Madison BRT, also known as RapidRide G, is running into problems with bus procurement. Although the Trump Administration’s foot-dragging isn’t good for any transit project, it is these procurement delays that threaten to delay opening. At the moment, is unclear if these problems will actually delay the planned 2021 delivery.
RapidRide G will use special buses with doors on both the left and right side of the vehicle. The initial plan selected trolleybuses that may have off-wire capability.
According to a source at SDOT, the vehicles intended for the corridor—60 foot, BRT-optimized Xcelsior trolleybuses from New Flyer—can’t handle the steep grades of Madison Street. The source added that New Flyer intends to discontinue trolleybus manufacturing after an ongoing order for San Francisco is finished. Neither SFMTA nor New Flyer responded to requests for comment. Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer referred STB to SDOT for comment on the trolleybus grade issue.
SDOT spokesperson Mafara Hobson:
The FTA requires specific details on the project design and bus fleet specification as part of its award process. While SDOT is working closely with the local FTA office to advance the city’s grant agreement, King County Metro, who leads fleet procurement for the project, is working to identify fleet options that can meet Madison’s unique route grade requirements and be procured in time for the planned 2021 opening. Both SDOT and Metro will meet with FTA in late September to review the project fleet strategy.
[Update: Now that Metro has elected to comment on this story, sources at SDOT and Metro have provided differing explanations of the problem. One narrative says that Metro identified a problem with the grade; the other says that there is no grade issue and the manufacturer is simply unwilling to retool their production line for such a small run. We’re looking into the discrepancy.]
Whatever the cause of the vehicle impasse, it’s a significant problem. It blocks federal funding since a Federal Transit Administration grant requires specification of the bus fleet. All the while, the Federal funding environment gets worse.
The Trump administration is not releasing FTA funding for other projects, which has frustrated local capital projects like the Center City Connector and Lynnwood Link. However, since it has not reached the grant stage, Madison BRT has not encountered that problem.
Still, the vehicle problem is part of a growing pattern of SDOT procurement struggles. The agency struggled to meet its delivery target for the First Hill Streetcar due to vehicle vendor issues. A senior city official with technical knowledge of the CCC project said that SDOT shares worries about CCC vehicles’ compatibility with base facilities expressed by Mayor Jenny Durkan and Councilmember Lisa Herbold. Transit advocates (including STB) were skeptical of Durkan and Herbold’s technical concerns. In any case, all signs suggest that Durkan is using the CCC problems—which the city official said could be resolved—as a pretext to cancel the project.