Electric Trolley Buses

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We’ve long known that Metro Transit’s aging fleet of 159 Electric Trolley Buses would have to be replaced, starting in 2014.  However, a 2009 performance audit of Metro operations opened up the question of whether these vehicles should be replaced with new trolleys,  or  some other technology like Diesel-Hybrids.  Audit Recommendation A11 stated that the County “should consider all relevant factors, including costs, when determining an appropriate fleet replacement for the trolley buses.”

Metro Trolley Bus

Because the recommendation raised more questions than it answered, the King County Council ordered Metro to conduct a study to evaluate and compare the costs, limitations and benefits of new trolleybuses against traditional diesel buses and other technologies to determine the best overall value for Metro and the region.

Irisbus from France

Given that the trolleybuses run on 14 routes exclusively within the City of Seattle, are a legacy of the old Seattle Transit system, run entirely on carbon free electricity provided by Seattle City Light and are much quieter than diesel buses, I think it’s fair to say that just raising the question was alarming.   Because of my concerns the Transportation Committee of the City Council held a special meeting one year ago this week to discuss retention of the trolley system.

Today, the good news is that after a careful analysis of lifecycle costs, environmental considerations and other factors in this evaluation, Metro has come to the same conclusions about the benefits of the system that were presented at last year’s brown bag meeting.

You can see video of the Council Transportation Committee presentation here, Metro’s presentation here, and the trolleybus evaluation itself at this link.  With the evaluation showing a clear preference for new trolleybuses, the County Executive will include the procurement in his proposed budget, which will be transmitted to the County Council this Fall and must be approved by the end of the year.  New trolleys should be running on Seattle streets by late 2014.  I will continue to be closely working with METRO as they develop the procurement standards so that the best electric trolley buses possible are placed on order.