Best way to replace Seattle’s electric trolley buses? More electric trolley buses

Bus future? Metro took this Canadian trolley for a spin this winter. (Image; CHS)

People who live near electric trolley bus lines can breathe a little easier. Initial findings from a King County Metro study comparing the costs and benefits of replacing the agency’s aging trolley bus fleet lean heavily in favor of staying electric. In fact, a trolley fleet beats out a diesel hybrid fleet in nearly every way, from cost to environmental impact to quality of life.


“Electric trolley buses perform better on steep grades, are quieter, have lower greenhouse gas emissions and consume less energy on a yearly basis,” according to the initial findings report published by King County Metro as part of their Trolley Bus System Evaluation.

The majority of bus routes on the Hill are trolley buses, and CHS and our sister site CentralDistrictNews have been watching the replacement debate closely. A not-so scientific online poll conducted by CHS in June showed wide support for trolley buses.

There will be a public meeting April 27, and public comments on the findings are due by May 6. The report will inform Metro’s budget this summer, which will go to the King County Council for approval in November. If all goes smoothly, the new trolley buses could start rolling out in 2014. You can send feedback on the report to Project Manager Christina O’Claire Christina.OClaire@kingcounty.gov.

Meeting details:

Wednesday, April 27, from 5 to 7 p.m.

Hildebrand Hall at Plymouth Congregational Church (1217 Sixth Ave., Seattle)

Due to Seattle City Light’s heavy use of power sources that emit little CO2, such as hydroelectric, a diesel hybrid replacement would emit nearly 22 times as much CO2 as a trolly bus replacement. Aside from carbon emissions, the trolley buses use less energy in general.

The trolley buses are also more cost-effective, according to the report. Though they cost more per bus than diesel hybrids, their lifespans are estimated to be three years longer than their diesel counterparts (15 years vs 12). After factoring in energy savings and federal grants, the annual operating costs for a trolley system would be several million dollars less. As Central District News pointed out, the operating costs of the diesel fleet are heavily dependent on unpredictable fuel prices.

In a weighing of the pros and cons for each technology, electric trolley buses beat out or tied hybrids in every criteria from noise to air quality to “neighborhood character.” The only criteria in favor of diesel hybrid buses is “visual quality,” due to the removal of overhead trolley wires. However, CHS graphic designers prefer the trolley wires stay, as their removal would force a redesign of the site’s masthead and the occasional de-wired bus stall also gives commuters more time to get to know their fellow riders and share the latest CHS news.

Here is the initial findings report:

TrolleyEvaluation_PreliminaryFindings_Apr2011

9 thoughts on “Best way to replace Seattle’s electric trolley buses? More electric trolley buses

  1. Love the electric trolleys for all the reasons stated in the report. Clean, efficient and high tractive force.
    Sounds like Metro is addressing the weakest point of the trolleys, the lack of off wire mobility. Saw another dead bus with the poles down in front of Starbucks on Olive yesterday. Adding an APU for off wire travel will help eliminate in traffic stalls (at least those related to wire contact issues).

  2. So happy to hear that the trolleys will be sticking around. I went on a trip to San Fran recently and a friend told me to look overhead and admire the only electric bus system in the world. I laughed out loud before I caught myself and let him know we were there first. (Or at least co-concurrent.)

  3. Lol, your friend should visit Vancouver too, which also has them (in fact, Van’s network is larger than Seattle’s). To give SF it’s due, their electric trolley system is by far the largest in North America.

  4. This is great news. I live over Pine Street and greatly appreciate the quiet 10’s to the roaring 11’s. I find the ride of the trolleys to be superior to the diesels, too. Can’t wait for the new fleet to arrive, and I hope that people in other close-in neighborhoods will press for expansion of the trolley network.

  5. SF has an impressive network of light rail trolleys too. They’ve done a beautiful job restoring all their PCC cars and it’s great that they repainted them in classic paint schemes highlighting various former lines around the country. Boston is the only other city still running PCCs.

  6. I love ‘em.
    I love to drive ‘em.
    And I love that my passengers love them too!
    Yes-plus to King County for keeping this type of
    quiet and fun bus in service!

  7. As the prices of oil and Diesel fuel continue to rise, this is wonderful news. Any other choice would have been insane, considering the hydro-electric generating system that the Seattle area has. This will be a giant step in reducing our dependency on oil and in a cleaner environment. Trackless trolleys are “totally green” in Seattle.
    Perhaps now Seattle can also restore the once popular waterfront street car line. I also suggest that additional Diesel bus lines be converted to trackless trolley.

  8. I’m so glad to read that Metro wants to keep the electrolic trolleys around. When I lived on the hill I really enjoyed riding on these versus the noisy and stinky hybrid and straight diesel buses. I wish it were possible for Metro to expand the electic trolley lines to more areas of the city.