Wellington Scoop

The last trolley bus, and some ridiculous claims

by Brent Efford
Despite green opposition, much public indignation and even hints of a legal challenge which came to naught, the official end of Wellington’s electric bus service is set down for 31 October.

However my hunch is that the last trolleybus will down poles some days beforehand, and this will be confirmed only after the event. That way, embarrassing (for the Regional Council) demonstrations will be avoided and the all-diesel downtown passenger transport environment (which already rules on weekends) will become the accepted norm.

One overseas comment has come in a personal email from Tom Matoff, the top US transit consultant who prepared pro-bono a report on light rail on the Johnsonville Line in 2013. (Tom was once planning manager of the San Francisco Muni, the largest operator of trolleybuses in North America):

I am troubled by the ridiculous claims being made in the Wellington trolleybus controversy. Much of it seems to be nonsense. An electrical utility claiming that it is dangerous to replace substations? If they believe that they shouldn’t be in the electrical business. I am puzzled that the discussion is so primitive. Battery buses have been around for a while, and may be suitable for limited demand service on lines with light duty cycles, but they are not appropriate for big city prime-time heavy-duty service

Tom lives a short distance from a number of small Californian cities which have installed token quantities of battery buses from BYD and Proterra for that “limited demand service”.

But here in Wellington, with zero local experience of battery buses in any form, we are promised not only “prime time heavy duty service” – double deckers running from Island Bay to Johnsonville – but also eventually a ‘100% electric’ bus fleet using just battery vehicles. This has not been achieved by any public transport operator anywhere, other than one or two of the very smallest.

But the promise has been made, though it was apparently greenwash used to trick the gullible into believing that junking a young trolleybus fleet would turn out environmentally OK in the end.

Our mission, now that the end of the 100% electric buses is inevitable, must be to hold the Regional Council to its promise. There are many developments in the field going on, but how many will be proven and how many will be just PR ballyhoo (as the Wrightspeed system, which got the GWRC in an excited spin when the junking of the trolleys was first announced, appears to be) remains to be seen. (The Wrightspeed gas turbine system, of course, would not even be zero-emission, just zero-particulate, in any case.)

Brent Efford is the NZ Agent for the Light Rail Transit Association.


  1. Splanned, 12. October 2017, 17:01

    Lord Deben of the UK seems to agree- criticising GWRC’s decision.

  2. Conn G, 12. October 2017, 21:14

    I wish a group of prominent Wellingtonians could quickly form a legal / scientific challenge to GWRC’s early decision of scrapping the Wellington trolleybus system prematurely. They have promised new globally unproven technology in battery-powered buses, none of which have arrived. Instead they have been filling up the bus spaces with second hand ex-Auckland diesels. The 100% clean electric powered trolleybuses are now heading to the junkyard as scrap, years before they are obsolete. GWRC’s shortsighted expensive money action, will cost in the millions for Wellington ratepayers. Does NZ need this tier of local government when the incompetence and arrogance of the elected members fails to adhere to the wishes of ratepayers?

  3. Stop Trexit, 19. October 2017, 8:00

    Conn G – Yes abolish GWRC and replace by a Transport Board (as it was before 1990). Not only would this save millions of dollars in bureaucracy but more importantly it would stop the long list of bad decisions by uninformed Regional Councillors, the latest of which is the irrational axing of our environmentally friendly trolley buses.

  4. Velcro, 21. October 2017, 17:27

    The hybrid buses, when they arrive, will be a vast improvement on the clunky, inefficient and high maintenance trolley buses. And getting rid of the overhead lines will be a visual improvement

    We deliver uncompromising power in heavy-duty frequent-stop drive cycles. We have designed our own motor, motor controller, clutchless transmission, and vehicle dynamics software, as well as our own multi-fuel turbine generator, the Wrightspeed Fulcrum™. Our Wrightspeed GTD™ is an exceptionally high-power, compact, and lightweight drive system. Together, the Wrightspeed Fulcrum™ and the Wrightspeed GTD™ reduce fuel consumption, emissions, and noise pollution. And, with fewer moving parts and drastically reduced brake wear, maintenance costs also go down. That’s why we were recognized by the World Economic Foundation as a 2016 Technology Pioneer.

  5. Conn G, 23. October 2017, 6:44

    Wellington must not ditch their proven, clean environmentally friendly 100% electrical traction run Trolleybuses, which currently are being upgraded, modernised and reintroduced around the world. Replacing Trolleybuses with a globally unproven modified internal combustion engine run bus would be both backward and a financially disastrous decision.

  6. Mike Mellor, 23. October 2017, 19:24

    Velcro: could you tell us where we can see the Wrightspeed system in action? As I understand it the Wellington prototype hasn’t been seen on the road yet – it’s over a year late.