Metro Proterra battery electric bus in Bellevue (image: SounderBruce)

King County Council is considering an ordinance that would accelerate the planned transition to a fully electric bus fleet from 2040 to 2035. Staff have warned too a rapid transition would come at a steep cost, with large near term budget investments leading to service reductions.

The cost worries take two forms. The upfront investments, particularly in charging infrastructure, are large. Battery electric buses have higher total life cycle costs than the hybrid buses they are to replace. The opportunity cost of increased expenditures on fleet replacement and charging infrastructure is less revenue available to provide service. But it gets much worse with an accelerated transition where hybrid buses are unnecessarily retired before the end of their useful life. For some of the hybrid fleet, this would also mean repayment of federal grants that helped finance their purchase.

Beyond budgetary and customer impacts, the opportunity cost of foregone service matters because transit service itself reduces carbon emissions. While Metro’s 10 million gallons of diesel annually is getting the attention of the County Council, Metro is displacing four times that much by reduced driving and congestion. It’s not apparent whether the trade-off of cleaner buses and reduced funding for service would mean more or less carbon emissions.


A Metro feasibility analysis in 2017 looked at life cycle costs of a transition to battery electric buses. Despite reduced fuel costs, Metro estimates suggest a 6% greater life-cycle cash cost for a battery bus vs diesel hybrid technologies. Even on a lengthy transition, that is about $194 million and the incremental cost is equivalent to a service reduction of 55,000 hours annually. There is however a wide range of uncertainty around those estimates because battery technology is so immature and therefore the long term costs are hard to predict. The greater life cycle costs of battery electric buses are only partly offset by reduced societal costs from emissions and noise pollution.

That was good enough to set a target of 2040 for transitioning to fully electric operations. Noting the uncertainty of the technology, and other risks to scheduling and service reliability, Metro adopted a phased approach to transitioning the fleet with continuous evaluation of the industry as the transition proceeded. The recent staff report notes “there is still much uncertainty in the feasibility and costs of achieving a ZEV fleet by 2040”.

The most recent outlook for battery electric buses is more pessimistic. At the time of the 2017 report, Metro thought it could move to 100% purchases of electric buses by 2020. Since then, expectations for availability of the needed technology have diminished. Metro does not now expect to hit this milestone until 2025.

Current fleet plans

Metro has operated 8 shorter range Proterra battery electric buses in Bellevue since 2016. Those are limited to a 25 mile range, but have performed to expectations. Metro has recently leased 10 extended range buses, both 40- and 60- foot, which claimed an extended range of 140 miles. Along with the trolley fleet, about 12% of Metro’s fleet is currently all-electric. If the extended range buses prove out, they could feasibly meet most of the needs of current operations.

The planned transition ramps up in 2021 and 2022 as Metro takes delivery of 120 electric buses which will operate out of an interim base at South campus. Up to 250 battery electric buses may be added when a new South Base annex opens in 2025. The first purpose-built electric base opens in 2030 and will bring Metro’s fleet to 51% electric once full to the planned capacity of 250-300 buses. That base will finally bring prolonged relief to the constraints on Metro’s base capacity. With more flexibility for operations, Metro expects to convert existing bases to fully electric in the 2030s.

Space and infrastructure constraints on bus bases over the next decade loom large in planning for the conversion to electric. Infrastructure for battery electric buses demands more space than hybrids. Slow- and fast-charging buses require different equipment and buses from different manufacturers do not yet use inter-operable charging infrastructure. Upgrades to the large scale power needs of battery buses are a substantial capital outlay themselves. At South Annex Base, a recent estimate is for $200 million on electrification alone to support 250 buses. The electric infrastructure is roughly as expensive as the bus.

In November, Metro briefed the County Council that the incremental cost of a full transition to electric is now expected at $1 to $2 billion, and those estimates remain uncertain.

Early fleet retirement

As the transition steps up, Metro needs to be attentive to the economic life of the existing fleet. Metro generally replaces vehicles after 14 to 16 years of operation, and federal grants programs require at least 12 years of operation. Metro uses FTA grants toward the purchase of buses and those grants must be repaid on any vehicle not kept in revenue service for at least 12 years. To attain a 100% zero-emissions fleet by 2035 while remaining compliant with federal grant conditions would require all new buses are fully electric by 2023. Given the constraints on the near-term fleet plans, Metro would need to retire some hybrid buses before they reach 12 years in service if the fleet is to be fully transitioned by 2035.

Council Member Jeanne Kohl-Welles, while advocating for an early transition, acknowledged some of the challenges at a November meeting:

“2040 was determined to be the time period in which we could possibly achieve that goal. I don’t think that we can wait that long. I understand that there are a lot of challenges here about existing buses. You can’t just throw them out or discard them or sell them even, for the investment we put into purchasing them. We also have to recognize that we are doing really well in comparison to the rest of the country, but I want for us to do more and that is what this proposal is really all about. This proposal may result in some really tough decisions being made regarding financing. This also is an ordinance, not a motion, which I am sure gives King County Metro transit some heartburn. How do we pay for all of this? But what I am asking is that we do what we can.”

The legislation was first introduced shortly before the election last October, and reintroduced by the new County Council last Tuesday. The next discussion and possible action is on Wednesday January 22.

89 Replies to “County considers fully electric bus fleet by 2035 despite warnings of service cuts”

  1. If the earlier transition costs service hours, then it is a foolish trade-off to reduce service in the name of climate change. If shifting a car trip to a bus trip saves 75% of the greenhouse gases, the biggest payoff is in maximizing the service to save the 75%, not in the final 25%. Further, given that we have manufactured and purchased the existing bus fleet, it should be operated for its useful life. And don’t forget that we are still producing electricity from coal-fired and natural gas-fired plants.

    And there will no doubt be learning curves and technology risks associated with long-range battery operation. Moving at a measured pace seems more prudent than rushing into it. My 2c.

  2. The general rule of thumb is even if you have the cash to buy an electric car right now. You shouldn’t until you’ve run your current car into the ground. There is a lot of sunk cost, in terms of pollution, in the body of the vehicle itself. So yes slow and steady is the way to go.

    Now what they could do in concentrate on replacing buses in specific areas (downtown) or routes (Aurora) to make the all electric buses more visible to the public at large. As opposed to just randomly deploying them on any route that needs a new bus, mixed in with the existing bus fleet.

    Disappointed but not surprised that the buses aren’t using a unified charging system. Metro should be demanding that the vendors unify under a single charging standard. Having to double up on charging infrastructure or worse having the bus bases only able to service one or the other will cause massive headaches in the future.

    1. Well, in both cases (car and bus) replacement the old vehicle isn’t usually trashed. It’s sold on. Some even older vehicle is trashed.

      Still I agree with the general point that more service hours is a bigger win than service hours of higher purity.

      1. But if it is sold, then someone else will use it and cause the same damage you would. You could just scrap it, but than an extra car is being built needlessly. As J. S. pointed out, the carbon cost of creating the car is considerable, and while that might seem like a good approach, it isn’t. Better to let the car sit in the garage and take the bus.

      2. Sure, but if it’s a bus isn’t somebody else using it a good thing? Bus is a win, even a gas bus.

      3. Best case, it is adding service somewhere. Worst case, it is replacing an older, less efficient bus. I don’t think there is much downside to Metro selling its old buses.

    2. I think the more reasonable approach is:
      If you have the money to move to electric, do it now. You should reduce your carbon footprint as quickly as possible. Someone is going to use your old vehicle.

      This rule applies to transit also–since we’re revenue constrained (don’t have the money to move to electric), driving until the TCO of electric vehicles is less would be the most reasonable way to proceed.

      1. “If you have the money to move to electric, do it now. ”

        This is generally considered to be the wrong way to do it. Because of the considerable carbon footprint required to make a new vehicle, it is usually best to drive your current vehicle as long as it remains economical to do so.

        Retiring the hybrids before the end of their useful life while making service cuts to fund the replacements is a *BAD* idea from both an environmental and economic perspective.

  3. I’d be fine if they were to say “well, as older buses go out of commission we’ll replace them with electric ones.” But this plan is just throwing the baby out with the bathwater so to speak, taking the hybrids out of commission earlier than end of life seems kinda insane logic when they’re cleaner than the diesel vehicles from an air quality perspective. Although my question to them is where they’re gonna find a manufacturer who builds electric articulated buses in the USA because I haven’t heard of any doing that yet.

      1. New mayor of Albuquerque had a political ax to grind. He was determined to make his political rivals BRT fail.

        I see a lot of the BYDs in places such as Guayaquil, Ecuador. I took a ride in one and it appeared to be in solid working order.

        Proterra makes a good electric as well.

  4. how do these costs compare with electric trolleys? I imagine that 250 million could be used to string a lot of wire. I assume that trolleys are even better for the environment

    1. Good point. In general, this just doesn’t seem like a good approach. This costs money, and there are a lot of better ways to reduce global warming emissions.

    2. For subways, line side energy storage can reduce energy costs as much as 60% over running straight electric. This same dynamic is true of trolley buses. On board storage is harder because it can’t transfer energy from one bus to another, and the storage and charging space available is very limited.

      Therefore, I would really like to see some thought put into expanding the trolley bus network.

      1. I agree. ETB’s are far better on hills that any alternative; BB’s can climb just as well, of course, because they have electric motors also. But every climb incinerates the remaining range.

        Seattle has a lot of hills. The 45 seems like the next “good candidate”, although stringing wire along Green Lake Way would be a “no-no”. It would have to follow the 26 (old 16) route up to 80th. The 26 and 45 could swap between “downtown Greenlake” and 80th and Wallingford.

        Once the 45 is wired for “base moves” the 5 would be a logical next candidate. Supports are there all the way to 85th. There are also supports all over West Seattle, and once Link gets there it makes sense to make the feeders fanning out from the Junction ETB’s. That would mean putting wire on the low-level replacement bridge for base moves, but Seattle knows how to put wire on Bascule bridges.

        There’s no real opportunity or enthusiasm for ETB’s out in the suburban cities, though. They go to great lengths to underground all the wires.

    3. The costs are on page 42 of the report, and interestingly the loaded trolley buses cost much more than either diesel-hybrids or battery-electrics. I’m not sure why this is the case. I don’t think this includes wires. Example:
      60′ hybrid: $1.1M
      60′ trolley: $1.9M
      60′ slow-charge (big battery) battery-electric: $1.3M

      The report doesn’t analyze the cost of buying more trolleys.

      1. Trolley buses cost a fortune because pretty much only Seattle and SF use them any more. They are essentially custom made.

    4. Almost all trolleybuses now being manufactured are battery trolleybuses, with significant off-wire range. They are a very good, and cost effective, type of electric bus for heavy duty use (heavy passenger volumes, high speeds, lots of hills etc). They are essentially battery electric buses with a different charging system, one that works while the bus is in operation. Costs should soon be on par with battery buses, because they are now the same bus with the addition of trolley poles.

      Trolleybuses used to all be double insulated, but now multiple manufacturers make ‘galvanic isolation units’ that allow the addition of trolley poles to a more or less standard battery electric buses. (The exception is the huge 80′ double articulated buses so popular in Europe, the isolation units are not big enough yet). So Seattle should be able to make a big order of electric buses, some equipped with trolley poles. Bigger orders translate into lower costs. See Long read version

  5. I like our hybrid buses on the #5 route when we are in Seattle. Bremerton buses roar/grumble/accelerate as they drive past us in Bremerton, all together unpleasantly to this public transit fan.

    I have wondered, just as our ferries are going to go plugin hybrid at their midlife update, could those hybrid buses receive an update to plugin hybrid at some time in the future?

    1. Probably not? Midlife for a ferry you are basically putting in a new engine with this change. For a bus, if you are going to swap out the engine you might as well buy a new bus. Midlife for a bus is more about new brakes, spark plugs, seats, and whatnot.

  6. Further, I would like to see more of our capital spent to create reserved right of way for buses at chokepoints. Whether that involves reallocation lanes from SOVs or building transit-only right of way.

    Work that increases transit speeds and reliability also reduces emissions and operating costs and makes transit more attractive and therefore more used. That may create more environmental benefits than forced or premature conversion to electric. Especially if it is coupled with land use planning that emphasizes transit convenience and pedestrian experience and downplays SOVs

  7. the opportunity cost of foregone service matters because transit service itself reduces carbon emissions

    Liberal policy isn’t about making sense, it’s all about making a statement. Where is the marginal electricity produced for the Puget Sound? Hint, it’s in Montana… Let’s make sure we keep demand for electricity high so they don’t have to close plants 3-4 any time soon.

    1. Colstrip provides base load, not peaking. Marginal power is hydro when there is plenty (spring and fall), or natural gas when max demand (winter) or less water (late summer).

      1. Marginal in the sense that it is the most expensive source. Some of the use is mandated through prior agreements and Montana legislators care more about the dollars (actually jobs) and less about destroying their state’s environment. But the point is unless we are as a region 100% renewable then all demand in excess of the existing renewable power will be generated by fossil fuels; either natural gas or coal.

      2. But the point is unless we are as a region 100% renewable then all demand in excess of the existing renewable power will be generated by fossil fuels; either natural gas or coal.

        Right, but those are being phased out, at the same time that renewable energy use is increasing, and per capita electric use is decreasing. They all go together, and they are the only way that we can substantially reduce CO2 generation in the energy sector. We need to continue to make improvements in energy efficiency, while producing more renewable energy. Doing so will enable the conversion of vehicles to electricity without increasing CO2 emissions.

      3. But spending to increase demand before supply is putting the bus ahead of the horse. There’s also the incremental technology improvements and economics of scale to consider. “Plug in” electric transit buses are still fairly new. Hopefully we’ll have better battery systems in 2040 than today. Although, this from Curbed:

        The technology exists and can immediately be added to existing transit systems. For example, in Shenzhen, China, the city’s entire fleet of just over 16,000 buses has transitioned to electric power; that’s more than the combined number of buses operating in New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, Chicago, and the entire state of New Jersey.

      4. But spending to increase demand before supply is putting the bus ahead of the horse.

        Nonsense. OK, first of all, I think the original plan makes the most sense. We should phase out the diesel buses and NOT accelerate the transition.

        But in general the approach is solid. If it cost the same amount of money, it would be a good idea. Increasing electric demand (from transportation) before we have converted all the old coal plants is fine. The coal plants are there for political reasons, not based on demand. They will eventually be replaced by windmills — but that will happen regardless of whether we transition to electric vehicles. No one is going to build new coal plants (except for remote places like Fairbanks) even if demand for electricity skyrockets.

      5. Marginal power is hydro when there is plenty (spring and fall), or natural gas when max demand (winter) or less water (late summer).

        Since we’ve learned to use batteries as a retail energy source, why can’t we use them in large scale to provide the peak energy demand?

        Methane is not a bridge fuel, any more than “clean coal” is a solution to coal. It is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but, thankfully, dissipates much faster. The carbon emissions of building more facilities to burn CH4 is a missed opportunity to use many of the same materials for renewable sources, with a similar front-end footprint. Why are we building any more methane-burning facilities when we know the science?

      6. Brent;
        It’s really expensive to do large scale energy storage with batteries compared to other technologies. Most notably, pumped storage hydro. Efforts using cryogenic gas-liquid phase transitions are underway in the UK.

      7. Right now we are flaring off methane from oil wells because natural gas is so cheap it’s not worth bringing to market. It makes total sense to capture this energy as electricity since it’s going to be burned anyway.

        Diesel engines can run on CNG and do so with less emissions than diesel.

      8. Ross,

        Actually, not “no one”. China is still building them by the baker’s dozen.

      9. Bernie,

        The city I grew up in had two refineries, and both of them had flare towers with thirty to forty foot flames 24/7/365. Even as a dumb kid it appalled me. Given that the end of petroleum is actually in sight — though you would never think so to hear people yammer — even disregarding the climate change element, this is wanton vandalism of an irreplaceable resource.

        The people in 2400 — if there are any still living in a technological society — are going to hate us for burning their fertilizer inputs.

        We are stupid beyond belief.

      10. Does the northwest electric grid even connect to North Dakota or Oklahoma where those flares are occurring? Does it have enough spare capacity to bring that electricity here? Or do you want to bring the gas here? That would require building those controversial pipelines or allowing more explosion-prone trains or trucks to bring it.

      11. I personally want the companies to inject it back into the reservoirs for future use. Natural gas is a necessary input to fertilizer production. We don’t want to go back to guano; there aren’t enough seabirds left.

        BP and the other operators inject the gas up on the North Slope to keep the pressure up. I just checked and found that they have not yet added pumps to Prudhoe Bay, but there isn’t a lot of oil left.

      12. Does the northwest electric grid even connect to North Dakota or Oklahoma where those flares are occurring?

        I don’t think there is enough natural gas to warrant building a pipeline and transporting it any other way doesn’t pencil out; especially when the stuff is so plentiful that it’s price is determined almost solely by the cost of recovery and transport.

        Don’t know the details of the national grid but we certainly send electricity here from Montana and we share back and forth with California. “Energize Eastside” is all about PSE wanting to send more power to Canada. I’d bet every oil rig has got wire strung to it. Or if it’s running on generator then switching to natural gas makes even more sense. If we’re going to get serious about wind power then part of the investment is going to be beefing up the grid all across the prairie. Following RR ROW seems like a good idea and as most of the oil is being shipped by rail there is obviously a fairly direct route through the Dakotas. Heck, work out a deal to electrify the RR (again).

      13. The northwest grid connects to northern California but I understand there’s a bottleneck between northern and southern California. There could be similar discontinuities east of Montana.

    2. “Liberal policy isn’t about making sense, it’s all about making a statement.”

      *Bad* policy is all about making a statement, perhaps (though there are certainly times when making a statement is both sensible and worthwhile). But liberals hold no monopoly on making it.

      1. For any political discussion involving machinery, problem with the slide-to-statement habit is that it’s temptingly lazy and factually under-demanding. Whichever side’s got the common- sense-deficiency prize this afternoon, being shorter on money, mine has less luxury to indulge it.

        Idea of deliberately reducing passenger service for any reason triggers the “Dead-man Switch” under my control-handle. (Train stops ’cause your hand’s acting like you died). No chance that forcing people back into their cars will increase petroleum emissions? Or is plan to have Elon Musk make everybody’s car before we wind down bus service?

        For me, pro-transit side’s mandatory move is to convince necessary Swedish authorities to hire Greta Thunberg to full-time streetcar driving in Gothenburg, under a work arrangement whereby her trans-ocean sailboat will always be moored near the car-tracks. Would trust her judgment on matters like bus-power replacement. Also her power to convince.

        Mark Dublin

  8. Cutting service hours in exchange for an incremental improvement in emissions? How many additional cars will KCM be putting on the road because people don’t have access to adequate transit?
    My neighborhood is due to get a full time bus route in the next decade. But, if we are now looking at CUTTING service levels, that means that I am just going to continue driving. My neighbors who commute to Seattle will continue driving to park and rides and using Uber instead of taking a reliable bus. All are much worse emissions than a hybrid bus.

  9. I’ve read that tailpipe emissions are not the only downside of internal combustion engine powered vehicles. Particles from tires and brake pads are big contributors to waterway and air pollution. How do these electric buses compare in this regard?

    I think taking more SOVs off the road (battery or fossil fuel powered) is more important in the short term than chucking away brand new diesel/hybrid buses. Please narrow all city roads to force drivers to go more slowly and widen sidewalks and create bus-only roads all over the city. Buses aren’t the problem here.

    1. The cement to widen sidewalks also comes with a carbon footprint. Even if we build our own CO2-absorbing cement plant here, constructing the plant will also have a front-end carbon footprint. Still, the City and ST should go in together on having this plant to use in building ST’s and the City’s new cement and concrete structures, if the emissions savings pencil out within 8 years.

    1. I’m hearing this is likely to get a committee vote at the 1PM Wednesday meeting, so any input to Council members Tuesday evening, Wednesday morning will be timely.

    2. District 2 is still showing Larry Gossett as the CM.

      Isn’t the new council in session? I can’t find contact information for Zahilay anywhere.

  10. Many disadvantages of course, but if this reduces CO2 emissions (not sure if it does?), it should be done. If it costs more to reduce CO2 emissions, raise taxes to pay for it.

    Of course there are many other things we should be doing around here, that are not getting done: eliminating single-family zoning, eliminating building height limits, eliminating minimum parking requirements, tolling all the highways, banning gasoline-powered vehicles, etc.

    This all seems radical, but someday we will all wish we had done it sooner.

    1. If it costs more to reduce CO2 emissions, raise taxes to pay for it.

      Wouldn’t it make more sense to raise taxes to pay for better bus service? You could spend money on both, except that there are legal limits to how high taxes can go (and in many cases, we are already at them). Sorry, but this is a zero sum game, and spending money getting rid of buses before they wear out would likely increase carbon emissions, even though the buses would be all electric.

      1. I agree that this proposal should be evaluated on the basis of getting the emissions as low as possible. I would like to see concrete numbers on how high emissions would be, including any changes that would be caused by service cuts, with early replacement versus without. Without those numbers, nobody can properly evaluate the proposal.

        But I find it disturbing that our target is 2040. Our emissions should be zero (not just lower!) much earlier than that. I suppose it is just another example of how we have already failed. We’re in the process of mitigating that failure.

    2. It should be done, but not so fast that it reduces service hours or jepordizes implementing Metro’s 2025 and 2040 plans on time. Those have a larger emissions benefit than all-electric buses. and have many other enviromental benefits too.

  11. depending upon charging methods, there may be a service cost to switching to battery bus as layovers have to be longer and more precise. there is also the option of building more electric trolley bus overhead.

    1. Which reminds me, is 23rd Ave actually getting trolley wire, or did that obvious idea die in the bureaucracy?

      1. “They installed the support poles when the street was rebuilt, but there’s no wire yet. The “Transit-Plus” upgrades for the 48 aren’t slated until 2024”

        If the priority is on an overly ambitious plan that will ultimately drive people back into their cars by reducing service, and *not* just adding the couple miles of missing wire (allowing them to convert a very frequent and important line completely to electric trolleybuses) as soon as possible, then that’s screwed up priorities. The ordinance the council should be considering is requiring the route 48 wire to be complete by end of year 2020. That is something very achievable (the hard part is already done!).

      2. SDOT is telling the neighborhood that it is ‘likely’ that we will finally get the wire for the gaps in the 48 ‘soon’.

    2. What somebody else just asked, eddiew, you’d know. Any chance the 48 is going to get its wire completed between Rainier and the U District?

      Though my favorite old-Seattle mystery is the half work-shift it’d take to finish connecting the First Avenue end of the walkway from Colman Dock with every single trolley route in Seattle.

      Unfinished switch has been hanging half a block down James from Third for at least thirty years. Maybe first thing I need to know is whether it’s liberal, conservative, moderate, or progressive to be ticked about things like that?

      Meantime, can’t the line crew just take care of it on the way home?


      1. As David said, SDOT installed the support connectors when it rebuilt 23rd the past five years. Trolleybuses were envisioned for RapidRide 48 in Seattle’s Transit Master Plan in 2013. But the trolley wire is unfunded at this point. The Move Seattle project was going to implement it, but Move Seattle’s costs were way underestimated and the projects have been scaled back. RapidRide Madison, Delridge, and Roosevelt are proceeding but the others are deferred. The 48 will get some pieces of the original vision but it’s unclear what or when. It probably won’t be trolley wire but less expensive improvements.

  12. Having Metro cease purchasing non-electric buses is nice. Building the market for these buses by working with other agencies, including private transporters, all over the state, country, and continent to stop buying non-electric buses is even more critical. Of course, that still doesn’t solve the problem unless no more fossil-fuel-powered plants are being built to supply the electricity. We’re out of time for demonstration projects.

    The county can also leverage its financial resources by avoiding banks and investment funds that support fossil-fuel infrastructure. The construction of fossil-fuel infrastructure needs to become cost-prohibitive, like, yesterday.

    There is also the county’s school lunch program. It doesn’t have to go total Veganuary, but some meat has a much higher carbon footprint than others.

  13. Metro has operated 8 shorter range Proterra battery electric buses in Bellevue since 2016. Those are limited to a 25 mile range,

    As 25 miles is about enough to go from base to start of route and back there must be more to the story. IIRC, the Proterra buses have a relatively quick recharge cycle? The idea of distributed “quick charge” stations has some advantages over the all night charge and hauling around enough battery weight to run a full shift.

    It seems we are still very much in a learning curve giving Metro (ST?) time to evaluate real world experience would be smart. But, sadly acting rationally doesn’t have the headline grabbing DO SOMETHING impact politicians crave.

    1. I know Eastgate P&R has some charging stations, and that’s where several routes start, so that’s probably how that works.

    2. Yes, the Proterra’s are “quick charge”. There are chargers at Eastgate P’n’R. “Feeder” lines which are too sparse to support ETB overhead or have underground covenants are a natural place for these buses, since they need to charge every hour or so.

  14. Do any 226/241 riders or drivers know, does Metro replace their Proterra’s with diesels on snow days? If so, why?

    1. If they look up they can see what the top of the bus says and whether it has the distinctive roof. I wasn’t there so I don’t know.

    2. I asked a driver in Bellevue this morning. She did not drive those last week but thought that they were deployed as usual, yes.

  15. Shouldn’t we be having a broader discussion about vehicle types and service structures first? We are getting ready to have 200K more Link light rail riders on trains in 4/5 years (and another 150K more by 2035) that will generally operate faster and more reliably than today’s buses do. Metro is significantly expanding the RapidRide program and that may also have major service design impacts.

    Meanwhile, driverless technologies will continue to improve, and lower-speed driverless buses that hold fewer people seem very attainable by 3035. These would conceivably augment our upcoming extensive network of Link and a RapidRide by providing last-mile connectivity.

    The much touted Metro long-range vision generally assumes a status quo vehicle type. However, a system of high-capacity and limited-stop transit augmented with last-mile service seems a reasonably possible outcome that differs from Metro’s singular vision. Heck, I could even see docks for electric golf carts and mini-bikes providing the last mile connectivity (on top of walking and bicycling) in many areas, and buses operating as multi-car trains (like double-articulated vehicles) for major corridors.

    I understand that there is never a perfect time for a technology change and that there is global benefit to making the change. However, should we be investing whole-heartedly into technology without seeing how it gets applied in a variety of service scenarios and structures rather than just one that looks much like today’s?

    How flexible is this decision?

    1. > lower-speed driverless buses that hold fewer people seem very attainable by 3035

      Normally, I’m very skeptical of driverless-vehicle claims, but this one actually seems realistic!

    2. All the displaced bus hours will be recycled into frequent feeders, because most people won’t live within walking distance of a future Link station. And some of the hours will go to non-Link corridors that are underserved now. So the net result will be the same number or more bus hours, not a big drop.

      Driverless buses by 2035 is a pipe dream. There’s not even one driverless-bus experiment in King County now, and 2035 is only five years away. The battery-electric Proterras have been running on the 226 and that other route for several years.

      The first driveless-bus corridors will have to be reduced-hazard corridors that are thoroughly mapped and prepared. Not Denny Way or Aurora! What are the least-hazardous, most-predicable, least-hilly corridors in the county? We’ll have to demonstrate it can work on those before converting all routes in the county. And it would take untold millions of dollars to fully map and hazard-proof all bus streets in the county, far more than that budgeted in Metro Connects or these other programs. And that’s assuming proven-safe autonomous buses are even avaiable in five years. It doesn’t happen just because the starry-eyed boosters predict vaporware.

      1. The first driveless-bus corridors will have to be reduced-hazard corridors that are thoroughly mapped and prepared. Not Denny Way or Aurora!

        That is an interesting thought experiment. What corridors would make sense for driverless buses? I would say they have to be the following:

        1) Relatively slow, for the reasons Al mentioned. Driverless buses are inherently dangerous. Either they are built to be extra cautious (which means they freak out and stop all the time) or they have a low maximum speed (20 MPH) or both.

        2) Carry a lot of riders. Otherwise, there is no point. The first driverless buses will also have off board payment, so again, you need riders.

        I think there is one obvious answer: The 44. Run driverless buses on the wire every couple minutes (all programmed to avoid bus bunching, of course). Random fare enforcers would go from bus to bus. The 20 MPH max speed, along with the “What the heck is that — I’m stopping!” nature of these buses won’t be that much different than today (where the bus averages somewhere around 8 to 12 MPH depending on the time of day). The minimal loss of speed is made up for with extra frequency.

      2. Unless I’m Rip VanWinkle 2035 is 15 years away. Technology can change a lot over a decade. It wouldn’t surprise me it autonomous buses could achieve a greater level of safety than humans. The issue then becomes more of a legal/insurance battle. The labor savings would be tremendous which means unions will fight it tooth and nail like pilots did the two person cockpit and RR crews wanting to keep a fireman long after the era of steam.

        One issue I’ve brought up before is ADA compliance. If you have to have an aid ride along to strap in wheelchairs or otherwise assist passengers then not much savings. Passive restraints can probably be devised and improved boarding would help. Link manages, but is there someone on call at each station?

      3. I’m asking how the investments hold up with different service structures. The question is not about which structure is right but it’s one about flexibility.

        It’s a reasonable question. It’s not about the impact of just Link and RapidRide but how having a system of five light-rail lines and 15-20 RapidRide lines changes service design of other routes.

        As far as low-speed driverless shuttles, it’s not a “pipe dream”.. Prototypes have been in field testing for several years and at least four consortiums (Optimus Ride, EasyMile, Nayva, Olli) are demonstrating them. Just today, GM rolled out it’s Cruise. While not yet ready for widespread use, it’s clearly very close to the point it’s almost a certainty by 2030 or 2035. Sure there are ADA issues and fare collection issues and safety issues, but it’s way beyond the pipe dream stage.

  16. Nice to see Metro concerned about CO2 emissions. But my only question is, why wait? If they’re already planning on trashing useful hybrid and diesel buses (practically writing “wasteful spending” ads for Tim Eyman in doing so), why not just do it now?

    They could cease operating all buses that aren’t trolleybuses or fully electric right now, and eliminate service that relies on these buses. This would reduce Metro’s carbon footprint by 100%, inarguably a huge win for the environment since Metro runs buses for more than 3 million hours per year. Additionally, this would solve the budget problem, since the money saved from eliminating diesel service would pay for new diesel buses and not require future service cuts.

    Obviously I’m not seriously suggesting this, but I think it illustrates what the problem with this idea is.

  17. But my only question is, why wait?

    It’s the budget, obviously. That’s what this entire article is about!

    1. He was simply engaging in “reductio ad absurdum”* as a means to show how the proposal is a bad idea. If you take the premise to its logical conclusion — we must reduce carbon emissions from the buses as soon as possible — then that means shutting down lots of routes. Is that a good idea? Obviously not. Therefore the premise is false — we should not reduce carbon emissions from the buses as soon as possible. There is a balance to be struck. If we are striking a balance, then the balance that Metro proposed (and was working towards) is obviously better.

      * Yes, I had to look it up (I forgot the term) although the concept is fairly obvious. Like a lot of things, you probably knew the idea before you realized there was a name for it.

      1. This is correct. The key line being “This would reduce Metro’s carbon footprint by 100%,” which would be technically true but way oversimplified. It is certain that this would increase CO2 emissions from cars (and almost certainly much more than the CO2 emissions saved from buses), because there are lots of very popular routes that would be deleted, and most (if not all) of these people would have to find some sort of car to take instead.

        The implicit argument is that because buses are used by people that are not driving cars (at least while they are on the bus), this saves CO2 emissions overall because everyone driving would emit much more CO2 than the bus.

        But strictly speaking, this is not always true. Here are some examples:

        If a bus has one or two people, then the bus likely used more CO2 than the two people driving. And if all or nearly all passengers on the bus were making a very non-essential trip that they wouldn’t take if the bus was not running, or if they were especially CO2 conscious, then they would just not do anything if the bus was not running.

        It is difficult to identify which trips cover these scenarios (I’ll refer to them as “carbon positive trips”). There are many trips which are carbon positive from time to time, but not all the time. But focusing only on trips that are carbon positive overall, what if we just cut those?

        Well, there are a few problems. First, the more people you get out of cars, harder it is to convince them, meaning there will have to be more use cases. And taking the leap from 1 car to 0 is a big step, and people won’t do it unless they can count on the bus system. If someone works until late at night or has occasional events late at night, unless they know the bus will run late, they will want to keep the car. So if by running these trips that seem carbon positive on paper results in people giving up their car, it could still reduce overall emissions because in the end, fewer people are driving.

        For people taking optional trips, but dutifully avoiding the car, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to punish them for choosing not to drive. Obviously making the bus better than driving (in terms of convenience) is usually not achievable, but making it at least an option seems very important, and will be important to point to for convincing people that they can get rid of their car.

        This leads to the question of whether it makes sense for Metro to do battery buses at all, if they can have more service with diesel buses. I’m thinking actually probably not, since equipment will need to be replaced as it ages, and the marginal cost difference of using battery buses over diesel would probably result in very little increased service (this is where the balance comes in), as long as they are used for their full lifespan.

        But the important thing to note is that (in my opinion), it is “OK” for Metro to run buses with CO2 emissions because these buses are key to reducing these emissions from other sources. And the premise to eliminating these buses by 2035 is that it is really not OK.

  18. A picture from the ISS of shows the Bakken oil field at night. The methane being flared off literally generates as much light as a major city. All of that energy is literally “free” for the taking. Of course harnessing it costs money but if it’s viable to run small scale generation from old landfills surely there’s a way to put some of this back into the electrical grid.

  19. In case anybody has forgotten, there’s an initiative in the courts that would slash the current service hours and we’ll have a hard enough time finding revenue to backfill them.

    After that, Metro Connects is top priority! We need the routes and frequency represented in the 2025 and 2040 plans, and we mustn’t let battery buses get in the way of that. Maybe we can make all additional buses battery-powered, but I’m not sure if we’ll even have the revenue for that. I don’t understand the phobia against hybrids. They’re several times more fuel-efficient than conventional buses. And every additional bus run diverts more riders from cars, which is a bigger environmental benefit than making the bus electric. Many people would take the bus more if it came more frequently or later or went directly from Lake City to Bitter Lake. So just do it!

    Don’t get caught up in a rushed 100% battery-bus conversion that won’t benefit the environment or people’s mobility as much. That’s like saying the most effective thing we can do is convert SOVs to electric SOVs. No, the most effective thing we can do is convert SOV drivers to transit riders! That means more bus hours and more buses, and secondarily we can migrate to battery buses as part of it. But don’t skimp on the service hours or number of buses!

  20. Every implication I read calling organized labor a force for needless expense means one more communication to an elected official reminding them how many passengers owe their lives to that second set of hands at the controls.

    Boeing seems to have a jetliner that’s flying proof of what happens when the rules of commercial business over-ride forces like gravity and vehicle design. Also seems to me that a ground-vehicle not on rails faces same percentage of unforeseeable events and obstacles as a plane in a crowded sky.

    Being old enough to remember conductors in action, I also seriously used to advocate their return at least on heavy duty line haul transit. Beats mechanical fare-collection all to hell for the passenger information that drops many mph. off performance at rush hour.

    Still carry my ORCA card on my fare-less buses just to have something shiny to hold up into an approaching driver’s headlights, and to admit the truth, always thought the beeps and taps were kind of fun- just so pass possession meant fully-paid fare.

    Now and from here on, cash-handling aboard transit is plain flat in the way. Anybody arguing seriously that tax-paid fare makes you a homelessness-lover is proof that accounting should be stricter graduation requirement than calculus.

    Not a betting man, so just say I expect to see driverless buses loose in the streets when the insurance industry is ready to lose its every Federal subsidy. Or when, if present trends continue, the Supreme Court says the Founders never intended to subjugate the rich by making them pay for killing customers..

    Mark Dublin

  21. Self driving tech will be here by 2030. GM unveiled today the first driverless vehicle aimed for ride sharing. Uber and Lyft will likely purchase tens of thousands of these vehicles and flood the streets of major urban cities. Uber has the investment funding in place to build its own driverless fleet of vehicles for tech markets, like SF and Seattle.

    1. Federal law prohibits fully autonomous cars. There must still be a person behind the wheel with an override switch. Uber and Lyft will not purchase a fleet of vehicles until they can be fully autonomous. Self driving tech may be ready by 2030. Legislation and regulation will not be ready by 2030.

      There’s also the question of liability. Autonomous cars will not flood the market until manufacturers cannot be held liable for the inevitable software bugs. They won’t open themselves up to that much potential litigation.

    1. Half of Washington’s electricity comes from hydroelectric power, with the other half coming from natural gas, nuclear, non-hydroelectric renewable sources (wind, solar, etc.), and coal in roughly equal parts.
      (look at the “Electricity” tab on the embedded chart)

    2. That’s for current electric demand. If it significantly increases due to rapid adoption of electric cars, they may have to get it from dirty energy sources.

      1. Metro transit wouldn’t make that big of an impact; either on electrical demand or CO2 levels. Everybody switching to electric cars certainly would spike electrical demand. Offsetting demand though is a continued drop in electrical use because of more efficient lighting and electronics. Hardly anyone uses electric heat (unless you count heat pumps) because gas is so cheap. Plus insulation standards are getting more and more stringent.

      2. There was expected to be a drop but per capita use is flat because the switch to low-energy light bulbs occurred at the same time that electronic gadgets multiplied (smartphones, game controllers, home theaters, smart speakers, door cameras, etc). The latter wasn’t recognized because it was a series of seemingly-small changes: smartphones don’t take much energy to charge, home theaters replaced existing TVs, not many people have game controllers or smart speakers, but they all add up. And many of them use zombie power even when they’re turned off, because they remain in keep-warm mode or their touch-power switch requires electricity to recognize touches or the charger keeps on consuming after the battery is full.

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