As her reelection campaign enters its final month, Metropolitan King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles proposes to make Metro Transit buses all-electric by 2035, replace nearly 2,000 fossil-fuel vehicles with electric models and install more charging stations.
Abigail Doerr, Kohl-Welles’ challenger in the northwest Seattle District 4 race, has already suggested 2028 as the goal for electric-bus replacement in her campaign, along with increased Metro bus service countywide.
The Kohl-Welles plan, nicknamed Jump Start, is expected to be filed Wednesday, along with a proposal by Councilmember Rod Dembowski of northeast Seattle to promote green jobs, and a plan by Councilmember Claudia Balducci of Bellevue to assist other governments and the community to monitor and cut carbon pollution in half by 2030.
The proposals by Kohl-Welles and Doerr would accelerate a 2040 goal proposed by County Executive Dow Constantine to replace 1,400 diesel-hybrid buses with rechargeable electric vehicles.
Metro unveiled some early strategies in June, to test battery powered buses on hills, equip a Tukwila bus base with electric chargers, and place electric bus orders soon with New Flyer, Proterra or BYD companies.
Metro operates 11 Proterra rapid-charging buses that circulate from Eastgate Transit Center.
Doerr said Kohl-Welles is clearly responding to Doerr’s campaign efforts backing transit and clean energy, which she says younger voters are demanding.
“This is awesome. This is why I ran, to push elected officials to take stronger action,” said Doerr. “I think this is an election year stunt.”
Kohl-Welles said, “I would be doing it if I weren’t in a campaign right now. We all need to get engaged with this, all of us.”
Costs and funding sources for the new bills aren’t identified. Possible revenue sources might include a state carbon tax or a voter-approved expansion of Seattle’s $60 car-tab fee for transit to include the entire county.
Kohl-Welles predicted the council would figure out costs and a funding strategy next year, if her goals are approved.
Other obstacles have yet to be fully analyzed. Metro’s more conservative 2040 timeline was intended in part to wring a full 15-year life from existing diesel-hybrid buses. Rechargeable buses cost around $1 million each for 40-footers, and $1.4 million for articulated 60-footers. Most of the cost is covered by federal grants.
Kohl-Welles said she was inspired by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg and recent worldwide demonstrations against climate change, to file the legislation now while people are paying attention.
From her seat on Public Health Seattle & King County board she’s heard health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin say “climate change is the most serious health threat currently facing mankind.” NASA reports global temperatures have risen 1 degree Celsius, and scientists believe the increase will exceed 2 degrees Celsius this century unless humanity reduces emissions.
Doerr led the winning Sound Transit 3 campaign in 2016 to expand light-rail, and has worked for the Transportation Choices Coalition, a pro-transit nonprofit supported by transportation agencies and contractors, among others.
Kohl-Welles has supported transit over the years, and from 2002-05 served on the board of the Seattle Monorail Project, which attempted to build an electric train route from Ballard to West Seattle.
The legislation by Dembowski requests that the executive write a proposal and budget for a “green jobs pipeline” that features apprenticeship opportunities. That might include an electric-motor mechanics program, he said, similar to the diesel-mechanics program at Lake Washington Technical College.
His bill also calls for more carbon sequestration to confine gases that exacerbate climate change. In King County that likely means planting more trees, rather than injecting CO2 into the ground. The county already operates project to plant 1 million trees by 2020.