will mature enough to be reliable on a much broader variety of bus routes.

This bet is bold precisely because the technology is not yet mature, and indeed Metro seems to be attempting to induce its maturation, Kickstarter style. By committing capital and hopefully setting off a competitive blitz among manufacturers, Metro is taking real risks; products could underwhelm or fail to materialize, battery technology could fail to sufficiently mature, manufacturers could go bankrupt, charging stations could become unreliable boondoggles or the next front in the NIMBY wars, etc.

But alongside the risks, the concomitant rewards could be nothing less than transformative. As ST2 and ST3 get built out and Metro implements its Metro Connects Long Range Plan (assuming passage at the King County Council next month), bus routes will become shorter and straighter, lengthy express service will be deemphasized, buses will be ever less dependent on reliability-killing freeways, and routes will increasingly feed Link stations that have substantial footprints amenable to charging stations. Metro’s current fleet is 1,423. Together with 174 trolleys, all-electric vehicles will constitute about 20% of the fleet, and King County has a long-term goal of a 100% zero emissions fleet.

And let’s face it, diesel buses are only a relative social good. They emit noxious high-particulate exhaust, are very noisy, and generally detract from a pleasant urban environment. Diesel buses are only good to the extent that they prevent an even larger amount of emissions from personal vehicles, but as electric technology matures the relative environmental benefits of diesel buses will inevitably decline. With this purchase, Metro apparently thinks it can get ahead of that curve.

73 of the 120 buses will be from Proterra, the manufacturer of the current 3-bus pilot. The battery buses will not replace any current trolley routes, as much as Proterra may wish it were so. 8 battery buses will enter service this year, 12 more in 2019, with the remaining 100 entering service in or around 2020. The 40-foot buses on order will have a 25-mile range and a charging time of just 10 minutes, opening them up to dozens of routes that could never hope for traditional trolleybuses. As part of the funding commitment, Metro will also test a variety of longer-distance battery buses capable of 140 miles per chargeand will also ask manufactures to build 60-foot articulated battery buses, which currently do not exist.

In the near term, given a 25-mile range, a reasonable battery reserve, a 40-foot capacity limitation, and a conservative estimate that only 1 charger per route would be installed, routes chosen for battery buses will likely be a maximum of 7-8 miles long and not be interlined. Some routes seem like instant candidates. Route 27 is short and very steep, greatly benefiting from the torque of electric motors. The project to install trolleywire on the Yesler Bridge perpetually fails to get funding, but a charger in Colman Park could obviate the need for it. Link-related restructures will likely fundamentally change the network in 2021 and 2023, but off the top of my head,  battery bus candidates in the current network could be Routes 11, 22, 24, 33, 50, 71, 73, 78, 105, 107, 156, 182, 187, 200, 204, 331, 345, 346, 347, 348, and Rapid Ride F.

It’s amazing that just 5 years ago we were talking about savage cuts to transit service as tax revenue lagged behind the recovery. But in booming Seattle, our aggregate prosperity (though shared unequally) is bringing a lot of public goods with it. It’s good to see Metro carrying the confidence to step out like this. Let’s hope it pays off.

80 Replies to “Metro All In on Battery Buses: 120 by 2020”

  1. The #11 is a prime candidate, of course, but one can only imagine the Hew and Cry from some Mad Park denizens about the installation of the charger at the end of the line – this from folks who barely protested the horrendous 520 project. Just guessing…

    1. Charging stations are less obtrusive than trolley wires. Madison Park opposed trolley wires in the 1960s. It’s unclear how much opposition there would be now if it came with more frequent buses and zero emissions.

  2. Metro wants a 60-foot articulated electric bus, so it might be time to call in New Flyer for a trial of their XE60. Unless Proterra decides to build a 60-ft model as well (which I hope they consider).

      1. Reading between the lines based on the release and how Dow said it at the press conference: BYD’s isn’t durable enough for the routes that Metro would want to put them on.

      2. If BYD can back the envronmental battery, 12 year warranty, and overall reliability, then I say go with them. I would change the flat glass panels and some other luxury items to fit Seattle for maintenance costs. That glass is 3x more expensive. But orders can be changed to suit the city.

  3. “Route 27 is short and very steep, greatly benefiting from the torque of electric motors” That would be great if Proterra hadn’t decided to put a transmission in the bus! It does not drive well up hills. The best bet is to run the Proterra out of North base where the routes are somewhat flatter.

    1. It’s a 2-speed right? I didn’t know they don’t climb hills well, that seems like a strategic blunder if true.

      1. Strategic blunder? Not necessarily. I know nothing specific about the Proterra bus, but a 2-speed transmission would allow for longer range between charges and could be a good choice for routes without serious hills. Perhaps Proterra can build a version of their bus with direct drive for better climbing.

      2. I chatted with a driver at Eastgate TC who was driving a Proterra. He said they roll backward while shifting if headed uphill. Not good for a vehicle as large as a bus. I gather it’s pretty drastic considering how upset he was about the situation.

      3. They roll backwards on hills, so badly the drivers are upset about it? Counting on technology that isn’t here? This is not going to work out well.

    2. Why does a transmission lead to poor hillclimbing? The purpose of a transmission is to allow more than one ratio between the wheel speed and the engine or motor speed, so that the engine/motor can be effective under a wider variety of conditions. I’d think that unless it introduces durability issues, the transmission would allow Proterra buses to operate closer to peak torque at a wider variety of conditions, helping hillclimbing.

      1. Peak torque is kind of a meaningless statement when it comes to electric motors. Unlike internal combustion engines, electric motors produce about the same amount of torque across all engine speeds.

        The advantage of a transmission is using gears to sacrifice speed for power.

      2. The only possible reason I can think of for a transmission-equipped bus to have worse hill-climbing performance would be if the transmission is so underbuilt that it can’t handle the full torque that a direct-drive bus could. Other than that, a transmission is only going to improve performance and efficiency on both hills and while at speed.

  4. This is exciting. As someone who is often biking behind a diesel bus, there’s the obvious benefits for our lungs. But I’ve also had various issues when proposing road safety improvements that get derailed due to overhead trolley lines. Typically, Metro has invested millions of dollars in the overhead lines, so they’re not interested in slightly modifying a bus route. Sometimes it’s moving a bus over a block (like getting them off of the 12th Ave NE Greenway, where they have layovers with overhead trolley lines). Other times, it’s simply trying to narrow the street, which could actually improve bus service but also places them in a different position. Either way, the trolley lines is an additional unwelcome level of complexity and cost when proposing street modifications.

    I hope this experiment proves successful!

  5. will also ask manufactures to build 60-foot articulated battery buses, which currently do not exist.

    They currently exist.
    Los Angeles Metro tested a prototype of BYD’s 60-foot articulated battery electric bus more than two years ago.
    Los Angeles Metro bought five 60-foot articulated battery electric buses from New Flyer (the same company that built our trolleybuses). They’re scheduled to go into service by the end of this year.

    So the technology exists… they just aren’t in widespread use yet.

    1. It’s also worth looking at the Chinese market, which nobody in the US ever does. *94,000* battery-electric buses were sold in China in 2015. Some of them were articulated.

  6. This is great news. I love that Metro is trying to move the ball forward in the fleet/equipment area, whether it’s 3-door artics (love the 8000 series coaches, although they still have too many seats up front), or these battery buses.

    It will be interesting to see where Metro locates the charging stations. It seems like it will probably be much easier to do this in the suburbs, where buses mostly lay over off-street, mostly at Metro- or ST-controlled transit centers.

    Lastly, I hope this isn’t used as an excuse to de-prioritize valuable work on the overhead wire network, like 23rd Ave and Yesler, where relatively small amounts of new wire could result in major improvements either in alignment (Yesler) or diesel emissions (23rd) with the existing or off-the-shelf-purchaseable trolley fleet.

    1. I had the same thought. I’m not as worried about 23rd, because SDOT is still thinking about a combined 7+48 RR line on Rainier/23rd, which would be too long for electrics (right?).

      But moving the 3/4 to Yesler through First Hill would be great and I’d hate to see a battery-operated 27 used as an excuse to not do that.

      1. There’s no reason 7+48 couldn’t be a trolley, although it would need a different terminal in the U-District.

    2. I love that Metro is trying to move the ball forward in the fleet/equipment area

      Indeed, and it seems that Proterra is banking on Metro too.

      Regarding the extended range buses, one of the mechanics mentioned that the longest pullout in the system was around 170 miles, so you could have one of the extended range buses run a full day’s work for some things. Route 952 is about 103 miles by my estimation (including deadhead). But with an 8 hour recharge time it means you’d only be able to use the bus for one tripper a day, or be forced to use it on a short route to get a full day out of it.

    3. “Lastly, I hope this isn’t used as an excuse to de-prioritize valuable work on the overhead wire network, like 23rd Ave and Yesler, where relatively small amounts of new wire could result in major improvements either in alignment (Yesler) or diesel emissions (23rd) with the existing or off-the-shelf-purchaseable trolley fleet” – sure, but OTOH, I hope SDOT takes a 2nd look at major expansions of trolley wire, such as Roosevelt BRT.

      1. I think SDOT said it was evaluating trolley wire vs a battery bus. to see which technology would be optimal at the time of launch.

      2. Right – the current proposed plan presented at the last Open Houses spent roughly half the RR+ budget on building the trolley wires.

        I’m assuming a fleet of battery buses would have lower capital costs, and I’d like to spend more on Move Seattle money on reliability and speed improvements rather than electrification

      3. I think it’s time to get battery-trolleywire hybrids.

        Think about the range implications. If you can run on trolleywire for a long, uninterrupted stretch, it means the range that the battery has to have is much lower.

        You can also eliminate most of the expensive “specialwork” on the trolley wire.

  7. Since I used to live on the 187 not too long ago, making it all electric would be interesting. But it’s interlined with the 182, so (overestimating a bit) 11 miles on a 187 round trip, plus probably 13 or so miles on the 182 definitely (if not already over) seems way too close for comfort.

    1. The bus they use in Hamburg (see below) gets 120 miles or so to the charge. The manufacturers rep said that was conservative as it tends to be quite a bit more depending on the type of service and terrain.

  8. WTA in Bellingham trialed some electric buses a couple years ago. They found that it struggled too much with the step hills around the university, so they moved it to flatter routes instead. Also, interestingly enough, it sounded like the manufacturer was able to make simple adjustments to help it climb hills better, perhaps some kind of software limit that can be changed.

    1. That is an anecdote about my greatest concern: that Metro gets them and THEN finds that they don’t climb hills well. How steep does a hill have to be before these buses have trouble going uphill on it? On the other hand, they will likely have better traction on icy roads than the ETB’s do.

      1. Pretty sure they ran a water barrel-laden Proterra up Madison before they put it in revenue service. I don’t know what the results were.

      2. Diesel buses have trouble going up hills too, especially 60′ ones that slow down significantly. So they won’t necessarily be worse than that.

      3. Electric vehicles are UNIFORMLY better at hill-climbing than fuel vehicles.

        The battery-electrics will go up the hills faster than the diesel buses. I can absolutely guarantee you of that.

    2. Hurrah! Electric buses make so much sense, not just for the noise, air pollution, and climate reasons mentioned, but also for the stability of fuel prices and because stop and go traffic are where batteries really shine. Compare pure diesel coaches at 2.5-3 MPG to Proterra electric buses at 20 MPGe (hybrids get closer to 6-7 MPG, if I recall correctly).

      It’s interesting that Metro looks to be leaning towards short range/rapid recharge buses rather than long range/overnight recharge ones. (Proterra’s fast charge bus, the FC, lists a range of 49-62 miles and a 10-13 min charge time, vs their E2 long range bus, with 250-350 mile range and 3.5 hour charge time).

      Is there any indication of how this decision was made?

      1. The initial 20 from Proterra are fast charge. Then up to 3 long-range, then up to 50 fast charge or long range depending on how much they like the long-range ones.
        The remainder from other manufacturers could be a mix of long range and fast charge.

    3. I have no idea what kind of idiotic mistake the manufacturer made in Bellingham’s buses, but the fact is that diesel buses have trouble climbing hills. (Competently built) electric buses do not.

  9. This is exciting, but our existing trolley wire system is still valuable and should be retained/expanded.

    Fundamentally, charging and discharging batteries results in electrical efficiency losses. Direct power application through wires will always be more energy efficient. Plus, the weight of the batteries reduces efficiency (a portion of the battery charge is used up moving the weight of the batteries).

    For these reasons, overhead wires are better on frequent corridors. Battery buses can be used on less frequent lines that don’t justify the cost of the overhead system.

    1. Or throw some of that weight in to a stronger body or a better HVAC system–one that you can run as much as you want without having to worry about the bus getting stranded.

    2. What about the cost of building and maintaining all that trolley wire? I’m OK retaining the existing wire, especially on frequent corridors, but I’m not keen on building more trolley wire – you have to look at the cost of building trolley wires + operating trolley buses vs. simply running battery buses.

      1. You are neglecting to include the cost of building out the charging stations for the EB’s. That’s a significant cost concern that goes along with widespread deployment of the buses. You are going to have to install some infra no matter your choice.

      2. Correct, but trolley wires need a substation too, so shouldn’t be a significant difference in a big project.

        If we’re looking at a short extension of existing wire, then sure the cost of a charging station is probably more.

  10. This bet is bold precisely because the technology is not yet mature

    It may not be mature in the USA. Hamberg has decided to try to go completely battery power by 2020, according to one of the people I talked to at Innotrans in September. They had battery buses on display there and I was reasonably impressed by the product line available from several manufacturers.

    Among other things, at least two models allowed for full 100% low floor seating all the way to the back with a rear window.

  11. I hope if they go to a 60ft battery powered bus they find another supplier other than New Flyer. I hear from mechanics the newest busses in their fleet are made of low quality junk. Mechanics say parts poorly made and unavailable. Not very good training and poor warranty support. Digficult to even keep the over priced busses on the road. If Kenworth pulled that, we would dump them in a heart beat. But tax payers pay for the loss not the company. I have ridden many mewer New Flyer busses, but from a mechanics perspectove, not a fan.

    1. That’s sad to hear since New Flyer has a long record and a good reputation. And they’re very nice to ride in.

  12. I think this is great.

    But, that being said, I’d much rather see New Flyer fuel cell buses. As much research is being done to make hydrogen production green, I think fuel cells are a better option than fully electric (battery) for the future.

    1. AC Transit runs HY buses and I do not believe that there are any plans to buy more once the funding dries up. Battery buses are a better bet than fuel cell for mass production.

    2. Fuel cells are a terrible terrible idea. The debunkings have been posted elsewhere.

      Battery buses are the way to go. As noted below, China is already selling *97,000 per year*

  13. Zero emissions sounds great to me!

    Another option would be to remove the diesel engines from our current fleet and add a big rubber bumper to the back of the buses while eliminating all bus pull-outs. Approaching SOV drivers will be required to gently push the bus with their vehicles if they wish to continue making forward progress. If the bus ever finds itself on a street without traffic (unlikely!) pushing poles can be distributed to the passengers to switch to romantic gondola-mode. ST can use some of the cost savings to distribute stick-on rubber pads to SOV owners who are concerned about scuffing their paint job.

  14. With Metro’s ever-larger order and the grants for Pierce and Everett, this leaves Community Transit as the sole operator that will not be getting an electric fleet. It’s understandable since the base is near Paine Field and thus pretty far away from the nearest route terminals in Mukilteo and Lynnwood. I don’t think we’ll be seeing any electric Swift buses any time soon, unfortunately.

    1. Swift is 17 miles long. There are battery buses that can do 120 miles. So, 7 one way trips.

      Layover time is what? 10 minutes at each end? Opportunity charging would probably get you another one way trip, and a full lunch break might get you one more one way trip.

      Swift doesn’t have a huge number of hills, so range might not be too bad.

      It’s not out of the range of possible, but you might wind up keeping an extra bus on the charger at the transit center and swap them out from time to time.

      ebus was working on a robotic battery swapping contraption, but I don’t think they got too far with it. Being able to just press a button and have the battery pack swappped out would be a great solution if it could be made to work.

      1. I agree with the idea. I think quite frankly the pressure will be on Community Transit and Skagit Transit to join the evolution!

        Will Trimet?

      2. That is an interesting idea with a quicker battery exchange. In my opinion how the battery is maintained and charged will lengthen the life of the bus. The problem has always been bringing the battery to a lower than normal charge and then dumping a fast charge on it. If your range is 9 miles, charge it at 6 and keep the range between 35-90% charged and charge it slower. Protera’s fast charge is good but cells degrade with heat. That bus could last 5yrs longer with a less extreme charge cycle. But I still like the fast exchange idea. Changing a hybrid truck or bus battery can cost 50-75k. Keeping that cost down would benefit many tax payers.

      3. I know Tesla was planning on a battery swap program for the Model S. They managed to do an automated swap in 90 seconds that costs less than a tank of gas. They had an event a while ago, but their program never took off. If something like this could be done for Swift with keeping a stockpile of batteries at Everett Station, for example, so the batteries can be charged slower while keeping the busses in service would be pretty great.

      4. Electric buses actually do way better on hills than diesel buses. High torque, regenerative braking.

    2. Half of CT’s buses are freeway expresses and =many others are very long suburban/rural routes. So CT may not benefit from them as much as other agencies to. And CT is busy with several other things: Swift 2 and 3, a service expansion, etc. It’s a small agency so its resources may be limited, and it may consider its other tasks higher priority than battery buses.

  15. I would like to see an electric bus as part of a new Metro 8. This is the route (https://drive.google.com/open?id=1-ReWm3Ug-B67LMavk7ELJb2pd4c&usp=sharing) I had in mind when I wrote this (https://www.seattletransitblog.com/2016/10/13/metro-8-after-bertha-is-finished/). There are two big problems with that proposal. One is that it goes right through the Seattle Center. That is unlikely to happen if the bus is diesel. Another problem is that you are running a bus up Belmont, and a noisy diesel bus might get complaints by neighbors. Unlike the idea of running through the Seattle Center, though, Metro is considering running a bus on Belmont, although a “local” (less frequent bus). If you go to the long range plan service map (http://www.kcmetrovision.org/plan/service-map/) you can see it (they are routes 3028 and 3104).

    So I see a reconfigured Metro 8 as a real possibility. If you just ended where the Madison BRT ends, then I could see running that quite often with electric buses. This would mean some folks would have a two seat ride (you would have to split the 8 somehow) but the end result would be a bus that could be fast, frequent and quite popular the whole way.

    1. That route would never work. The stretch between 2nd and 5th gets a LOT of pedestrian traffic during the summer, and at any big event (read: almost every weekend between May and September) you’d have to route off to Denny or the laughable Mercer.

      1. Running through the Seattle Center is unlikely — I get that. A lot of folks will freak out. But compared to much of the city (U-District, downtown) running a bus on that street really isn’t a big deal. It is only because it hasn’t been done in a while (i. e. inertia) that it is seen as crazy idea. As far as festivals and the like, it could be rerouted the same way that buses are rerouted for big events at the UW (football games, graduation, etc.). But all of that is unlikely.

        The alternative is to use Mercer, which is the way that Metro is leaning. If you go to that Google map and click on “More Likely Proposal” you can see what I mean. The savings and benefit from using a street like Harrison — even just over to 5th — are huge over slogging on Denny. If you look at Metro’s long range plan, they have both service on Denny and service on Harrison, but the only “Rapid” ride (high level) service uses Harrison.

        One option, of course, is a hybrid route. Don’t run through the Seattle Center, but still avoid Denny. So that means going on Harrison across Aurora all the way to Eastlake. Go over the freeway on Lakeview and pick up Belmont. I could be wrong, but I think that route would be much faster and more dependable than using Denny. I think it would pick up a similar number of people as well.

      2. Mercer is as or less reliable than Denny during large events. If you put a bus on Mercer you’d need to take a lane. Since you’d have to reroute the bus during the times you have the most ridership it’d be hugely confusing since probably half your ridership would come from people looking at the map in the timetable and wondering why the bus is operating on a different street.

  16. While an electric 27 is a good idea, the trolley wires proposed for Yesler are intended to get the 3 and 4 off of James St and away from the freeway interchange.

  17. Last Proterra buses came up here people were pretty critical of the operational constraints, with charging cutting into schedule recovery time. With just 25 miles of range on a 10-minute charge, isn’t that still a bit of a problem?

  18. The 62 would be another route that, it would be very nice if it could go electric. The diesel belchers currently running that route are obnoxious, and Metro has already gotten a number of complaints even under the old 16. As it stands today, the route might be a bit too long, and the need for articulated buses on the Fremont->downtown segment may preclude it. But if the the pieces of the 62 north and south of the ship canal ever split, converting the northern half to 40-foot battery buses would be nice.

    1. I think a split on the 62 makes sense, especially as improvements are made to the system. I can see why you want that long route right now — I can imagine stops just about anywhere along the way. But I also think in a few years you will see a lot less of them. Link will have a stop at 45th, and the 44 is slated to get RapidRide+ improvements. This will mean that if you are headed downtown from Wallingford, you wouldn’t take the 62. At the same time, the east end of the 62 (serving 65th) becomes a lot more popular once Link gets up there. Same is true for the Tangletown area — if you are trying to get from there to downtown, then take the 62 north followed by Link. Therefore a split in Fremont (where multiple bus routes converge) would make a lot of sense.

      I’m not sure what you do with the southern have of the 62 though. I would be tempted to just axe it, and beef up serving on the 40. That may be too much of a walk, though, and there are plenty of places along Dexter that are popular. One approach would be to simply do a split, but extend the southern half of the 26 up to 45th, via Fremont Avenue. That adds value all the way. There is no easy way to get from lower to upper Fremont — you have to work your way over to catch the 5 — so this would not only help with longer distance trips, but shorter ones, too.

  19. It’s too bad that Proterra are so against Trolley buses. It seems to me the best bet for cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Vancouver BC would be a battery electric bus with trolley poles. As the bus travels through the downtown core, it could put the poles up and recharge for as long as the wires were on its path. This would allow charging in both directions with no additional down time at the end of the route, and no additional costs needed to construct new charging stations.
    Perhaps one of their competitors will consider this.

    1. I’m pretty sure New Flyer (which makes both trolleybuses and battery buses) would build them if they had an order.

    2. The problem is the space consumed by the charger.

      Solaris will probably be the first to develop such a thing since there is so much trolley bus infrastructure in Eastern Europe.

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