Today the city council transportation committee hosted a lunchtime presentation on trolley buses and their potential replacement by Metro. The transit agency is currently scoping a year-long study that will guide the county’s decision on whether to scrap the current trolley bus network and replace them with hybrid diesel buses.
As we’ve reported before, the potential change is driven by the upcoming need to replace the current fleet of trolley buses in 2015 due to the upcoming end of “useful life” for the current buses. The main issues are cracking bodies in the 24-year-old articulated buses (which were previously repurposed from service in the bus tunnel), and outdated electrical systems in the more recent Gillig trolley buses, whose motors actually came out of trolley buses purchased in 1979.
A Metro project manager said that the study will compare a range of different bus technologies and look at the lifecycle costs and environmental impact between each, including:
- Purchase price
- Energy costs
- Scheduling efficiency
- Vehicle maintenance costs
- Maintenance of overhead electrical network
- Air quality
- Climate change
- Environmental justice
- Pavement wear due to vehicle weight
- Funding & federal grant implications
There was a full contingent of city council members present for the meeting, indicating the high degree of attention the trolley bus issue gets among the city leaders.
The issue of environmental impacts and risks for the cost of oil was a consistent issue brought up by members of the city council. Councilmember Richard Conlin strongly encouraged Metro to include a range of possible fuel costs in their analysis, which is one of the factors we highlighted in a story last month.
The council also expressed a strong desire to work with Metro to keep the trolley network in place, specifically mentioning the possibility of offering lower electricity costs to the county. However, according to our analysis, electric costs are unlikely to have a large impact, and the idea of reworking the responsibility for trolley wire maintenance was not brought up.
Your chance to weigh in is next week when Metro will be holding a public meeting to discuss the trolley bus replacement study.
SDOT also provided some interesting historical information on the trolley network:
- The peak of the streetcar system was in 1936 when there was 410 streetcars running on 230 miles of track
- Most streetcars in the city were turned into “trackless trolleys” when the street car tracks were torn up in 1941, with trolley buses reaching all corners of the city, including Green Lake, Maple Leaf, Ballard, and West Seattle
- In 1963 the city limits were expanded to the north and south and the city decided it couldn’t afford to extend trolley bus wires into the new areas. They converted most lines to diesel buses, leaving only a 35 mile network on Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, and the Central District
- In 1979 Metro had fully taken over the old Seattle bus system, and they bought a new bus fleet and expanded the trolley network to include Eastlake, the University District, Ballard, Rainier Avenue, and Beacon Hill.
- The current trolley system covers a network of 70 miles, and was expanded as recently as last year