Wellington Scoop

How to keep the trolley buses running

by Mike Flinn
The election has resulted in a Government which has a greater awareness of road transport’s role in reducing greenhouse gases and which says it wants change at a rate that will contribute to the target agreed in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Yet the Greater Wellington Regional Council intends to end trolleybus services at the end of this month, and replace them with diesel buses until next July, when the new PTOM contracts commence.

In this interim period the replacement diesel buses will have engines rated for emission standards between Euro 1 and Euro 6 which covers Nitrous Oxides and Particles (cancer related) but emissions of CO2 (greenhouse gases) are not affected and overall will increase.

Trolleybuses have Zero CO2, Particle or CO2 emissions. Zero emissions of Nitrous Oxides and Particles are particularly relevant in the Wellington CBD, where substantial numbers of people are exposed to them.

Reduction of greenhouse gases is a national issue as much as a local issue and is caused by all engines, petrol or diesel and all vehicles, not just buses.

After I July, the contract intentions from GWRC are to have diesel buses operating with Euro 5 or Euro 6 engines to minimise Nitrous Oxides and Particles (but greenhouse gas emissions will further increase).

The council proposes to introduce 40 higher-cost diesel double-deck diesel buses which usually have larger engines than single-deck buses and will create a higher volume of emission gases. (I have questioned the need for such buses, because peak hour passenger levels are insufficient for their introduction).

In addition, an order for 10 even higher-cost battery-electric double-deck buses has been announced. With the development of battery-electric buses being steady rather than fast, an order for such a fleet at this time can only be considered premature (and not needed … see above).

I and many others have criticised the GWRC’s intention and methods of ending trolleybus operation at the end of this month.**.

It is now accepted that the buses have a potential life to at least 2024 and with the generally good condition of the overhead lines, the main concern has been the power supply and its ability to have its life extended in a safe and reliable way at a reasonable cost. The DC Traction Power Engineer’s Report is the basis for supporting such an extension.

The trolleybuses have zero direct emissions of harmful and greenhouse gases and although battery-electric buses will eventually offer similar benefits, affordable and reliable versions are years away.

It would make sense to extend the trolleybus operating period until acceptable battery-electric buses are viable. The intention should be to save money by not ordering double deck buses, whether diesel or battery, and to use this saving to operate the trolleybuses in the meantime.

To achieve this, given current time scales, the following should be the targets:

1 Continue the operation of trolleybuses on all current routes until 1 July, to continue achieving the lowest emissions possible.

2 Extend the operation of trolleybuses on the routes to be operated by Go Wellington after I July until battery electric buses are viable and available. (These routes are Karori Park to Miramar/Seatoun and Railway Station to Lyall Bay, needing up to 40 trolleybuses).

3 Review bus storage requirements. Depot space will be at a premium with over 40 diesel buses being brought down from Auckland for the deadline at the end of this month. The extension of trolleybus operations would require a review of bus requirements and Go Wellington would be able to reduce its diesel fleet from July onwards to reduce space pressure.

4 An independent Review of GWRC’s vehicle purchasing policy from a need and a national transport perspective. (Does Wellington need double deck buses now and should there be a national development of battery electric buses?)

5 Plan for an extension of trolleybus operations after 1 July involving GWRC, NZ Bus, overhead lines and power supply contractors and establish funding for this extended period.

Mike Flinn was Deputy General Manager of Wellington City Transport from 1985 to 1990

** Why there’s no reason for getting rid of the trolleybuses this year.


  1. Mike Mellor, 23. October 2017, 19:18

    Good stuff, Mike, and the first thing that has to happen is stopping the wires being pulled down. That’s where GWRC (and WCC’s Wellington Cable Car Ltd) need to be leaned on from on high.

    Another issue is that operating the new Karori-Seatoun route with existing wiring will leave central Miramar with minimal bus service, and no off-peak or weekend buses beyond Kilbirnie (GWRC is already proposing to slash Miramar services by about 50%, more in the evenings). If the trolleys can’t have better off-wire performance, wiring through Miramar Cutting will be needed.

    And NZ Bus need to be persuaded to keep the remaining trolleys on the road.

    Over to the new government to apply some real pressure – please!

  2. David Bond, 24. October 2017, 12:32

    Shame it has to come to this, but highlights the abysmal quality of leadership in this area of late. Change is well overdue.

  3. Keith Flinders, 24. October 2017, 13:28

    About 750 metres of overhead line infrastructure will be required to route trolley buses through the Miramar cutting. Cost not much more than converting two trolley buses to Wrightspeed hybrid technology, technology which has yet to be seen operating in Wellington.

    Hopefully the new PM and her ministers will be quick to knock sense into the GWRC and WCC, to show that their talk during the election campaign is what they intend doing in respect of the environment. An easy initial start that won’t cost taxpayers mega millions.

    The citizens of Piatra Neamt, Romania, had their trolley bus system reinstated after the council closed the system down. Wellington can and should follow suit.

  4. Kerry, 24. October 2017, 16:17

    An interesting article at

    (in the UK) charging will be difficult at home because of bigger batteries and the answer will be fast-charge stations, with shopping or something, having a capacity of up to 3 MW

    How much of that could the trolley overhead provide?

  5. Michael, 24. October 2017, 20:00

    Well both the Greens and NZFirst said they would keep the trolley buses, so let’s see how serious they really were.

  6. Greenwelly, 24. October 2017, 22:32

    @michael, the new government is set to receive their ministerial warrants on Thursday, they have power from then…….

    Changing the GWRC bus contracting will take time, the best that can happen is for the WCC to agree to suspend the de-wiring…. until it’s clear what the new shape of policy will be.

  7. Stop Trexit, 25. October 2017, 9:49

    Greenwelly: it’s GWRC that needs to suspend de-wiring. WCC could serve some sort of ‘stop work’ order although this would be something out of character as up to now it’s done nothing to save our trolleys.

  8. Andrew, 26. October 2017, 23:30

    While I appreciate the sentiment, the practicalities of keeping even this element of the trolley bus network alive is difficult. What doomed the network is that the operator of a trolley bus needs to have enough spare off-wire bus capacity to account for maintenance downtimes on the network. With NZ Bus having lost much of the contract, it may not be viable for them to operate even if they wanted to. Secondly, other projects already in train expect the trolley poles to be removed, such as along Cobham Dr, where the new cycleway and footpath will no longer be impinged by the support posts. Thirdly, as noted a new section of wire would be needed for operation into Miramar via the cutting.

    Sadly it appears all a bit too late to ‘save the trolleys’. Investment in the buses themselves in the past decade to make the unwire/re-wire process less manual would have made a big difference, it seems mad that the bus has to be physically disconnected to ride-though a power outage. Likewise, if drivers did not drive in fear of a de-wire (have the bus just retract the poles on a motor and go to battery), they might drive them with moreconfidence and so not lose customer satisfaction.

    Sadly our best hope appears to be light rail.

  9. Peter Dunne, 27. October 2017, 14:42

    It may well be too late for the new Government to step in, but at the very least the Regional Council should delay to allow time for it to consider. [via twitter]

  10. Stop Trexit, 27. October 2017, 19:46

    Peter D: Its not a done deal until the wires are taken down so I hope you can use your political network to press the pause button at GWRC.

  11. Daryl Cockburn, 29. October 2017, 14:17

    Interesting that the trolleys are being removed because they can’t be competitively tendered. But Tranzit is owning the new electrics and charging stations for the battery-diesels, thereby repeating the trolley problem that one company has a monopoly on compatible equipment.

  12. NigelTwo, 29. October 2017, 18:03

    @Andrew, the only thing “mad” about this is the increase in particulate emissions. A hot summer night in Willis St or Lambton Qy won’t be very pleasant.

  13. Stop Trexit, 29. October 2017, 18:18

    Daryl: like a good architect always should, you seek logic in a plan, but for post TREXIT there is none. Tranzit might be ‘owning’ the charging stations (even though apparently it is GWRC that is seeking a resource consent from the WCC) but Wellington bus users, ratepayers and NZ petrol and Road User Charge payers will ultimately pay for the battery charging stations ($????) and the double decker buses ($900k each?) – otherwise Tranzit will go broke.

    So who dreamed up all this uncertainty and risk when the obvious answer was to maintain and invest in our 100% electric trolley bus system that does not need to lug heavy and combustible lithium carbonate batteries about? The great business wannabes of GWRC who can’t or won’t show us a logical financial and economic plan. And our pusillanimous GWRC Councillors just sucked it all up.


  14. Traveller, 29. October 2017, 18:25

    What’s the rush? Why will they be starting to pull down the wires on Tuesday night as soon as the last trolley bus ends its run? Are they scared of intervention that might stop their unpopular and ollogical plan? Logically, we could have at least eight months more of the trolley buses, rather than eight months of a hundred per cent diesel fleet…

  15. NigelTwo, 29. October 2017, 19:24

    @Traveller. Looks to me that it was timed to coincide with the “diversion” created by the glorious 4th term National Party (let the market decide) government.

  16. Stop Trexit, 29. October 2017, 20:15

    Well an 11th hour rescue attempt? Will the people in charge finally see sense?

  17. Rumpole, 29. October 2017, 23:51

    I’m surprised GWRC haven’t caused a diversion to enable them to terminate our trolley buses without interruption. Free taxi vouchers would do the trick.