Wellington Scoop

NZ First wants to keep the trolley buses, and build light rail to the airport

NZ First has stated that it would retain Wellington’s trolley buses and renew the buses’ electricity supply. It also says it wants Wellington Airport served by light rail.

Denis O’Rourke, NZ First’s transport spokeperson, makes these statements in an interview published in this month’s issue of Logistics and Transport NZ, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport. The magazine asked for his party’s views on New Zealand’s transport for the future.

The same question was asked of all the other political parties. But NZ First was the only one to be specific about the needs of Wellington.

Here’s what he says:

New Zealand First has a firm commitment for excellent quality public transport services for the major population centres … We will make greater use of the Land Transport Fund and other sources of revenue including direct Government grants to ensure that public transport is well resourced.

We support the full development of the Auckland City Rail Link System as soon as possible; we would retain the Wellington electric trolley bus service and would renew its electricity supply; and we want to see Auckland Airport served soon with a passenger heavy rail link through Puhinui, and the Wellington and Christchurch Airports served with light rail. There would be a long-term strategic plan for electrification of rail and public transport services.

New Zealand First would also empower regional councils with the authority to levy regional fuel taxes, to be replaced as soon as possible by efficient road pricing mechanisms, to provide the means for both funding regional transport needs (and to take the pressure off rates) and to facilitate demand management objectives. Overall we would require the strategic selection of the modes of the modes of public transport in any region to give funding priority to the most efficient longterm best cost/benefit systems, taking into account the full range of real costs including externalities and also of wider socio-economic benefits.

Transport economist Neil Douglas comments:

If NZ First gets enough seats, then they could make trolley bus retention and upgrade of the power supply a condition of supporting a National or Labour Government, with detailed project planning via a tender to the private sector for light rail to Wellington Airport starting immediately. This would be the Canberra solution whereby we could get light rail in five years, and paid for by Central Government.


  1. Piglet, 27. June 2017, 10:46

    Thank you Denis O’Rourke for making NZ First’s transport policies for Wellington crystal clear. Your commitment to saving our trolley buses and building LRT to the airport is great. I hope your announcements make Wellington transport an election issue. What do Labour and National propose to solve Wellington’s worsening congestion, diesel pollution and carbon emissions? I think the only way we’ll save our trolleys and get LRT built is with central government funding or with a regional petrol tax which I note NZ First also proposes with the funds earmarked for public transport.

  2. Daryl Cockburn, 27. June 2017, 11:12

    A natural development of NZ First’s enormously successful Gold Card
    Because it is so rational, and with heaps of best international practice precedence, Gareth Morgan’s Ops Party will doubtless have identical policies

  3. Yvonne Weeber, 27. June 2017, 13:36

    Yes to light rail in Wellington. Glad two parties support it with the Greens supporting light rail too. However I am concerned NZ First dosent realise it has been the Regional Council’s decision to stop the Trolley buses.

  4. That’s a positive commitment from NZ First on transport: ” we would retain the Wellington electric trolley bus service and would renew its electricity supply … and the Wellington and Christchurch Airports served with light rail. “

  5. Tim Jones, 27. June 2017, 15:02

    Well done, NZ First! I’d like to see these commitments at least matched by NZ First’s potential coalition partners.

  6. Robin Campbell, 27. June 2017, 17:45

    The Green Party supports light rail to the airport in principle and we also support keeping the trolley buses. We’d like to see the trolleys retained at least until they can be replaced with fully electric buses.

    Here is a statement by our Green Party local government candidates last year: and some coverage from the Dom Post.

    And here is one by Wellington spokesperson Gareth Hughes MP, about the trolley buses: https://www.greens.org.nz/news/press-release/wellington-don%E2%80%99t-ditch-trolley-buses.

    We intend to announce our detailed plan for Wellington transport later in the election campaign.

  7. Michael, 27. June 2017, 19:48

    It is heartening reading all of the comments above regarding NZ First and the Green Party. But it doesn’t really matter what they say as the deal for diesel buses has been signed and this is what we are stuck with, unless there is some way it can be stopped, which I doubt. Where were they when all of this was being mooted, why was there not much stronger political and council opposition? The public made it clear enough what they thought. These parties can announce their plans to get votes but can or will they cancel the contracts?

  8. Kerry, 27. June 2017, 20:09

    The best bit is at the end: “…require the strategic selection of …public transport in any region to give funding priority to the most efficient longterm best cost/benefit systems, taking into account the full range of real costs including externalities and also of wider socio-economic benefits.

    Policy is stuck in the 1960s, making unwarranted and even looney tunes assumptions to hold it all together. In the 1980s a roading project needed a BCR of at least 3.5. When they ran out of projects that could deliver, BCR was supplemented by two other factors. Since 2009 we have had ‘economic efficiency’ (BCR), ‘effectiveness’ and ‘strategic fit.’ All three are rated as ‘high’, ‘medium’ and ‘low’ and the combined score gives the priority. An important factor is whether it is a RoNS, but methods are complex, and vague. Economist Michael Pickford calls is double-counting (Policy Quarterly, Aug 2013).

    Another controlling factor is that the Minister allocates the proportion of funding that goes into each type of expenditure, and sustainability is constantly near the bottom. And worst of all, the money doesn’t go to projects having greater benefits, such a modernising KiwiRail locomotives or ferries, let alone schools.

  9. paul bruce, 27. June 2017, 22:11

    Congratulations to NZ First which has stated clearly that it would retain Wellington’s trolley buses and renew the buses’ electricity supply.

    Let’s be clear – contracts have yet to be signed for the east/west route, where most of the trolley buses run. The incumbent, NZBus appears to be floundering around with a proposed diesel hybrid alternative utilising Wrightspeed technology. Zero emission trolley buses are still the most cost-effective electric public alternative, according to European sources. The Regional Council has yet to conduct a proper business case for their retention. – see my blog.

    A public meeting is being planned for Thursday 27th July 5.30pm at the Sustainability Trust.

  10. TrevorH, 28. June 2017, 8:15

    Who needs an expensive, disruptive and vulnerable rail system? China has unveiled a self-driving train that runs on virtual tracks. It’s operating now in Central Hunan. This should be investigated for Wellington.

  11. Russell Tregonning, 28. June 2017, 9:11

    NZ First policy on Wellington trolleys and Light rail is so enlightened–joining the Greens in ‘getting’ it for public transport transformation in Wellington.
    I am writing from Zurich–surrounded by trolleys and travelling on light rail. Why would a city like Wellington plan anything else? Zurich resembles Wellington in many ways–a flat CBD around a body of water with hilly suburbs: CBD not as dense as Wellington although overall population higher in the wider Zurich area. Many European cities with populations smaller than Wellington have successful light rail– overall population is less important than density along the route.
    We have a once-in-a lifetime (and more) opportunity to get Wellington’s public transport right–the city’s health and global climate change considerations demand NZ First’s solution. Let’s Get Wellington Moving must put light rail in its scenarios.

  12. Robert Miles, 28. June 2017, 11:53

    There are certain basic factors determining the likely success and economics of public transport- the competition, fare and recovery levels, frequency, etc. With electric passenger transport, at least up until now, much of the economics is determined by the number of substations, which are required every 7 miles of wire with old DC electric systems like Wellington trolley buses and rail units and 50 miles with Auckland type AC electrification. So with the trolley buses the maximum mileage for a modernised system would be 20/21 miles with a bit of off wire running on recharged batteries already fitted, which might be increased – but nevertheless the system would have to be rethought and simplified. So becasue of the cost of wires and light rail track and the disruption of servicing and installation, I incline to favour one-way Portland style route structures, partly in Wellington and substantially in Chrsitchurch.

  13. Neil Douglas, 28. June 2017, 15:30

    Trevor, I agree we can learn from China: Wellington has an electric transport system running on virtual tracks and expertly driven by local people. It’s called a trolley bus. There is a system in Shanghai too. They considered battery buses but kept their trolley bus system as Plan B. Good job too as Plan A didn’t work so they reverted to Plan B.

    Let’s shout our Regional Councillors a trip to Shanghai (one way) so they can see how the Chinese run their bus system.

  14. Nick Lambrechtsen, 28. June 2017, 16:05

    Good on NZFirst and Paul Bruce of the Greens who has been campaigning for the retention of the trolleybuses for a long time. GWRC has been stuck in the 1960s and does not want to acknowledge the scholarly report by Allan Neilson about the true costs of electricity supply upgrade for the trolleybuses, see http://img.scoop.co.nz/media/pdfs/1512/Wgtn_trolley_bus_electrical_infrastructure_review_A_Neilson_draft_1412…2.pdf
    That 2015 report was rubbished by Laidlaw, Swain, Campbell and Hastie out of hand, although none of them appears to have the technical expertise to do so. When will GWRC produce its analysis?
    Wellington should join the transport examples of modern European cities.

  15. Victor Davie, 28. June 2017, 19:01

    The Regional Council remains asleep at the wheel. The Wellington City Council should hold them to account and seek support from the Government to retain all trolley routes pending a thorough peer reviewed air analysis of Willis Street at peak times.

  16. TrevorH, 29. June 2017, 7:51

    @Neil Douglas: I heartily endorse the one way ticket suggestion. Just what is the “value-added” delivered by the Regional Council? I see our GWRC rates are increasing by over 5% this year yet every intervention they make on transport is a stuff-up. I agree we should keep the trollies and upgrade the system.

  17. Keith Flinders, 29. June 2017, 10:03

    Currently there isn’t any interest from WCC councillors to push the case to retain the trolley buses, and some continue to spout the misinformation generated by the GWRC in 2014 when the decision away made to get rid of low noise pollution free electric transport.

    Certainly there are some costs involved with some upgrading to the trolley bus infrastructure but these are less than the $10 million to pull it down. The cost of added pollution has NOT been factored into the impact of an all diesel fleet. Had a business case study been done in 2014, these added costs might have influenced the decision. Extremely poor governance by the GWRC that allowed the ideas of a few to be rushed through without due diligence. I asked three times of the WCC as to what pollution monitoring there is in place along the Golden Mile but have not received any information. The reason is that there isn’t any. There is a pollution monitoring facility in Willis Street near its intersection with Vivian, a location that isn’t representative of the CBD conditions.

    The long term cost of getting rid of electric public transport is massive in terms of health of citizens. The GWRC and WCC continue to ignore the damage to health diesel emissions are doing. They are both well out of step unlike enlightened councils around the world including some in countries we think as being 3rd world.

    Some Chinese cities having considered or used battery buses are going to trolley buses that offer the best value, and are fast to implement. Trolley buses that can run also off wire are an option too. European cities are not rushing to get rid of their trolley bus systems and are expanding routes as well as doing same with light rail (trams).

  18. Conn Sheehan, 29. June 2017, 20:08

    Well done NZ First, The only mainstream party to champion for the full retention of clean, green, electric public transport and this is before the election bull rush starts. I now hope the trolleybuses are kept with a new electricity supply without its current middlemen structure. Bring on the overseas sourcing of purchasing new low-floor trolleybuses for the next twenty years reliability for Wellington public transport.

  19. Libby Grant, 30. June 2017, 6:47

    Excellent news from NZ First. Great that it has the guts to come out with a policy that includes wider socioeconomic benefits in the mix and includes the externalities. I totally agree with Russell: health and climate change must come first, every transport policy must start from there, that way the true costs would have to be accounted for. Central government has a duty to support councils to achieve the best outcome for their populations, and let’s not forget it is our money they are squandering on absurd follies like the proposed East-West link in Auckland and the Kapiti expressway with a BCR of 0.2. While we are at it let’s reframe this debate in terms of mobility and access, not transport: it’s about everyone, regardless of age or ability, to be able to get around our cities easily, safely and in comfort. Diesel stinks, it’s noisy and pollutes the air we all breath. it has no place in any modern city’s mobility plan.

  20. TrevorH, 30. June 2017, 8:37

    @Russell Tregonning: Zurich is wealthier and larger than Wellington. From personal experience it’s also a very expensive place to stay.

  21. Grant Robertson, 30. June 2017, 18:30

    Labour will release our full transport policy very shortly, but what I can say is that I personally strongly support electric buses in Wellington. In the medium to long term these should be battery powered as that technology develops. We should retain the trolley buses in the meantime while the electric fleet is developed.

    I also remain a supporter of light rail across the city, initially to the hospital and then on to the Airport. The costings done at the time the decision was made for the Rapid Transit bus service proposal need to be re-assessed in light of new technology. I think we will find light rail is now a much more cost effective option. Whatever happens we have to ensure that we future proof the transport corridors to allow for light rail.

  22. Marion Leader, 1. July 2017, 7:31

    On this one it will be interesting to see how Andy Foster vies with the Labour people on the Council as he develops his interest in becoming an MP for New Zealand First. So far it’s about level I think.

  23. Michael, 1. July 2017, 17:28

    @Grant Robertson – it is all very well saying that Labour will release its transport policy soon, but where were all the politicians against diesel buses when GWRC decided to go ahead with this extremely unpopular, polluting, noisy option for Wellington. Will Labour break the contract for diesel buses and stop the removal of our trolley buses? This is all too little too late for Wellington residents and city workers, who will be exposed daily to the risks associated with pollution and noise. I guess that lots of politicians will be exposed to it as well . . . buts perhaps not . . . . do they use public transport or drive around in government cars?

  24. Esjay, 1. July 2017, 18:21

    OK, so the Greens fancy Light Rail. Who pays?

  25. Daryl Cockburn, 5. July 2017, 14:39

    Esjay, The same people pay as paid for the second road out of Tawa to Peka Peka. It will be finished 2020 for $2Bn. Not paid by rate payers

  26. Neil Douglas, 5. July 2017, 16:25

    Grant Robertson: Yes, Labour has had it so good in Wellington for so long it’s fallen asleep at the wheel and let GWRC dismantle our infrastructure and disenfranchise our bus drivers. Oh to be a marginal seat and get some pork barrel projects!

    And, what’s so great about battery powered buses anyhow? Have you been to Bolivia to see the extraction of lithium carbonate and considered the ecological costs of battery disposal? Spend a little on our trolleys and let’s do our bit to keep Bolivia beautiful!

  27. Mark Shanks, 6. July 2017, 11:58

    @ Daryl Cockburn – but Porirua ratepayers have to stump up over $30m for the link roads to Transmission Gully. Oops that is a heavy cost to swallow and it will cause indigestion for many years.

  28. Daryl Cockburn, 6. July 2017, 13:08

    And Esjay, I forgot to say everybody thinks our new $2B road will be a second road out of Wellington when the Big One strikes. But we won’t be able to cross the major faults to get to it.

  29. Traveller, 25. August 2017, 13:52

    Has NZFirst candidate Andy Foster stated his support for his party’s policy on light rail to the airport? I don’t recall him supporting such a plan during his years as a city councillor.

  30. Bob Bevan Smith, 1. September 2017, 22:50

    Has anyone considered hydrogen fuel-cell powered buses rather than diesels? Today’s hydrogen-powered buses have a non-stop operational duty time of over 18 hours, with a 10 minute refuelling time.
    Also, the latest Toyota Hydrogen-powered bus can also be used as a mobile generator for use in times of emergency/earthquake.
    Hydrogen can easily be made using electricity to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen. A 2016 US Department of Energy study found it 1.4 times more economic than diesel.
    London already has a number of hydrogen powered double-decker buses, and has committed to buying no more diesel powered buses.
    See http://blog.ballard.com/top-4-myths-about-hydrogen-powered-buses