Mike Lindblom has a really good story today in the Seattle Times on Metro’s trolley buses and the upcoming decision on whether or not to keep them:
The timing is awkward. Hydrogen vehicles or plug-in electric buses seem promising, but Metro can’t wait until those technologies mature. That leaves other options:
• Order a trolleybus with supplementary batteries charged through overhead power and regenerative braking — so the bus can sometimes detour off-wire.
• Combine overhead power with a supplementary diesel motor, for long or short stretches off-wire.
• Travel wire-free using electric batteries and high-torque motors, to be recharged by a diesel motor running at a steady, fuel-efficient rate. Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond also hopes to research whether there’s a bus available to use overhead power in-city, then continue off-wire several miles farther out.
Or how about option #4: Buy new trolley buses that use existing technology and use them the same way that we have for the 65 previous years?
The Central District has a majority of routes that are electrified, and our informal surveys indicate that the most residents want them to stay that way.
The key question seems to be how fuel prices fit into the equation. What kind of fuel price forecast is Metro using to judge the cost of operating diesel buses in 2016 (and 2020, and 2030) vs. the relatively steady cost of electricity on the trolley routes?
And how much societal value do we gain by paying costs to local workers to maintain the trolley bus wires, vs. sending dollars overseas to pay for fuel?