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Vision of Metro’s electric trolley future?

With King County Metro still studying its options for replacing the aging fleet of electric trolleys that ply the streets of Capitol Hill, the Central District and other lucky Seattle neighborhoods, a special guest was invited to town this week to give the transit agency’s engineers and staff an opportunity for a real world examination of a state of the art electric coach. Of course, the bus is from Canada, eh.

Metro borrowed the trolley coach from Vancouver, BC for a one-day trial in Pioneer Square on Wednesday. Among other magic things like kneeling capability and lots of standing room in the interior configuration, the coach also is capable of traveling short distances off wire. On Wednesday, the driver was showing off by completing an entire city block on off-wire power. The current ancient fleet of King County bus trolleys require a tow for any off-wire activities. And, no, skeptics, we didn’t ask whether these magic buses were any better at keeping their hooks on the overhead wires. We kind of like those zen pauses in our travels.

Metro says it must find an alternative as the lifespan of its current electric fleet is coming to an end. Representatives say there is no room for working to extend the life of the existing trolley fleet because key systems are facing parts shortages and other maintenance issues on both types of trolley buses currently operated by Metro. Without having access to spare parts from the bus manufacturers, keeping the existing vehicles would force Metro to do their own engineering and fabrication of replacement parts, something that has been deemed to difficult and costly to pursue any further. Metro faces the replacement dilemma as it also struggles with necessary budget cuts to continue offering its service as revenues show no signs of near-term recovery.

You can read more about Vancouver’s electric trolleys in this Wikipedia entry on BC’s TransLink system.

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Lolalaptop
Lolalaptop
10 years ago

I love our trolley busses, but, yes, they are so old! I am keeping my fingers crossed that we can update our fleet, move ahead and not have to replace them with noisy spewing gas machines.

Othello
Othello
10 years ago

I was in the Bay Area recently and again noticed the similar type of trolley bus fleet that San Francisco utilizes for some of their public transit. I would imagine that because of their appearance that some are older that Seattle’s. Sometimes old is not bad. It would be nice if somehow we could keep our (old) trolleys running, save the money for other needed services, and (in this instance) make due with what we have.

Phinney
Phinney
10 years ago

You must have missed the part in the story where they mention a parts shortage and that Metro would have to fabricate replacement parts. Fabricating can be time consuming and costly.
Yes, the old busses are cool, but the fact of the matter is that old isn’t always better.

jonglix
jonglix
10 years ago

I hope to spot one of these very nice machines around the city this weekend. I think one thing they are testing out is whether these low riding coaches will bottom out on some of our steeper blocks so I will be eager to hear how it goes.

Thanks for all of the useful links J!

Tyler
Tyler
10 years ago

I saw this bus in Pioneer Square when I was out to lunch. I was really confused because it looked like a tour bus but running on electricity. Pretty cool. And to answer your question – the hooks still come off the wire! I saw this bus stuck on the corner because it came off the wires. ha ha.

I was there too
I was there too
10 years ago

It was off the wire because they were demonstrating the battery power it uses to go many blocks without electricity via the wires.
The bus drove to a stoplight, the driver released the poles and hit a switch and went outside the bus and secured the poles in their hooks, got back on the bus and took off again using battery power.

Erik G.
Erik G.
10 years ago

This is a NewFlyer bus, the diesel version of which are seen around Puget Sound. They are made in Winnipeg and in St. Cloud, Minnesota for BuyAmerica compliance. For the record, Philadelphia has also just received these buses for use on their ETB network.

http://www.newflyer.com/

Matt L
Matt L
10 years ago

Among other magic things like kneeling capability and lots of standing room in the interior configuration

Because Translink realizes the value of standing room on buses that serve the inner city. You can bet that if Metro orders new trolleys, they’ll get the same 2×2 seating configuration that makes coming forward to pay on a crowded pay-as-you-leave bus near impossible.

Adub
Adub
10 years ago

Also, San Francisco trolley fleets run on a hidden cable underground.

BrendanM
BrendanM
10 years ago

@Adub – are you mixing up SF’s trolleys with cable cars? SF’s trolleys (of which SF has the largest fleet in US/Canada) are pretty much the same as Seattle’s and Vancouver’s: two overhead wires, and two poles. Cable cars (SF has just three lines, two of which overlap, and they’re tourist attractions rather than transit workhorses), on the other hand, grab or release an underground moving cable and get pulled along – the only power on the car is a small battery for powering the lights.

There are actually some light rail systems that get power from a ground-level cable to avoid overhead wires ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bordeaux_tramway), but that’s not what SF has.

More info on SF’s fleet at: http://www.sfmta.com/cms/mfleet/trolley.htm

maus
maus
10 years ago

“they’ll get the same 2×2 seating configuration that makes coming forward to pay on a crowded pay-as-you-leave bus near impossible. “

I hate that SO MUCH.

Eric
Eric
10 years ago

Very exciting, more electric busses.

IcarusSlide
IcarusSlide
10 years ago

I loved Vancouver’s electric trolleybus system – the interior layout was so spacious and gave plenty of standing room for inner city transit users who simply hop on and hop off. There were even vertical back cushions to lean on for standing passengers.

The 2×2 configuration on our buses isn’t so much the problem as the fact that the system of when you pay (on the way out as you leave the ride free zone, etc) is problematic. I understand the basic logic since we have a “ride free zone” downtown, but even completely outside of the ride free zone (i.e. within capitol hill), some bus drivers want you to pay on the way in, others on the way out. Not knowing what the bus driver has arbitrarily decided on, sometimes you can just hop out the back if you already paid, while other times you have to walk to the front, and every bus is different. Meanwhile, the people waiting to get on the bus are trying to enter while people are exiting the front, etc. There’s no standardization of the practice – it’s fixing these little things that make public transit much more user-friendly and encourage its use (not to mention helping to make transit more on-time and perhaps increase frequency).

eric1972sea
eric1972sea
10 years ago

The current trolleys are basically a new bus with the the old 1970’s electric engines. It was really smart how Metro did that but sooner or later the systems wear out. I hope that they make the wise decision and get the Vancouver type trolleys. I was told whatever the decision the replacements will have A/C.

If they wised up and got rid of the stupid money loosing ride free area that would end the issue of pay as you leave which fare dodgers just love.

Richard C. DeArmond
Richard C. DeArmond
10 years ago

As a former Seattle resident currently living in the Vancouver area, I strongly recommend the replacement of the current fleet with new trolleybuses. TransLink, the agency behind the transportation system in Vancouver, likes the new trolleys. Purchasing New Flyer trolleys similar to the fleet in Vancouver would be ideal because parts would be more readily available.