Please join us in wishing a fond farewell to Metro bus number #1104, the last of the diesel fleet that’s steadily poisoned Seattle air over the last twenty or so years.
The diesel buses first entered service back in the year 1999, a more innocent time when SpongeBob and Napster were new, the Y2K bug threatened to eat us all, and the Seattle Police Department had to implement mandatory training for using office chairs with wheels after people kept falling off of them and filing workers comp claims. (“Until the safety officer can come down and give the formal training please inform all your employees to take hold of the arms, and get control of the chair before sitting down,” read an internal SPD memo.)
As part of its expansion, Metro gained over a thousand new diesel buses in 1999, and since then they’ve driven 62 million miles, carried hundreds of thousands of people, and emitted millions of tons of exhaust. (A study of NYC diesel buses estimates 100 metric tons per bus per year, which works out to over 2.3 million tons for Seattle’s 1,100 buses over 21 years.) In a charming ceremony this afternoon, Metro awarded a “golden wheel” to the last of the diesel buses, transferring custody of #1104 to a local historic vehicle association. Bon voyage, stinko!
“The era of big diesel is over,” says Rod Dembowski, King County Council Mobility and Environment Committee Chair. “We cannot look back longingly at the days of cheap fossil fuel. We cannot compromise our commitment to fighting climate change with an equity lens. We cannot put the health of our most diverse communities in the back seat. We must press ahead with clean and healthy transit, full speed.”
Metro notes that access to reliable public transit is estimated to have taken 190,000 cars off the road every weekday, which is an excellent start. Now the agency is about to launch an even more ambitious program, not just keeping cars off the road but actually seizing and destroying 190,000 private vehicles every day. Haha, just kidding, I wish. They’re actually transitioning the fleet to hybrid and electric vehicles.
Next year, we’ll get 40 new battery-powered buses, and then 260 more by 2028. The goal is to be entirely zero-emission by 2040, and although the old diesels are out of commission now, they’ll continue to help the city reach that goal, as their scraps and spare parts are recycled for the newer buses.
And while even the most efficient battery-powered bus is far from guilt-free (the process of manufacturing batteries is an ecological and human-rights nightmare), studies show that over the vehicle’s lifetime, the overall impact of an electric bus is far lower than that of old-timey fossil fuel vehicles.
Today's ceremony included some balloons, a few speeches, and the presentation of a golden wheel (not literally, just metaphorically—Metro is not smelting gold wheels for its buses). It's out with the old, in with the new, and I can only hope that my retirement will be half as dignified. Haha, just kidding again. In this economy, only inanimate objects can retire. Humans will have to work until the day we die.