The End of Electric Trolley Buses?


A representative from Metro attended the Capitol Hill Community Council meeting last Thursday and was met by overwhelming support to keep the trolley buses. We asked him what response he's been getting from other neighborhoods and he said every group so far was in favor of keeping the trolleys.
"...suburbs produce about two-thirds of the county funding but only receive about one-third of the bus service."

That does not sound correct. Source, please.
I, for one, always enjoy the liquorish stink of diesel fumes and the roaring engines on city streets. So I'm looking forward to the change back.
Um, so it's cheaper now, but what about when fuel prices go up? We know most certainly they will....
The cost of the buses is a tiny part of the cost of bus operation. Driver expense -- the biggest part -- is the same for the two kinds, but how much does it cost to maintain the overhead wire system?
@2) According to a report released by the Muni League in 2008, the west subarea of the county (Seattle, Shoreline, and Lake Forest Park) gave $113 million in tax receipts to Metro, while the east and south subareas of the county contributed $187 million. Meanwhile, in 2008, the projected boardings were 84 million in the west subarea and 31 million in the south and east subarea. I didn't have time to track down--but I'm sure the data is out there--how much the county spends on the service in those areas compared to total tax and fare revenues.
I second boxofbirds. As a city we need to think about future costs of fuel. We've seen a 50%+ increase in fuel in just the last 6 years in this area.…
Umm... tell me they have at least heard of climate change over there at Metro. What part of Carbon Footprint don't they get?

Yes, keep the electric busses, where practical, even if it costs a few bucks more. Duh.
Electric Trolley Buses are quieter, lighter, and more powerful than their diesel counterparts—deployed which would increase in-city pollution, road wear, and potentially be a noise nuisance, especially to those living near lines on hills.

You can't skimp on parts and expect your whole system to keep running smooth(ish)ly. You want to tackle a particular issue regarding buses, take engineers to task over the deafening-at-close-range exhale all those Goddamn things make.
@6 You need to look into how those numbers are calculated. For example using boarding is a bad metric. How about routes and service in those areas? And don't buy the numbers from metro that say Seattle is over-served. If a route hits two subareas they share the route equally. If an express bus runs from Issaquah to Seattle is it fair we share the route when it clearly serves Issaquah and is likely a very expensive route per rider?

I would really like to see an honest look into the whole sub area equity thing.
@ 10) I agree, breaking up the subareas to measure service is an imperfect metric. And it's an issue worth looking into more.
Let me see.

We've already been told by the EPA that our county (and four other ones in WA) are in violation of the new greenhouse gas emission regs that take effect BEFORE then.

Not to mention the new particulate emissions standards we already knew we were going to be in violation of.

And he wants to INCREASE emissions?


The comparison is quite a bit of apples to oranges. The trolleybus fleet is on the most demanding routes with the most frequent stops. The trolleybus fleet is much older than the diesel fleet. The audit didn't monetize the GHG costs. The study used full price for the buses rather than the net price after federal grants. The funds from the feds for having a "fixed" system worth about $10M was ignored.

Not withstanding the cost of fuel in the future or the federal grants for the fixed guide-way, the increased demands on diesels plying the more demanding routes will end up driving the hourly costs above those of modern trolleybuses that feature regenerative braking and off-line battery powered capabilities.

SF and Vancouver bought new trolleybus fleets in the last 5 years.

The wire maintenance was factored into the costs
@11: I know Slog has reported endlessly on the 40/40/20 rule, which states "40% of new Metro service should be created on the Eastside, 40% in South King County and only 20% in the city."…
We cut back the trolleybus fleet drastically back in the 60's-70's and then realized it was a dumb idea, and spent a lot of money reinstalling it. Do we have to go through that exercise again?
You know, if we just broke King County into two parts - Sealth County - Seattle and Shoreline and Tukwila - and all the whiny suburbs east of us in King County - we could just keep the bus service we have and not subsidize those whiny suburbanites.
Anyone who lives on a hill, say, Pike/Pine between 7th and Broadway, will really miss those electric buses. I ride a gas-powered bus that goes up Admiral Way, and it roars. You just about have to shout to have a conversation.
@16, if the "whiny suburbanites" provide 2/3 of the funding, then your solution isn't so tidy.
So suburbanites, who drive everywhere and consider generating their own personal cloud of pollution to be a sacred way of life, don't feel that it's fair for them to be asked to pay a few more pennies (maybe) for public transit that improves air quality in the city? Because, after all, they don't use the bus and they don't have to breathe the air in the city unless it's being filtered through the air-conditioning unit of the downtown building they drive to every day?

That is quite a shame, alright.

Trolly buses are less expensive than streetcars and can go up hill. Uh, if there's no snow on the ground.
@18 - but they don't provide 2/3 of the revenue. That comes from the PROFITABLE bus lines in SEATTLE.

Again. Do as I say and watch the suburbanites suddenly have budget shortfalls and Seattle laugh all the way to the credit union.
Will, you act as if EVERYthing east of Seattle is "exurbs". There are lots of areas in Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond, etc., which are single-home and apartment building neighborhoods identical to those in West Seattle, Shoreline, Northgate, Queen Anne, Tukwila, etc. In fact, much of the Eastside is like that. And most of the bus routes serve areas like that, and they do get plenty of use. And people actually often pay MORE - to ride a bus across the bridge, even a short 8-minute hop from the South Kirkland P&R to Montlake, is a 2-zone fare. Not really sure why all the waaaaaaah.
I didn't mean to direct the whole message just to Will. The "waaaah" remark was more aimed at the general tone of the thread and the overall dialogue on Slog any time the eastside comes up.
I have driven all of the equipment in our system. Different areas need different equipment. I stopped driving the trolleys recently, because I was tired of burning out the diesel transmissions they gave us on weekends. Three Sundays in a row, I couldn't make it up James hill.
This week, I have had two Hybrids breakdown on me. I can't honestly recall when a 4100 (40ft trolley) brokedown on me, and had to be towed or pushed back to the base.
The Breda trolley (60ft, think 49 route), however, is another beast altogether. We have Ron Sims to thank for those. They are the original duel mode custom built buses for the tunnel. We used to pan the trolley poles at the entrance and pull them at the exit to the tunnel.
We tried to sell them at first, but who wants to buy a custom built bus when the manufacturer stops making the replacement parts? The County decided to retrofit them to our current overhead wire. This wire had to be adjusted as well, because the Breda draws a lot more DC. They breakdown often and damage the most overhead.
The Breda was a poor idea from the start. I bet if the analysis was done by each piece of equipment, they would find that the Breda is the high maintenance bitch for the trolleys. They are also the ones that need to be replaced the 40ft trolleys DONT (they haven't hit the overage limit). Keep the overhead and buy better equipment. There isn't much point in trashing the entire trolley system when only one type of trolley (1/3rd of the fleet) makes all the problems.
Moreover. The cost of the line maintenance- equipment and crew- is part of the evaluation. The sky rocketing costs of fuel is not. Why would we pay big oil this money instead of the men and women who work hard to maintain the wire?
We are once again headed down this path. GM paid Seattle Transit Authority to dismantle its trolley wire in the 50's. They then sold them diesel buses at a discount. That's right West Seattle used t have trolleys!
GM has been trying to sell us new buses for years. They even went so far as to park their new buses in front of our bases for the drivers to try, "Tell your Employer you want these!" Guess who is in line to sell us more diesel hybrids?
I'm actually not sure we can jump to the conclusion that the trollies have a smaller carbon footprint. It seems likely, but these things are often counterintuitive. You have to account for the energy required to maintain the overhead trolly wires, which aren't required for diesel buses.
Vancouver estimated that each electric bus reduces GHG by 100,000 tons per year, which is not as much as it sounds like. Metro estimates that electrics consume 40% of the energy diesels do.…

Even if the electricity is produced by carbon based fuel there is still a significant GHG and pollution reduction by using ETBs over diesels.

@24 Sorry, I didn't mean to talk in bus driver talk. They have been replacing the trolleys on weekends with diesels. Diesels have transmissions that can't handle Seattle's steep hills. Electric trolleys don't have a transmission, so they handle them much better.
@25 We have two line trucks out every day. They burn the same as box trucks. Of course one could count as this two diesel buses. But on weekdays, at least a hundred trolleys run back and forth. As for the equipment, it is recycled. Diesel is simply burned. Ethanol diesel is produced by the corn that destroys the environment. I have driven fuel celled vehicles. The hybrids keep breaking down because the fuel cells aren't working properly. (For those whom ride them, ever notice how the driver seems to brake hard at times? It is because the fuel cells are still kicking in power even after a driver hits the brakes.) Guess how much it costs to replace them.Quite a bit for the environment. Anyhow, Seattle Transit Blog has a great breakdown on carbon footprints for both trolleys and diesels.
"...County Council Member Larry Phillips—who represents Capitol Hill and northeast Seattle..."

Dom - you really need to look at a map. Phillips' district in no way could be said to include NE Seattle.
You can view exactly the boundaries of his district. It's on the Council's website.…
@28 - yeah, he's my councilman, but I'm way on the West side of the 43rd. Now, NW Seattle, that would be accurate.
The electric trolley buses we now have are a darn good thing and we oughta keep 'em.

Increasing our dependence on fossil fuels is a bad idea. I thought this was obvious.
Oh, and I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure the annual per vehicle figure Dom cites from the KC audit also includes the current capital cost of replacing the existing electric trolley buses fleet - which is to say that while the hybrids are cheaper up front, the annual cost of electric buses is actually lower (and that's at something like the current cost of diesel fuel), which overstates the annual operating cost. Also, as I recall those figures don't reflect that the fact that electric trolley buses are expected to remain in service for a couple of years longer than diesel hybrids.

33 might also be worth asking what these numbers look like if we kick the decision to take the current trolley fleet out of service down the road for a couple of years. I haven't heard any kind of case made that there is a need to take these vehicles out of service now.

Keep the Gillig ETBs. Replace the Breda ETBs with new low-floor articulated ETBs from New Flyer. Continue investing in maintenance for the overhead wires. The electric trolleybuses are a good hedge against increasing fuel prices. They are less harmful to the environment (most of our power is from hydro, not coal) and are better at climbing hills and accelerating briskly into traffic, not to mention smoother/quieter. Plus, the ETBs have a certain "cool factor" that diesel buses lack.
Oil prices are going to skyrocket as the economy improves. It's already back over $80/bbl. Remember how badly $150 oil hit Metro's budget in 2008? Experts see it at $200-250 in the not-so-distant future. We're at or past the world peak of oil production, and Metro has no plan whatsoever for dealing with the skyrocketing cost of fuel for their diesel fleet. Except endlessly raising fares, which is both regressive and anti-environment. It's bad enough we pay double the bus fare Washington, DC riders do for worse service; who's going to ride the bus when the fare is $3, $4, or $5? Not to mention that diesel buses emit greenhouse gases while the trolleys run on 100% green electricity. We need to convert more diesel routes to electric NOW if we're to have manageable transit budgets in the next few years. Scrapping the electric routes for diesel ones is just idiotic. You might as well invest in rotary phones.
We need to expand our electric trolley fleet, not eliminate it!

Save Our Trolleys (S.O.T.)!!!!