SEATTLE - For the first time in nearly three decades King County will have a new fleet of trolley buses.
The first five of these all-electric buses will go into service tomorrow and 174 of the purple colored are expected to roll out over the next 2 years on Metro's busiest routes.
The new fleet costs about $186 million. Federal grants pay about 65 percent of that.
The trolley buses can go off-wire if drivers need them to, a first for trolley buses in Seattle.
"Over these many years we've refurbished older diesel buses in order to extend their life but now even the electric components on those buses have worn out making our trolleys outdated, unreliable and a lot more expensive to operate," said Kevin Desmond, General Manager of Metro Transit.
In the SODO Tuesday, Metro also unveiled what future buses could look like: an all-electric bus prototype that doesn't need to run on wires, the 40-foot Proterra Catalyst.
Other cities have been running shorter versions but Seattle will be one of the first to have this kind. It can cost between $600,000 and $800,000.
"The goal is to bring the cost of this technology down to the point where it's cost competitive with diesel hybrid and the cost competitive with diesel. This is not a technology that's going to take years to pay back against the conventional alternative," said Ryan Popple, Chief Executive Officer for manufacturer Proterra. We're seeing the prices of the batteries in particular go down so quickly that we think these will be quite quickly cheaper than diesel hybrid and then in the long-term cheaper than diesel as well."
The new 38-seat buses can travel a minimum of 23 miles between charges but take 10 minutes to charge. There's a charging station set up now at the Eastgate Park-and-Ride.
"If you want to go really far you've got to take a long time to charge," said Leo Hrechanyk, the Vehicle Procurement Administrator for King Co. Metro. "If we're going to use this is transit service and not affect route schedules then we need to be able to charge fast and go the distance that a route needs."
King County Executive Dow Constantine believes going all electric could play a role in meeting a larger goal.
"A goal of achieving an all green transit fleet by 2018 meaning all electric or hybrid electric vehicles," Constantine said.
Metro will get a few of the buses to start testing early next year. Riders will likely see them in service around springtime.