Wellington Scoop

Why the rush to an all-diesel bus fleet?


The Regional Council will be asked on Tuesday to delay its decision to pull all Wellington’s trolley buses off the roads. It’s a last-ditch effort – Tuesday is also the date set by the council to end all trolley bus services.

Cr Sue Kedgley says the council should delay doing anything irreversible till the new Government has had a chance to look at it.

Wellington.Scoop readers are familiar with the arguments in favour of keeping the trolley buses. Kerry Wood and Mike Flinn and Ian Shearer have been some of the experts who have written constructively in support. But the Regional Council (which voted in 2014 to get of the trolley buses) has not been persuaded.

It has also set a schedule for pulling down the overhead wires – starting on Wednesday. Why such a rush? The work is controlled by Wellington Cable Car Ltd, whose Chief Executive Officer Simon Fleisher says:

The overhead network needs to be removed sooner rather than later because it needs regular maintenance, can be a hazard to over-height vehicles, and can complicate other construction and maintenance work in the city centre.

Which hardly sounds like a matter of urgency. In the same press release, the Regional Council’s chief executive Greg Campbell says it’s time to look to new environmentally-friendly technology:

“Next year the region will get a new fleet of low-emission diesels, as well as 10 electric double-deckers … The new fleet will result in an immediate drop in harmful emission levels – 38 per cent in Wellington and 86 per cent in the Hutt Valley, where older buses operate.”

But that’s not till July. For the next eight months, the Regional Council’s plan will give Wellington a 100 per cent diesel fleet, including some unwanted buses from Auckland.

The consequences are described by a Wellingtonian who lives next to the terminus of route 11, with the bus stop across the road from his house:

In the past, there have been times when the noise and fumes from diesel buses loudly idling as they wait at the stop has caused significant impact but … the predominant use of trolley buses in the main ameliorated the total effect… Since the abandonment of the trolley buses, the effect of 18 hours a day of diesel buses directly in front of my house is significant. The net effect (resonant vibrations across the house, with peaks of 85dB at the front door) is to cause real disruption to our lives and our ability to rest. It has significant impact as I am a commercial airline pilot working a shift pattern and responsible for being rested to safely fly hundreds of passengers daily… This is separate from the measurable rise in exhaust fumes, the toxic loading that carries and causal effect upon the health of the many young children who live nearby.

and more

To say that new buses will arrive in July 2018, a full 8 months away, is woefully inadequate. The effect at nighttime on the residents is significant with the house windows taking on a vibration that causes rattling, making sleep impossible, The likely impact to me in my profession has been highlighted already; other residents are equally affected and the impact on the development of the 10 children in the immediate vicinity of the bus terminus will potentially have significant long term learning and epidemiological outcomes.

Two issues are clear.

The first is the next eight months with an all-diesel bus fleet running everywhere in Wellington.

The second is the longer-term value of the trolley buses, which have a working life extending as far as 2024.

But will regional councillors – a majority of whom come from outside Wellington – be willing to reconsider either of these issues? And will the new government (with two of the coalition partners wanting to retain the trolley buses) move fast enough to stop the trolley buses being pulled off the roads?

UPDATE. The Regional Council refused to reconsider. Wellington’s trolley buses have been replaced by an all-diesel bus fleet.


  1. luke, 30. October 2017, 16:20

    the haste to get rid of them smells like dirty politics to me.

  2. John, 30. October 2017, 17:49

    The negatives around trolleys could be largely eliminated by using in-motion charging (IMC) which combines the advantages of trolley and battery buses. IMC does not appear to have been considered by Greater Wellington, but would be superior for the constrained Golden Mile.

    More information on IMC is included in this link. Sometimes it is referred to as a ‘bridging technology’ which is exactly what we need in Wellington to make the transition from the current zero emission fleet to battery buses. Better to have this technology than dozens of polluting diesels. IMC technology should be considered to retrofit the existing trolleys.

    In the meantime I recommend that you attend the Sustainable Transport Committee Meeting at 1:30pm on Tuesday afternoon to express your view.

  3. Simon Johnson, 30. October 2017, 21:16

    “low-emissions diesel” is surely the most outrageous oxymoron since “military intelligence”.

  4. Michael Gibson, 31. October 2017, 7:28

    1/ Re “in-motion charging” even my six-year-old grandson knows that their family’s electric car is charging when it goes downhill.
    2/ I wonder how many Councillors will be using public transport to get to their meeting today?

  5. KB, 31. October 2017, 8:56

    It’s a shame to be scrapping the trolleys before an all battery fleet is available – pretty boneheaded to be going for more diesel.

    Having said that, I’m guessing the trolley wires need to be gone before the double deckers enter service? As in the wires would be too low for them to avoid?

  6. Sarah Free, 31. October 2017, 9:32

    Imagine an enquiry in the future as to how the trolleys were lost? When we have a new Govt & 2 out of 3 coalition partners want to save them. [via twitter]

  7. Mike Mellor, 31. October 2017, 9:42

    KB: double-deckers operate perfectly well under the trolley wires, as demonstrated by The English Rose’s red buses, the yellow buses that used to operate the City Circular service, and InterCity and Mana long-distance buses.

    Another comment suggested that the poles need to be removed for projects like the Cobham Drive walkway/cycleway. Again not true: most poles will be remaining because they’re required for street lights, other wires, or for signage.

  8. Councillor Sarah Free, 31. October 2017, 10:13

    Also, the new electric double deckers will apparently run on the Johnsonville to Island Bay route so that doesnt explain the decision to start with dismantling Cobham Drive and Miramar

  9. John Rankin, 31. October 2017, 10:57

    A “bridging technology” that uses the trolley bus wires to charge batteries (as @John suggests), until battery bus technology matures, sounds like prudent risk management to me.

    My boss used to say that a transit service has to run all day, every day, year after year, everywhere, whatever the weather, so it had better be reliable. It’s brave for a transit operator to pioneer new and unproven technology and foolhardy, even reckless, to bet the business on it. Battery buses are as yet unproven under realistic operating conditions. Wellington would do well to let other places do the pioneering.

    As far as I can tell, nobody knows when a battery bus will be available that can handle Wellington’s hills under a full load into a headwind, and recharge quickly at the end of the line, day after day. I applaud Wellington’s foray into an electric bus trial, but deplore the decision to abandon the trolley buses before the trial has even started.

    We seem to have forgotten that pioneers are easy to spot — they are the ones with arrows sticking out of them.

  10. Traveller 2., 31. October 2017, 12:21

    Bring back the trams!

    Decommissioning the trolley buses is the worst set of decisions made by Wellington City Council ( the wires and Cable Car company) and Wellington Regional Council (the buses).
    No point putting it on any meeting agenda now.

    How can they seriously claim to be decreasing carbon emissions/climate change ?

  11. David Bond, 2. November 2017, 13:10

    a) Tens of $ millions to:-
    – remove the trolley wires
    – convert the buses to un-proven diesel-hybrids or else purchase equally-unproven battery-buses
    – install expensive new high-powered charging equipment
    – meanwhile just fob us off with 2nd-hand Auckland diesels


    b) Tens of $ millions to:-
    – cancel the foolishly-let wire-removal contracts and leave the wires in place
    – upgrade the substations and re-commission the still-fairly-new trolleybuses that have been pulled out of service.

    Which is the best deal for Wellington (and for the country’s carbon-emission pledges), at least until the new battery-bus system has been proven to work in Wellington’s environment and is ready to roll out?

    Those we elected as our leaders are asleep at the wheel. Please wake up.