Friday, April 1, 2011

Trolleybus study for Seattle

Update: the open house has been rescheduled to Wednesday April 27th (see below for details)

Here in Seattle, King County Metro is deciding whether to keep running trolley busses or replace them all with diesels. The current fleet, which serves 14 mostly high-frequency routes, is nearing the end of its useful life and the first replacement busses will probably be ordered next year. They may be replaced with diesel-electric hybrid busses (like the newer ones in the current fleet), or modern trolley busses like the model Vancouver's TransLink uses, which can run at least a few blocks off the wire, making them a lot more flexible than the current fleet.

On purely financial grounds, the decision depends on assumptions about the price of diesel. Trolley busses are more expensive to buy, and the network of overhead wires has some maintenance costs of its own, but plausible increases in the price of gas could make trolley busses cost competitive over their lifetime. The part that's interesting to me, though, is that Metro's evaluation criteria go a lot further, including:
  • Scheduling Efficiencies (trolleys can be badly disrupted by a traffic blockage, but they can also be run more efficiently because they don't need to go back to base to be refueled)
  • Noise
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions (including from production of the busses)
  • Air Quality (again including from production)
  • Environmental Justice
This week Metro announced that they'll be holding a public meeting to discuss findings so far on Wednesday, April 27th from 5-7pm, at the Plymouth Congregational Church (1217 6th Ave, Seattle 98101).

Request for contributions: I won't be able to make that meeting because I'll be out of town. If anyone is willing to go and write about it for this blog, I'll be much obliged. I'm also interested in hearing from you if a local transit authority where you live[d] has gone through a similar process: what did they decide and why? If you're interested in contributing just email me.

Disclaimer: I have a personal stake in this because my home overlooks a busy bus street, so I'm really hoping that many more routes get turned into trolleys, giving me a quieter house and cleaner air.

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