Hill-friendly and relatively clean and quiet, electric trolleys are important workhorses in Seattle’s commute. Starting this week, Metro’s ancient fleet will begin a two-year rollout of replacement trolleys.
The first five of 174 replacement trolley buses go into service Wednesday with the remaining trolleys “phased in over the next two years.”
Metro says the new trolley buses will use up to 30% less electricity than the current fleet “and will significantly reduce operating costs.”
“Electric trolleys are ideal for moving people in dense urban environments, making up 12% of our fleet but carrying 20% of our weekday riders,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in an announcement of the rollout. “And they emit zero emissions. By running trolleys instead of diesel-hybrid buses over the next five years, we are keeping 42,000 metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions out of our air.”
The updated trolleys from manufacturer New Flyer come as bus service improvements paid for by Seattle’s new transportation tax district have hit the streets. Meanwhile, while its “start date is still not fixed,” the First Hill Streetcar should finally begin offering service between Capitol Hill and Pioneer Square… well, soon.
@SeaTransitBlog Just walked out of my apt at Broadway and Jefferson and saw a streetcar!
— Ryan Smith (@theRWS) August 17, 2015
Metro did not announced which routes will be first for the new trolley deployment. UPDATE: From a Metro spokesperson: “For the next three days (Wed.–Fri.) the new trolleys will be assigned to the routes 1,2,3,36, 70. After that, they will rotate. And over time, we will continue to add additional 40-foot trolley buses to the fleet.”
The county will also introduce three new prototype battery buses in coming months. Thanks to a $4.7 million federal grant, Metro will test the three “40-foot prototype heavy-duty battery-electric buses with fast-charging batteries, manufactured with a composite body by Proterra, Inc.”:
The new 38-seat buses can travel up to 23 miles between charges, and remain on the road up to 24 hours a day. Batteries take 10 minutes or less to charge. The prototype bus is expected to get 15 miles more from an equivalent unit of energy than a diesel-hybrid coach. A battery-charging station has already been set up at the Eastgate Park-and-Ride lot.
Metro says the three prototypes will likely be tested on short routes serving the Eastside and downtown Seattle “to determine whether battery-electric buses can be a future replacement option for Metro.”
The county began making plans to spend the $186 million necessary to replace the more than 25-year-old fleet of trolley buses in 2011. In the meantime, Metro worked to test possible replacements and pounded out a deal to purchase the new trolleys. Metro teamed up with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority to purchase the replacement coaches under the same contract — “a move that ensures both Metro and SFMTA get highly competitive pricing.” More than $120 million in federal grants are part of the final price tag. “The electric trolley system will cost less to operate than Metro’s hybrid fleet, once fuel consumption, maintenance, and grant funding are factored in,” the statement from the county says.
While achieving and surpassing many of the emission goals of the old fleet, the new buses also have new features:
- The ability to operate off-wire for an estimated three to five miles – a first for our trolley fleet. This feature will allow the trolleys to reliably reroute around collisions and reduce the need to substitute diesel buses during construction.
- Filtered heating and air conditioning
- Low floors for easier and faster boarding and exiting
- An updated system to secure wheelchairs
- Three doors on larger 60 foot buses and the ability to kneel the full length of the bus
- The electric trolley buses will use an estimated 20 to 30 percent less energy than our current electric trolleys, and use regenerative braking that puts power back into the energy system.
In a statement, Metro general manager Kevin Desmond further described the slick new rides:
Our customers will find lots of features designed to improve their rides: filtered heating and air conditioning, low floors for easier and faster boarding and exiting, and updated bike racks and systems for securing wheelchairs. To make it easier for passengers to circulate and exit, the new buses have a few less seats and have back doors that riders can open by pressing on them when the bus is stopped.
The new trolleys can even go short distances off-wire. While inside the bus, the driver can disconnect the trolley’s poles from the power lines and use battery power to scoot around obstructions, keeping our riders moving. As we gain experience with this capability and deploy more new trolleys, we’ll have much less need to substitute diesel buses for trolleys to operate around weekend events or construction zones—reducing noise, energy consumption and emissions.
Metro says it has been “extending the life of older buses through refurbishment, but those coaches become outdated and unreliable as their electrical systems and motors wear out,” as many a Capitol Hill bus rider can attest.