Wellington Scoop

Sad about the trolley buses?

The top half of today’s strange advertisement from MetLink

by Lindsay Shelton
The Regional Council’s MetLink is today spending our money to tell us that it really loves Wellington’s trolley buses, even though they’re all being taken off our roads by the end of this month.

In a strange fullpage advertisement in this morning’s DomPost, MetLink says that the demise of the trolley buses is “sad news.”

The same words were used by the chair of the Regional Council’s sustainable transport committee, Cr Barbara Donaldson. She voted to get rid of the trolley buses, but yesterday when she announced their final days she said she will be sad to see them go …

“The trolley buses have been part of the fabric of Wellington for over sixty years and are as Wellington as the Beehive and Cable Car. It’s going to be sad to not see them travelling our streets anymore…”

The same message is delivered, somewhat cloyingly, in the MetLink advertisement (which describes the trolleys as “our iconic friends”):

we are truly grateful to the trolley buses for carrying us into the 21st century and will remember them as a pioneer of sustainable urban transport.

There’s more:

Here’s to the legendary trolley buses and their wonderful drivers. You’ve captured the hearts of Wellingtonians and taken us on thousands of joyful journeys.

MetLink promises a better future without the legendary trolley buses (and with no more joyful journeys?):

… a better more reliable transport service while ensuring the spirit of sustainability lives on by helping to lower our overall emissions.

But it’s a dubious claim. Its timing is awry. For at least six months after the trolley buses have gone, Wellington will have nothing but diesel buses, which will do nothing except help to increase our overall emissions. Sad indeed.

And when the new buses arrive in the middle of next year, only ten will be electric powered. The rest – diesel.

Today’s advertisement repeats the disputed claim that “it just became too expensive to maintain and upgrade the overhead wires.” As MetLink deals with its feelings of sadness, it should remind itself that only a few years ago the same wires won a prestigious national award for engineering excellence.

Three years ago, engineer Kerry Wood provided analysis showing the costs of keeping the trolley buses would be less than replacing them:

• Modernising the trolley infrastructure is about a third cheaper than upgrading, because the system can be optimised: around $34 million instead of $52 million.
• Closing the trolleys will cost nearly $20 million. A fair comparison would add this to the cost of replacement diesels, a total of $42 million: modernised trolleys would be about 20% cheaper.
• Trolley systems are seeing a renaissance as diesel costs rise, climate change kicks in and the health risks from diesel emissions are better understood.

These arguments were convincingly repeated this year by Mike Flinn, a former general manager of Wellington City Transport, in a submission to the Regional Council.

And less than two years ago, Ian Shearer had a really good idea:

The trolley buses have been refurbished and are high capacity vehicles able to provide many more years of service. There are enough trolleys to operate at least one of the longer routes, and the wires are already installed – such as Karori to Island Bay, or Miramar. … Please allow the people of Wellington to join with the council to buy them back and run them as a separate community owned company. We can do this.

The Regional Council and MetLink may claim that they’re feeling sad, but they weren’t having a bar of such a constructive idea.


  1. Stop Trexit, 4. October 2017, 16:26

    Showing a grim old trolley is a true marketing wheeze from the GWRC. The ones that are getting the chop are modern buses that could have been superb with a spruce up. Compare and contrast with the farting old diesels that are replacing them. Oh the stupidity and sadness of the decision.

  2. Traveller, 4. October 2017, 18:49

    The advertisement is written cynically, as if they’re gloating about getting rid of the trolley buses that so many people wanted to be retained. Did regional councillors approve of such a message being published?

  3. luke, 4. October 2017, 22:08

    One way to wreck the golden mile: more diesel emissions. You will just about need a gas mask to walk safely along there once the trolleys are replaced with clapped out Howick&Eastern Auckland rejects bearing a Metlink sticker.

  4. Susan Says, 5. October 2017, 8:12

    Another marketing gem from the GWRC to spin their decision to embrace diesel and pollute our environment. Pretty iconic eh?

  5. Dave Armstrong, 5. October 2017, 9:15

    Farewell trolley buses and welcome diesel ones. You will forever ride on in our lungs. [via twitter]

  6. Patrick Morgan, 5. October 2017, 10:24

    Hey @greaterwgtn can you explain how those 20-year old ex-Auckland diesel buses I now see in Wellington are reducing emissions?
    This statement on GWRC’s website is unconvincing: “Over time we hope to reach our goal of being the first region in New Zealand to have an all-electric fleet”

  7. Chris Horne, 5. October 2017, 16:54

    Metlink, on behalf of the Regional Council, must’ve paid a massive sum derived from our rates to pay for the advertisement, so it could weep crocodile tears at its ill-considered scrapping of our emissions-free trolley buses.

    I’m drowning in the council’s flood of tears:
    1. at the scrapping of the pollution-free, almost noiseless trolley buses,
    2. at the council’s waste of the investment in the buses which were built to last until 2022,
    3. at the failure of the Regional Council to move swifly to an all-electric bus fleet, as part of the capital city’s compliance with NZ’s ratification of the 2015 Paris Agreement which compels us to slash CO2 emissions.

  8. Ian Shearer, 5. October 2017, 22:43

    Thanks for remembering my earlier comment Lindsay. I look forward to the day when we can once again invest our superannuation investments into our city infrastructure. Our economic system madness has to be stopped before it drags us all into the mire of degeneration.

    This advert was a sad and cynical distortion of the facts. GW spin on this issue is an example of PR gone mad. The advert is specifically designed to put one finger up the thousands of trolley bus supporters, and the drivers who will lose wages or their jobs.

    Spin: “taking down the overhead wires” which are “too expensive to maintain and upgrade” is rubbish – 90% of the overhead wires had been renewed and upgraded by Wellington Cable Car Ltd over the last 5 years. What a waste.

    Spin: “no changes to the current timetable” …. until slow loading times for the double deckers will require changes.

    Spin: “better, more reliable public transport service”. Unlikely to be achieved.

    Spin: “while ensuring the spirit of sustainability lives on” while throwing on the scrapheap trolley buses with at least 10 years life left in them.

    Spin: “helping to lower our overall emissions” – by putting back the electric fleet by at least 10 years.

    Spin: “carrying us into the 21st Century” by moving us back into the 20th century of fossil fuel pollution.

  9. Daryl Cockburn, 7. October 2017, 19:44

    Trolleys are Stage 1 toward having light rail on the main line(s). if we can’t save the trolleys with their existing infrastructure how can we ever get trams? I’m sure NZ First will make it a condition of support for whichever party. Andy Foster will be remembered for it, just like Winston for the Gold Card

  10. Michael, 8. October 2017, 11:33

    @ Patrick Morgan: I totally agree. I resent the fact that, courtesy of the GWRC, Wellington gets Auckland’s hand me downs while they get a new flash transport system. I live in the inner city and the ex Auckland buses are shocking. So far the buses I have seen are not well maintained and are extremely noisy and smelly. I dread to think what it is going to be like when over a hundred more arrive.

    Why is it we have to be second best? We are the capital city of New Zealand but will look more third world with a fleet of old rundown buses polluting the city and its residents. I find it hard to believe that this was allowed to happen. And, so much for clean green New Zealand.

  11. City Lad, 8. October 2017, 13:04

    Noisy fume belching diesels are acceptable to the GWRC and the City Council. They haven’t conducted air pollution tests on the Willis Street main bus route. Public health doesn’t concern them. Wake-up councillors!

  12. Casey, 11. October 2017, 14:44

    $11 million is the rumoured cost to pull down the trolley bus overhead wires. This does not include removal of the poles. NZTA are apparently contributing to half the cost, so here we have tax and rate payers contributing the cost to have more pollution to impact the health of us all.

    Wellington has become the butt of many unkind jokes thanks to the incompetence of the GWRC. No city in the world is going from electric to diesel public transport. A town in Romania tried to do the same, and due to public pressure put the trolley buses back in service.

    $11 million will pay the wages of 55 workers for a year including their overhead costs. Methinks that someone has the decimal point in the wrong place. Some years ago a Booze Allen report had the figure at $750,000 to decommission the trolley infrastructure, and if adjusted to 2017 costs would be $1.1 million, or about 6 workers for 10 months. Put another way $11 million works out at $135,000 per km of overhead wires to be removed. An unbelievable sum.

    The copper from the lines belongs to Wellington City ratepayers, so is its scrap value going into city coffers ?

    [Writing three years ago, Kerry Wood said the cost of getting rid of the trolley buses would be about $20m.]

  13. Sally Evers, 30. October 2017, 7:28

    There is still an opportunity for the GWRC to correct their folly and save the trolley!
    Great that there is government partnership commitment to force a rethink -or at least time to do so.