County budget will replace trolley bus fleet, Prop 1 voted down

This week has good and bad news for lovers of the city’s electric trolley bus network.

The good news: King County has budgeted $238.6 million to replace Metro’s aging fleet of 155 electric trolley buses, CHS reports.

A statement sent out by County Council member Larry Phillips, head of the transportation committee, says the funding will ensure “trolley buses will keep rolling in Seattle for decades to come.” CDN reported last spring on the reasons Metro chose to move forward with new trolley buses versus changing them to diesel buses. Metro has said its 25-year-old fleet needs to be replaced by 2014.

Passage of King County’s 2012 budget by the Metropolitan King County Council settles once and for all the debate over whether to replace Metro’s aging trolley bus fleet. The budget includes $238.6 million to replace Metro’s fleet of 100 40-foot trolleybuses and 55 60-foot trolley buses, ensuring that Seattle’s urban neighborhoods will continue to benefit from clean, quiet electric buses.

 “I was pleased to support funding to keep our popular trolley buses rolling in our urban neighborhoods, cutting down on noise and pollution,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips, Chair of the Council’s Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee. “A lifecycle cost analysis showed that replacing our existing aging trolley buses with new off-wire capable trolley buses is the most cost effective and beneficial investment for the people of King County.”

 Metro’s trolley bus fleet has reached the end of its useful life. A performance audit of Metro raised questions about whether replacing the trolley buses with diesels could save money and recommended further study. Phillips sponsored a proviso in the 2011 Budget directing Metro to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of replacement options that would work best on current trolley routes. The evaluation concluded that electric trolley buses with off-wire capability to avoid construction and traffic blockages were the lowest cost, most beneficial option for replacing Metro’s trolley bus fleet.

 With the passage of the budget, Metro will be issuing a Request for Procurement for new trolley buses by the end of this year and should have a contract in place by fall of 2012. 

A slide from a 2010 Metro presentation (Image: Metro)

The bad news for trolley buses is that Seattle Transportation Benefits District Proposition 1 was defeated in the polls 60-40 (count as of November 10). Prop 1 designated an annual pool of money to be spent on trolley bus wire expansion, and 23rd Avenue through the CD was high on the priority list. This would have allowed for the 48 to run as an electric route between Mount Baker Station and the University District.

Metro’s grant proposal for electrifying route 48 depends on about $9 million in local government funding and nearly $7 million in Federal grants.

21 thoughts on “County budget will replace trolley bus fleet, Prop 1 voted down

  1. Yes, it’s great news that the trolley buses have gotten budget $ for replacement. I’m a regular #14 rider and live along the route.

    But I also drive, so I think the defeat of Prop 1 is also good news. This prop had too much slated for bikes and not enough for road repair. I think that if McGinn thinks the citizens are clamouring for more bike “improvements”, then that should be put on the ballot in a single-issue proposition. Same for streetcars. McGinn and city council have been misled by the transportation advisory group which was stacked with people who hate cars. People in Seattle also drive cars – deal with it!

  2. Piffle – I think it is a crying shame prop 1 didn’t pass. Do I think it was a perfect solution – no, it was certainly a tax that was regressive, but I have very little sympathy because the greedy voters of the state are the ones who made it that way by voting in a flat tab tax. And for the record I own a car, which I rarely drive, and I’m sure would be cheaper to license if we were still using the old system because the car isn’t worth anything, but I still voted to raise the tabs because I think the city needs it.

    FYI out of approx $180 million dollars that the tab fees would have raised, only $23 million of that was slated for pedestrian and bike improvements note that includes PEDESTRIAN improvements…. probably less than %5 of the money raised would have gone to cycling improvements…. that certainly doesn’t sound like too much to me.

    Oh well – now we won’t have any money to fix the roads… at least I can usually ride around the potholes on my bike.. hope you’ve got the cash to get your alignment fixed fairly often…

  3. CARnage, does your moniker reveal your attitude? I think that even 5% is out of line when less than 2% of commuters are on bikes. I can guess that you are relatively young and healthy – because you seem to think that all of us have the CHOICE to ride a bike. Well, age and infirmities (beyond one’s control) often take that choice out of one’s hands. So, if biking to work is not a choice for me, I will try to see that my tax dollars are spent on roads and transit, which ARE choices for me.

  4. Perhaps you should actually bother to look things up before you say them, because you are incorrect.

    Actually bicycle commuters make up closer to 4% of Seattle commuters year round- and as the counts are done usually done in early spring, the numbers are likely higher during the months of better weather not to mention they have doubled over the last 10 years. The goal is to *grow* that percentage, so spending 5% isn’t at all out of line IMHO.

    Seeing that 90% of the money was slated to be spent on mass transit and roads I’d say you made a poor decision about supporting your own choices. You’ve totally thrown the baby out with the bath water because some yahoo convinced you that the big bad bicyclists were going to steal all of your money – what a load….

    In any case only thinking about ME, ME, ME, ME, ME – and your own specific choices is pretty selfish and pretty short sighted of you. I voted for prop 1, even though it would have raised MY taxes on my car (which I rarely drive) significantly and 90% of the money would have gone more to support YOUR lifestyle, not mine, because I actually think about the greater good of society over my own petty wants when I vote… It’s actually quite the opposite of what you attempted to accuse me of……. I actually get it that not everyone chooses or even can make the same choices that I have and I actually put my money/vote where my mouth is and choose to support things that I don’t have a personal stake in because they are for the greater good. Most of that money would have gone to transit…. sad that you let the fact that a little bit of it would have supported a lifestyle that wasn’t specifically yours make you turn it down.

    Really, even as a cyclist I probably wouldn’t have gotten much up close and personal benefit from the tax, because I generally choose to ride as a vehicle and am not particularly enamored of bicycle specific road markings or bike trails…. but again… I still support the growth of such things if they in turn support the growth of the cycling community, because in the end it is good for all of us.

  5. Thank you Seattle! We kept more money away from the dreaded SDOT and METRO finacial abyss. Let’s not expand Metro. Let’s cut it another 25%. Those ugly trolly wires drive more depression than the grey sky. I happen to love the sky, being a native mossback.

    I drive an AWD truck base SUV, a mountain bike, and can run faster than the bus. So me has no problem with a temporary disaster for SDOT.

    SDOT doesn’t fix roads. They just burn the money. They are idiots living in some eastern block 1968 hole behind the iron curtain. Powerless oafs listening to brodcast by the communist machine (Seattle voters).

    Bellevue, Renton, Kent, Portland, Tacoma – all have made much better roads decisions. I will support SDOT when 75% of the admin and workforce are replace with newer smarter units. In Tacoma it only takes two DOT guys to hold up a shovel. In Seattle they need 3 guys and 3 women with a proper ethnic and sexuality balance. And they need to have a labor lawer, equal rights attourney, union boss and 6 $100000 trucks on site. The admin backs that up with two in house lawers, 5 consultants, 2 mechanics, 4 accountants, 3 grant writers, and a butt miner.

  6. Just think of the good you could do if you weren’t putting all the negative energy into trolling…

  7. I’m probably totally missing your point (eh, I’m not that bright, it happens), but *Renton* has made better road decisions? RENTON? Where the LA Fitness parking lot is also considered a real road and every intersection (of which Renton has one for every citizen, I’m pretty sure) has seven thousand different directions and on-ramps (slight left, slightly less slight left, almost slightly left, slight right, slightly slight right, and OH SH*T I JUST GOT ON THE FREEWAY AND I’M HEADED FOR SOUTH DAKOTA WHEN ALL I WANTED WAS TO FIND THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY?!?!?, etc.)? And for the record, Renton roads appear to be in neither better nor worse shape than Seattle roads. Way to torpedo your own argument. (Probably best not to hold up Renton as an exemplar of fantastic roadways.)

    Also, would you care to back up your assertions about the alleged superiority of these other roads or the decisions that led to their rather unfortunate design with some *actual* facts and data instead of hyperbole (which I alone am allowed to use, as decreed by me, because I am 100% the best at everything ever including roads and also things and stuff and other stuff and other things and run on sentences)?

    As a person who spends much of the day driving these roads, it is my opinion (with which you are completely free to disagree) that nearly all of them suck. (The civil engineering, anyway. In terms of condition, they’re actually pretty spectacularly maintained, at least compared to East Coast, Midwest, and Californian roads.)

    Also, I realize you’re a troll, but I have nothing better to do at 3 AM. (I’m too busy obsessing over the exceptionally awful civil engineers who were clearly licking exotic psychedelic toads when they designed Renton’s transportation infrastructure.) Alright, back to being lame (or, continuing to be lame, depending on your opinion of where I fall on the lameness scale).

  8. Don’t be bitter because the city won’t hire you, Grumbo. Some people just aren’t met to have a job.

    Do you have a social worker or someone who can make sure you’re enrolled in all the programs you’re entitled to? I’m afraid you’re sitting there surrounded by shut-off notices from SPU and City Light, eating you last pack of ramen.

  9. Am I the only one who rides the 7? Thank goodness this fleet of sad, terribly broken buses will FINALLY be replaced. We deserve a fleet of buses that doesn’t regularly break down.

  10. CARnage,

    Where might one bother to look things up in order to verify your numbers? Reading the following article from The Seattle Times leaves one with the impression that the tab fees would have raised $204,000,000 (not $180,000,000), that $40,800,000 of that was slated for bike and pedestrian improvements (not $23,000,000), and that 80 percent of the money was slated to be spent on mass transit and roads (not 90 percent). I’m not saying The Seattle Times is right, and you’re wrong, but I did bother to look things up (and cite them) before I wrote them, and what I found contradicts what you wrote. Can you point me to your sources? Thank you.

  11. The numbers I found were quoted from a King 5 article
    [i] * roughly half the money, about $100 million, is for mass transit.
    * $59 million for fixing streets and potholes.
    * $23 million for pedestrians and bikes.[/i]
    I believe those numbers were from city council. I think they may have left out the $18 million for the streetcar study (and OK – you’ve got me, I think that’s probably a waste of money….) which would bring the total up to $200 million? Still leaves only a bit more than 10% going to bike *and* pedestrian improvements, if these are indeed the #’s that are true.

  12. @Carnage. Re your quote in reference to streetcars ” … OK – you’ve got me, I think that’s probably a waste of money….”. Why would you vote for ANYTHING that includes $18 million dollars of wasted money? Eighteen MILLION dollars! I feel that the people of Seattle deserve much more consideration from each other and our elected officials than accepting propositions such at this one which is too vague, ill-conceived, regressive, and bottom line, not taking care of the immediate problems. We want to be a sophisticated city yet our streets look and act like back roads. We are even still littered with two way traffic on single lane streets causing traffic to find driveways to pull into or backing up into main roads. What’s up with THAT? I can walk to downtown faster than taking the bus! Yet, from what I read, no funds where allocated for increased buses or frequency. Come on -really? We should have settled for this expensive “nowhere fast” plan?

  13. CARnage, I am surprised you would point a finger at others and claim their actions and words are only for “ME ME ME”. Your responces do seem to point at your own ME ME ME issues and preferenses, while bashing other opinions as anti-YOU. Actually many of us would like more bike transit support, more and better roads for all, etc, but many of us voted no based upon lack of funds. Lack of a yes on Prop 1 does not have to be an automatic hate at bikes or their riders, but more a lack of support in our tax base ( we tax payers may not be able to afford this worthy tax ;-)

  14. CARnage,

    I bothered to look up the article you quoted (and cited it below), and it hardly establishes that Zebragirl was incorrect. The sentence immediately following the bit you quoted reads, “But the numbers are fluid.”

    Again, giving you the benefit of the doubt, perhaps you meant that she was incorrect regarding the percentage of commuters on bikes. This article leaves one with the impression that she was:

    However, using the most favorable numbers (to your point) cited in this discussion (lowest bike and pedestrian numbers, highest total), and presuming the bike/pedestrian split was 50/50 (for lack of a source stating a more specific division of money, i.e. more specific than “…the numbers are fluid.”), one still is left with a situation where 3.6% of the population reaps 5.6% of the benefits.

    That’s certainly not any injustice of epic proportions, but it doesn’t strengthen your argument that voters were being selfish. It’s equally believable that voters were against others’ selfishness.

  15. You are correct I was only calling out her lack of even basic research on the number of bicycle commuters. There’s way more than a 2% share. I’ve seen counts that range from 3.6% to 3.8% during times of the year that you have to be dedicated to doing it. At peak times (ie when it’s nice out) There’s more than a 4% share.

    Because it wasn’t more specific I did assume a 50-50 split for the division of money between pedestrians and bikes. Yes the article did say the numbers were not set in stone – but that could work both ways…

    If you reread my post you’ll note the only one I accused of being selfish was the OP… because she actually stated that she voted no on the basis that she didn’t like a portion of the money going to interests outside of her own. You could have other reasons for voting it down that I would not say are selfish, but I still think voting anything down based only using “it doesn’t directly benefit me” reasoning is superbly selfish. I vote for lots of things that don’t directly benefit me – like money for schools when I have no children – because I know they serve the greater good.

    Would I be totally pleased about spending 18 million on street car feasibility. Not particularly, (it seems like most cities have already recognized that on street trolleys aren’t efficient and have put them underground or on dedicated rail lines) but I also recognize that even though I think it’s a pretty stupid idea, that I don’t necessarily know everything. Plus I’d rather see a study done than for it to just be done and to have even more money wasted.

  16. CARnage,

    I certainly can’t read Zebragirl’s mind, but my understanding of her post wasn’t that she didn’t like A portion of the money going to interests outside of her own. Rather, I understood her to mean she didn’t like THE portion of the money going to said interests. So, I suppose I only disagree as to whether or not she was being selfish, but I definitely don’t know everything.

    I appreciate the tone of the discussion. The niceties. Peace.

  17. Save the #2 riders. This is just one of the exceptionally mean proposals. We need access to light rail, the retail core, Seattle Center, Town Hall, and Broadway services as much as anyone else. Our destination is seldom the ferries We are not slackers; we ride the bus. The business districts around 18th, 21st and 23rd and E. Union deserve service. This is atrocious. The new plans that force more transfers are not better for most riders. At every transfer point there is more chance for the Middle School student to loose things, or have other safety problems. This is true for all of us, but especially for any vulnerable population. At every transfer point all of us are more vulnerable to crime and accidents. Plus any efficiency for me would be ruined by more time walking. Some already say, Joanna, “You should be more careful walking after dark (now after 4:00 PM , I guess). Now Metro says well an extra 5 blocks to and from the bus is nothing for me to concern myself with. I have been a long time supporter of Metro and testified and wrote letters for the $20.00 car tabs. Many of us ride the #2. The ridership is very good. Not only are the coaches full to very full, it serves a large number of different individuals since there are so many different destinations along the route. One group of people boarding and exiting the bus along Madison between 12th Avenue and the ferries will receive more service, at a great cost to all other riders under this proposal. It does not respect this large group of riders who pay taxes and buy their Orca passes like everyone else. This plan for the….
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    made it impossible to trust how funds would be used. Therefore, I could not vote for the City of Seattle Transportation District’s request for more. I want to continue to support Metro. The people getting off the ferries to get up the hill do not pay the $20.00 car tab fees that we do.

    Any help that we the riders can receive on this will be most welcome.

  18. Oh come on Joanna. Are you seriously saying you voted against the car tab fee? Did I read correctly that you voted against because it is “impossible to trust how funds would be used.”

    As usual it seems people are often more similar that we like to believe. My often obtuse statements are simple calls to point out how much better we should expect from those that use our money. We protest the banks. Why should SDOT or Metro be exempt from protests. If they were running the banks we would all be on the street.

    A little austerity is needed. Good management will shine and deliver in tough times. The goobers will deliver the milk toast you see today. Let’s demand real challenges and real change. Not the ninny nonsense coming from Metro and SDOT where nothing can be done without another $400M.

  19. Yes, I mean to say exactly that. I have generally thought Metro was a good steward of our funding. Now they have taken a planning concept to serve a few corridors more frequently at the expense of many mass transit supporters and loyal riders. There may be some good in some of it, but there are huge costs to much of the ridership in the new planning theories, many of which do not save a dime in the budget.

  20. Joanna makes some very good points–those ferry riders should be paying more anyhow as living over there is a luxury indeed.

    The breaking of the 2 is one of the worst proposals I have ever witnessed from metro. It will drive people into their cars–I work in lower queen anne and now transferring to the 8 at mlk takes a long time–so i pretty much stay on the 2 all the way downtown and to LQA. not having to transfer allows me to do some work, read a book, tune out for 30 minutes. a transfer will add time to my trip–and expose me to the weather and crime. the 2’s journey can be sped up several ways–dedicated lane ebound from the library, transit signage requring cars to yeild to bus on turns off of 3rd. Elimination of every other 2 nbound from 34th and union. no street parking during peak hours near mlk and union, union and broadway, near town hall. Removing a two dozen street parking spots during peak hours for advanced bus service is a no brainer.

    We live in these streetcar suburbs for a reason–easy, somewhat immediate access to transit and an increased quality of life. Busting up highly successful routes will further disenfranhise those of us who have lived here for years and become devotees of Metro. I will be dumping my monthly orca pass, switch to an e-purse for the sporadic metro trip, and begin driving to work. It actually may work out as when i starting living in the CD I had very little money and could nto afford to drive. Now i figure an extra $50/week for gas and wear and tear on my car is worth it, esp with a 12 minute drive time vs. a 40 minute bus travel time under the proposed break up. Twice a day. That means 1 hour 20 minutes on the bus (not counting wait times) every day vs. less than 30 minutes driving. My hourly wage will more than pay for that extra time I can spend at home taking care of my child or staying at work a little longer.

    Its sad to see Metro fail a dedicated rider for 17 years on the 2/3/8/48.