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Metro considers cutting electric trolley buses, city wants your opinion

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As King County Metro started counting the ways it could save money this summer, Seattle’s fleet of electric trolley buses were identified as an attractive target. Cutting the line, the county said, could save Metro as much as $8.7 million a year.

This week, the City of Seattle began asking a few questions about the trolleys. The Department of Transportation is hosting an online survey designed to gauge public opinion about the electric buses whose wires are a ubiquitous part of the city environment on Capitol Hill an in neighborhoods across the city.

SDOT spokesperson Rick Sheridan provided these notes to CHS about the effort:

What’s the goal?
The goal of the survey is to gauge community support for continued and expanded electric bus service.

When does it start?
SDOT recently began using the survey at community meetings and will be making it available online this week.

What will be done with the information?
SDOT is conducting this survey because King County’s recent audit of its Metro division suggests that Metro could save money by replacing electric trolley buses with diesel buses.  This would call into question the future of electric bus service in Seattle.  Reduction or elimination of electric bus service would be in conflict with city policies, including those related to climate change and reduced use of petroleum-based fuels.  Through this survey, the city of Seattle seeks to learn whether support for electric transit exists in the community.

The survey is a short one-page. Here’s the kind of thing they’re looking for your feedback on:

They also ask this kicker:

Some King County policymakers appear to favor the removal of electric buses (which would be replaced with diesel-powered buses).  Would you support this idea if it included some cost savings?

Metro spokesperson Rochelle Ogershok said her agency will submit its plan to meet the reduced budget to the King County Council later this year and that, while Metro is not in charge of the survey, she said SDOT will have a say in how the decision on the trolleys plays out. With this survey opportunity, you will, too.

Tom Rasmussen, chair of Seattle City Council’s transportation committee, doesn’t want to simply preserve trolley service in the city. He wants to see it expand.

“I am very interested in expanding the electric trolley system,” Rasmussen told CHS. “I see a lot of advantages in it in comparison to the diesel buses we have now.”

Regarding the survey, Rasmussen said he wants to hear both good and bad opinions of the service.

“It’s also good to hear from people what they don’t like about them,” Rasmussen said. “I don’t know how we can improve them without really candid comments.”

“The trolleys are quiet, they don’t smell, and they are fast. We need to find the most environmentally sound option. I think that the trolleys should be given a serious look.”

Update: Metro’s Ogershok contacted us after this story was posted to request we change our headline to clarify that King County isn’t only considering trolley cuts but studying many options to cut costs. We disagree with that the headline is misleading and encouraged her to post more information in the comments.

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24 thoughts on “Metro considers cutting electric trolley buses, city wants your opinion

  1. I’m really confused as to how the electric buses cost more. I was also confused as to what “section” of Seattle I’m in. There was no Central or downtown option.

  2. Please don’t get rid of electric trolley buses in favor of hideous, loud diesel beasts. That would be going backward.

    Noise pollution is never taken seriously in this country

  3. Getting rid of the electric buses is such a horrible idea. A definite backwards move – and we’ll end up paying more having to reimplement these in 10 years.

  4. Yeah, what a dumb question, but I guess Capitol Hill could technically be Northeast.

    The rest of the survey is very short and I do encourage others to fill it out. Please say no to more diesel buses!

  5. Right? With all our cheap hydro electricity, how is it that they are more expensive? And screw that, the electric trolley buses are way superior: quieter, don’t pollute in the center city where everyone lives, and have better performance on hills…it amazes me how retarded the County is.

    I put SE Seattle, though likewise was confused. Way to know your City Seattle: all the residents of Queen Anne, Belltown, Downtown, Cap Hill, and First Hill are confused as hell.

  6. As for the costs, one of the main issues is the need to maintain the overhead wires (you might have seen the raised platform trucks around on weekends). On the other hand, electric motors should require less maintenance than diesel engines, not to mention the fuel issue.

    I have read arguments that Metro’s cost audit is biased by the fact that a large percentage of the trolley buses running are the old Breda articulated coaches ( These used to run on the Downtown Tunnel routes before their engines died a few years ago. These buses are lemons that require frequent maintenance but were even more problematic when they used to switch to diesel power outside the tunnel.

  7. The newer electric trolley buses, like the new ones in Vancouver, have backup power so that they can run off the wires for short distances. This makes them a lot more flexible than the ones that Seattle currently uses.

  8. Who wants to get rid of trolley buses?

    The transit riders union ( sent out a questionnaire during the election to City and County candidates about the trolley network and the general feeling seemed to be more in the vein that the network should be preserved and expanded.

    Can you please get specific names of those who support eliminating trolley buses?

    Questionnaire results here:

  9. Thank you so much for the alert and the link to complete the survey. I definitely have an opinion on this topic and appreciate CHS getting the word out so that we can tell Metro what a lousy idea this is.
    Diesel is so pedestrian-unfriendly. Stinky clouds of exhaust. Loud acceleration. Boo.

  10. Electric trolleybuses are not only quieter, pollution-free or have much longer life and better performance, they are also more attractive for riders, because they create a visual sign for established, stable, reliable and frequent route that is ready to serve you. It’s been proven in many cities, so if Seattle relace it’s trolleybuses with diesel, it would be a huge mistake. Do not allow it to happen!

  11. It takes many years hard work to build the third largest trolley-bus network in the U.S. and Canada. It is the most eco-friendly neighborhood transportation system a city could ever have, and Seattle should cherish this invaluable public asset. Cutting trolley-bus is like an old Chinese idiom saying, cook the crane (for meat) and burn the lyre (for charcoal), a practice that is ultimately wrong to achieve the desired purpose. It will be an irreversible loss once the trolley system is scrapped, I plea you to abolish this myopic recommendation.


    There, flamed and bold and loud. My best memories of bus rides as a kid are the trolleys, with that sure traction as they mounted the hills.

    Quiet, they seem to jerk less and I know first hand about diesel crap in the air. I have friend who lived downtown, the black soot from the bus exhaust is a real problem. Oh, that little matter.

    Black soot on the window sill, settled on the counter top, black soot in the lungs. Let’s get real, no more con jobs on pollution. It is not a small matter in modern urban living.

  13. In this day and age getting rid of trolleybuses would be a HUGE mistake. There are places that are now installing or bringing back trolleybuses because of concerns regarding pollution and diminishing oil supplies. I cannot see why they are more expensive to operate but even if they are they are worth the extra cost. Would light rail be scrapped too because it costs more?

  14. It would be foolish to scrap your trolley system. There are no savings in converting to an all diesel system. Only costs and losses. The cost of dismantling the infrastructure. The cost of re-beautifying the street-scape. The added cost of more fuel. The added cost of purchasing more diesel buses more often (shorter service life than a trolley). The added cost of health care as more people will suffer diesel exhaust related health issues. The loss of quality transit. The loss of ridership as routes lose permanence and reliability.

    Trolleys attract riders. Embrace your trolley system, it is a real treasured possession in this day and age. Upgrade it, extend it, embrace it. Don’t destroy it.

  15. Absolutely do NOT replace electric busses with gas powered busses!!
    *jumping up and down with fists clenched* NO NO NO!!!

    I am definitely filling out this survey.

  16. What is it with Metro? When they first took over the Seattle Bus system in the 1970s, the first thing they did was to start taking out electric trolley lines and replacing those routes with diesel buses. (The second thing was to eliminate the youth fare, which was not restored until decades later.) There was a seriously large protest, and some trolley routes were restored. The electric trolley routes at that time were old. Most of them had been developed when the streetcar tracks were removed in the 1940s to run the old street car system routes. Is this another case of the transportation system letting the trolleys disintegrate through lack of maintenance and then claiming “cost savings’ for getting rid of them because they need deferred maintenance? As a Metro rider, I know that the trolley system is the easiest to ride, the cheapest to run in terms of fuel (electricity), the quietest (quieter even than streetcars) and I’d like to see it expanded (at least to the point it was before Metro took out routes), especially along Madison Street the full length and up the Admiral hill.

  17. If clean and quiet (and fun to drive, I admit) electric trolleys are truly more expensive, where does that extra expense go? The buses are more expensive, but last longer. The wire is expensive to maintain, but is done by local skilled labor. There are increased operational costs due to not being able to reroute buses, which is mostly extra money spent on driver’s wages.

    If we replace the trolleys with diesel coaches we are effectively outsourcing our transportation needs to oil producing regions. We save money on buses, maintaining wire, and operational costs but spend FAR more on diesel. Do we really want to ship even more money overseas to regimes that don’t really like us that much?

    We need MORE jobs in this country and electric trolleys deliver those well-paying jobs. In exchange Metro’s customers get quieter, cleaner, and longer lasting buses. Seems like a pretty good trade off to me.

  18. The electric trolley buses actually probably save money when you calculate in the environmental costs of diesel pollution and its impact on the lives of people who live in high-traffic corridors, such as Rainier valley. One can’t look at Metro cost savings with out looking at the whole picture. The city council should not be pushing forth with plans to build a very expensive new leg of the street car. This is a very capital expensive project, and it duplicates what trolleys do. Why not improve and expand on our trolley system, as Rasmussen proposes (Good for you Tom!) and plow the money that some councilors want to waste on a streetcar system into the purchase of more and new trolley buses to replace the aging bredas that are used on the 43 and 49 and 7 lines.
    Also, if Metro wants to save money, The County should consider bringing their para transit in house, ACCESS, which is currently partly contracted to a multinational French Corporation called Veolia, as well as to Solid Ground.

  19. Thank you Linda and everyone for weighing in on this. I have read the audit and it is very cursory at best. As to the trolleys not being very flexible, well, a couple of nights ago I noticed the South Lake Union Streetcar stopped dead in its tracks because of an emergency in front of it. It could not go around of course. Electric trolleys seem to have more manuverability in such situations. I will need your help and support in advocating for electric busses or trolleys. I think there may be exciting opportunities including partnering with other cities like Vancouver or San Francisco in purchasing such vehicles.

  20. Tom – Thanks, your very astute leadership here is appreciated.

    Bulk purchase, great idea.

    And folks, he is the chair of transportation on the newly minted council year.(means he pulls some weight)

    Again, three cheers.


  21. The trolleybuses are quiet, smooth and fast and deal with Seattle’s hills, particularly Queen Anne, effortlessly, someting a motor bus would not do so well. They use Washington State generated hydro electricity not imported fuel. It is crazy for Seattle to spend millions of dollars on a very limited streetcar line that benefits few and consider spending even more millions of dollars expanding it and then seeking to save a small amount replacing trolleybuses that serve many, many more local folk. Don’t do it, keep and expand the trolleybuses.

  22. I live in a city that use to electric trolley buses that where
    still running to May 02 of 2009. In Edmonton Alberta Canada the
    system was under used since our horizzon 2000 thansit change.

    One year since them we are paying more in taxes and fairs to cover
    the excuses they used to scrap the system. Over inflation rates.

    On some of our old trolley routes they are now pawing more for fuel then the cost of the electric power and the lines manatance cost.

    ETS routes 5 and 135 in other cities would still be electrificed.
    From downtown Edmonton to Jasper Place those other old lines should have been still getting used. (Many buses)

    When you read the environmental reports you will see that these buses are still environmental cleaner then newer hybrid diesels
    even when running off dirty coal fired power. When you run a bus
    every 10 minutes it is still cheaper then diesel busies.

    hopefully they come to their sentences, unlike Edmonton.

  23. Seattle! Please don’t get rid of your trolleybus lines as you would regret it! Diesel busses are not an alternative to clean air and efficient service. Some Canadian cities are thinking about converting some diesel lines to trolleybus lines. We need you to keep protesting about getting rid of environmental friendly transit systems!