Yesterday county auditors gave a preliminary presentation to the King County Council about the opportunity for new efficiencies at Metro. You can get a full overview at the Seattle Times, but one item in particular caught my eye. The auditors claim that the county could save $8.7 million a year by converting trolley buses to diesel hybrids. Trolley buses are the electrically powered vehicles that connect to wires above the roadway.
We’ve got a lot of trolley bus routes in our neighborhood, including the #2, #3, #4, and #14. As someone who lives within earshot of the diesel #48 route, I can tell you that low noise is a big advantage of the trolley buses. And it could be in my head, but I’ve always felt like I’ve received a better quality of ride on the electric buses vs. their fossil fuel brethren.
Full details of the Metro performance audit won’t be available until later in the month. But I spoke briefly to Kymber Waltmunson today, one of the auditors, who said that the cost savings of diesel vs. trolley buses come down to three main categories:
- The procurement costs are “significantly higher” for trolley buses. It’s not clear yet if that analysis includes replacing or reusing the electric motor that drives the buses. The new models put in use several years ago reused the motors from buses built in the 70s, saving significant funds.
- There’s costs associated with maintenance of the overhead infrastructure of wires that power the trolley buses
- $3.1 million in savings can be attributed to scheduling and operational flexibility of diesel vs. trolley buses. This is because the trolley buses can’t pass each other, can only turn around at certain points, etc.
Detailed figures on the cost savings of using cheap hydropower vs. diesel are not yet available. And the auditors make it clear that their analysis does not include social factors, such as the zero-emissions of electric vehicles, noise advantages, and other things that can’t be broken down to specific dollar amounts.
We’ll continue to track this issue and will dive into the details when the final report is made available. In the meantime, fans of trolley buses may want to make their feelings known to the King County Council ahead of time.