King County is going electric with 100 battery buses

Jan 10, 2017, 2:36 PM
metro, electric...
King County purchased 100 electric buses in 2017 to start its transition to an all electric bus fleet. (King County)
(King County)

In the 1970s, King County introduced transit buses with wheelchair lifts. In the ’90s, Metro introduced diesel hybrid buses, which were better on fuel and the environment. And today, King County Metro will make another major change to its bus fleet — battery buses. Metro is going electric.

That’s the example laid out by King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski as King County Metro Transit announced Tuesday that it is moving its transit system toward an all-electric fleet. The transition starts with the purchase of 100 battery buses. It will make the Seattle region the largest transit system using the electric vehicles in the nation.

Related: Seattle considers electric bicycles for its bike share

“The other transit agencies look to us for leadership,” Dembowski said, noting that Metro is among the 10 largest transit systems in America. “They’re cleaner, they’re quieter, they’re cost effective and we are going to be the national leader of deploying electric buses.

“We are going to make a major investment in that direction by acquiring more than 100 all battery buses — zero emission buses — to put in our fleet,” he added. “And by the year 2020, just three years out, that will make us the largest fleet operator in the country of battery buses.”

Dembowski is the chair of King County’s transportation committee. In 2016, he introduced a motion to the county council to put King County Metro — the county’s transit operator — on a path toward a zero-emissions fleet. The motion passed. That means the county’s transit system will eventually be carbon neutral. But it won’t happen all at once. Metro’s plan is to phase in the new battery buses to take over for the diesel hybrid buses currently in use.

Battery buses

Metro has been testing all-electric buses, aka battery buses, in the Eastgate area in Bellevue over the past year. Those buses were manufactured by Proterra. The electric buses have received some criticism during this period, but Dembowski says the battery buses were, overall, a success.

“They’ve proven very successful,” Dembowski said. “They are clean and quiet and cost effective. They cost less to operate than a diesel bus.”

But Dembowski notes that the current electric bus technology will be able to handle around 70 percent of Metro’s bus service. To cover the rest, the technology will have to improve, he said.

“As it improves over time, we hope to get to an all-electric, zero-emission fleet,” Dembowski said.

Each battery bus comes with a $750,000 price tag. Dembowski says that’s comparable with the current diesel hybrids, which run about $1 million each.

“What you got to also account for is the infrastructure to run them,” he said. “It takes a charging station and operating costs. Overall, they cost about the same as our current system to operate.

“And we’re not subject to volatile diesel prices,” Dembowski added. “Diesel prices are kind of low right now from a historical average. We’re paying about $2 a gallon. But in the past we’ve paid up to $5 a gallon. With the lower operating cost, we think we will be able to save dollars and deploy more service hours. It’s cleaner transit and it’s more transit.”

The manufacturer will deliver the electric buses as they are produced. Metro will phase in the battery buses as the current fleet ages out. Metro’s current diesel hybrid buses average about 12-15 years of use. After that, they are generally auctioned off for salvage. Instead of buying new diesel hybrid buses, one-by-one, the electric buses will take over.

King County Metro currently has about 1,400 diesel hybrid buses. But not for long.

“We have a very high level of confidence (electric buses) will meet our needs in an effective way,” Dembowski said. “They offer some benefits beyond zero emissions, which is really good. They are lighter weight — they don’t have a big diesel engine sitting over the back end. That means they aren’t as hard on our streets and roads … we actually think the impact to our city and rural roads will be lessened. They are also quieter … they actually have a lighter footprint overall.”

Dembowski hopes that King County’s move will put other transit agencies across the country on a similar path. As he pointed out with Metro’s previous implementation of hybrid buses and wheelchair accessible vehicles, Metro was an early adopter of next-level technology.

“When we make a commitment like this, other transit agencies follow,” Dembowski said. “When we make a purchase like this, it builds up the infrastructure of the companies that make these buses. And it sends a signal that we have confidence this technology can serve a transit system. So the positive benefits of this in terms of a cleaner environment and addressing climate change ripple, frankly, throughout the country and beyond our shores.”

Local News

MyNorthwest Staff

Amazon hiring for more than 500 positions at new sort center in Fife

A new Amazon facility in Fife, Washington, that's set to open later this month has starting hiring for more than 500 positions.
12 hours ago
Nicole Jennings

Rural Eastern Washington hospitals say no big losses in staffing post-vaccine mandate

Some of the rural Eastern Washington hospitals that were expected to have big losses after the vaccine mandate say things are going well.
12 hours ago
Climate Pledge Arena...
Associated Press

Climate Pledge Arena ready to get Kraken for hockey debut

The first event ever inside Climate Pledge Arena — whether it will be considered the official first event or not — was far from a soft opening.
1 day ago
Some of the located containers, captured by the US Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles helicopter....
KIRO 7 News Staff

Approximately 40 shipping containers adrift off Washington coast

Approximately 40 shipping containers were lost off a ship 43 miles west of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, according to the United States Coast Guard.
1 day ago
Kathryn Altena

Gov. Inslee, Washington groups prepare to welcome Afghan refugees

In the coming months, 1,400 Afghan refugees are expected to pass through the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport upon their arrival in Washington.
1 day ago
King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski...
Nick Bowman

King County Councilmember accused of history of ‘verbally abusive’ behavior toward female staff

King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski is facing accusations detailing a history of verbally abusive behavior toward female staff members.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles


Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
King County is going electric with 100 battery buses