Wednesday, June 16, 2010

More Electroexecution

This might be a little more gut reaction than normal but why in the heck would you get rid of trolley buses in Seattle? Honestly when everyone else is looking for ways to get on renewable energy and figure out ways to lower carbon footprints, you're going to really add more ghgs to save a little coin? When do we start pricing carbon so that these actually make Metro money?

This is a case where the bean counters are counting the wrong beans. The metrics they used are out of touch with what's going on in the world today and the whole host of externalities that bean counters are not generally meant to measure till they are forced to. I can tell you that the dismantling of the Milwaukee Road was the dumbest thing right before an oil crisis. He who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it. I find it interesting that these studies keep coming out decade after decade against electric transport on cost or other issues. Edison's battery for cars seemed to be taken out this way, the Milwaukee Road got taken out this way, and now the Seattle Trolley buses might get taken out this way. I want to see a diesel vs. trolley bus test up a hill. Stop the insanity.


D. P. Lubic said...

The big problem is the same as it has been for years--the highway system is badly underpriced, and motor fuel is badly underpriced.

Your motor fuel taxes and tolls only pay for 51% of the road system right now. This is based on information from report HF-IV, "Highway Finance," from the website and publication, "Highway Statistics" issued by the USDOT (it's a consolidated report and site for the road system of the US). This works out to a subsidy of a bit over 50 cents per gallon based on cash flow accounting, and that doesn't include defered maintenance, poor design, and external costs such as air pollution and oil wars.

I estimate the real cost of gasoline to be between $7 and $8 per gallon, with the costs hidden in income taxes, sales taxes, insurance costs and so on. And I'm conservative; do a search on "the true cost of gasoline," and you will find some people who estimate the cost as high as $15 per gallon.

Account for and tax and price gasoline and the road system properly, and you won't have to worry about a subsidy for transit--private operators will make money hand over fist!

joshuadf said...

At least according to KC Metro, the main factor is that the ETBs are more expensive to purchase, at least in North America. I did a writeup of the city meeting too:

BruceMcF said...

Why in the name of whatever the reader holds holy would the Federal government not SUBSIDIZE the purchase of non-oil-addicted public transport? We need to get modern battery-backed trolley buses out all across the country on main trunk routes that are not viable for electric rail of some sort.

EvergreenRailfan said...

It's a shame only Seattle operated these buses in Washington State, Tacoma and Spokane are well suited for operating them as well. Now the way Metro is governed, the balance of power on the King County Council, is tipped towards the suburban cities. I like the hybrids, but I don't trust the claims that the new ones can get 5MPG, when they have had problems in the past with the many ones that replaced the Bredas in the tunnel. Looking at the network prior to 1963, it covered much of the city, at a time when public transit of any kind outside of Seattle in King County was sporadic at best, and in the hands of private operators.

There was a test in 1970 between a newer diesel and a 30 year old trolleybus on one of Seattle's toughest grades, Queen Anne Ave N, the Counterbalance, a grade of nearly 18%, the diesel could not handle it. Trolleybuses, hybrids, and streetcars would make for a good city transit within Seattle, teaming with regional operators such as Sound Transit, King County Ferry District, and Washington State Ferries. Only recently has Metro even reached the ridership level Seattle Transit had during the final days of when Trolleybuses were dominant in Seattle prior to the dieselization, 100 million riders, but Century 21 gave them a boost that year.

Today we are fighting to keep what is left, instead of bringing back some routes from the old system that make sense. The 11-Madison Park was a trolleybus line up until 1965, prior to 1940, it was a Cable Car line. If this off-wire capability does come, it might satisfy those in Madison Park who may be worried about the overhead wires. Also, I wonder how good a battery-backup trolleybus would work on the West Seattle Bridge? I can think of 1 or 2 bus routes there that could be electrified.

Alon Levy said...

D. P.: you're right that the real cost of gas is much more than $3/gal, but it's almost certainly not $15. The Real Cost of Gasoline study has huge margins of error, and $15 is its upper end. The lower end is $4.60/gal in subsidies, as of 1999.

The other estimates I've seen of air pollution costs cluster in the $2-3/gallon area, in today's money. The consensus estimate of the cost of carbon emissions is another $1/gallon.

The cost of highway subsidies would apply to both buses and trolleybuses, which cause the same wear on the roads. Overall it's about $0.50/gallon, but this is an average over all vehicles; vehicles with high axle loads, including buses, damage the road disproportionately to their fuel consumption. (Effectively, within the system of highway subsidies, motorcycles and cars are subsidizing trucks and buses.)

Jon Morgan said...

If you want to save electric bus service in King County, and you're on Facebook, please join our group at