Wellington Scoop

Hundred per cent diesel – they gave us the cheapest option

by Brent Efford
Dismantling of Wellington’s overhead trolley-bus wires – one of the most up-to-date such infrastructures in the world – has started on schedule, the first bit to go being around the west roundabout on Cobham Drive. It appears that removal from the State Highway is the top priority.

The Wellington bus fleet is now 100 per cent diesel, in the face of a Regional Council ‘promise’ that it will one day be 100 per cent electric. Neither a ‘road map’ towards this stated objective nor proof-of-concept has been produced. Instead, Wellington has ‘REcarbonised’ its fleet.

The tokenism of the Tranzit bus company’s stated intention to have 10 battery powered double-deckers on the demanding Island Bay – Johnsonville run next year (followed by 12 more in later years) has to be measured against a total bus fleet size of about 500.

(The ‘Wrightspeed’ gas turbine-hybrid conversion of the trolleybuses has not happened – two years after the first demonstration runs of bus 362 were promised. The whole proposal looks more and more like a ‘con’ seized on by gullible regional councillors to spin the trolleybus abandonment as somehow ‘eco-friendly’, despite the technology – even if it works – not reducing GHG emissions. Some councillors appear to be waking up and have resolved to ask NZ Bus for a clear explanation of exactly what is going on.)

If the Regional Council was really serious about 100 per cent electric public transport, it would have to take these steps:

(a) Complete the electric rail spine through the regional CBD, including a line through central Lower Hutt, by integrating light rail with the existing rail network, as it proposed in the 1999 Regional Land Transport Strategy, and extend it ultimately to the Airport. The reason for having rail transit in every other city is to achieve ‘rail penetration of the CBD’. Wellington is handicapped far more than most citizens realise through not having this normal facility. Auckland knows the importance of it, which is why $3bn is being spent on their City Rail Link.

(b) Aggressively introduce battery-electric buses on the lighter bus routes – applications where the technology is already proven and up to the job. This includes the rail feeder routes throughout the region north of the Wellington CBD.

(c) Maintain the trolleybus network until it is proven that batteries are really feasible for heavy-duty bus routes.

(d) Prepare for, and encourage, the development of autonomous electric shuttles eventually replacing scheduled buses in low-density areas. Automated rail would serve the dense corridors including through the CBDs, where masses of small vehicles would not work.

That is a tall order which the Regional Council appears unwilling to contemplate, let alone action. The above programme will not be the ‘cheapest’ option, of course. Minimalist PT investment delivered by diesel buses would be, and that is the course currently being followed.

The big Wellington transport money is going only into Transmission Gully and its connecting motorways, with public transport getting veritable small change – no rail extensions and a 98% diesel bus fleet on reshuffled routes. While we hope that the new Government will correct this, only Auckland has been included in announcements so far, despite the Green and NZ First support for Wellington light rail before the election.

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


  1. Sean, 9. November 2017, 16:55

    Wires in Victoria Street are also being removed. I watched on Monday and it was gut wrenching seeing this infrastructure, that had been working only last week, crashing to the street as so much junk.

    The only battery buses that successfully do heavy work internationally appear to be trolleybuses that work off the end of the wires and on branch routes, using batteries that are charged while the bus is running under the overhead wires with its poles on. Much bigger batteries than were fitted to our trolleybuses, which were only to enable them to drive around problems en route.

    Wellington’s trolley overhead network is probably the only viable basis for any significant move to battery bus operation here.

  2. David Bond, 9. November 2017, 17:38

    I have to wonder, do those in GWRC who made the decision to scrap the trolleybuses, as well as those in our new government who failed to intervene to stop it, have any deep-down qualms that this may be a wrong decision?

    Or are they so assured of their own calibre and acumen, as to believe then no decision they make can possibly be wrong, by definition?

    From where I stand as a lowly observer, I see what looks like a crass mistake being made that is hard to reconcile with wise leadership.

    Anyone else have this nagging feeling?

  3. Chris Horne, 9. November 2017, 21:18

    GWRC’s decision to abandon our trolley-buses five years before their design-life ends in 2022 is a gross waste of the investment in them. The decision blatantly ignores Parliament’s ratification of the COP21 Paris Accord which commits us to cutting our greenhouse-gas emissions. Wellington’s emissions of greenhouse gases are rising, thanks to GWRC’s decision, because our trolley buses have been replaced by diesel buses, many of them elderly models which emit even more pollutants than modern diesels with Euro 6-standard emission levels.

    In her letter, entitled “Polluting our ‘brand'”, in today’s Dominion Post, Mt Victoria’s Adriann Smith says that among the features that earned Wellington the title of ‘coolest little capital’ ” … was its trolleybus network seen for what it was – quiet, efficient and low polluting. We have now damaged Wellington’s ‘brand'”.

    GWRC’s action in abandoning our trolley buses seems to me to be ill-advised, and reactionary in the extreme – a giant step backwards, pleasing only to the oil industry.

  4. Neil Douglas, 9. November 2017, 21:39

    Profound article Brent – so prescient, so sad, so maddening. You should be in charge at the GWRC!

  5. Citizen Joe, 9. November 2017, 21:57

    Hey and you know who is effectively switching the power off? It’s none other than Broadspectrum,the guys who ran the Manus Island Processing Centre which has just had its power switched off too! GWRC, well done for bringing in world experts in 0% electricity.

  6. Bill Whitehead, 18. November 2017, 15:15

    Can someone explain why after spending millions of dollars electrifying the main trunk line, the government are reverting to Diesel Locomotives.This makes no sense in view of climate change and sets a bad example of a govt that is supposed to be committed to reducing pollution.

  7. Alan Wickens, 21. November 2017, 18:43

    Since Brent wrote his piece, Aro Street has been dealt to as has Elizabeth Street and Brougham Street. All traces of trolleybus use has been erased from Cobham Drive and Calabar Road too.
    It’s all coming down with indecent haste.
    Well said Brent!

  8. wimter, 21. November 2017, 20:44

    What is happening in Wellington – the destruction of an infrastructure that took decades to build without an alternative in sight – is criminal, to say the least. But the “sheeple” don’t seem to mind inhaling diesel fumes and enjoying their big fat cars that are sitting in traffic. They don’t seem to mind the increased pollution. Hey houseprices are on the up.

  9. Michael, 23. November 2017, 9:36

    Simple equation:
    Cheapest option!! = false economy!! = causing new problems (pollution) for someone else to pay to fix = namely the ever suffering tax/rate payers!!

  10. Peter Dunne, 1. December 2017, 15:53

    Why not call a halt, stop taking down the overhead wires, bring back the trolleys, get rid of the diesels, and admit the whole idea was dumb? [via twitter]

  11. Stop Trexit, 1. December 2017, 16:09

    Good idea Peter, pity you didn’t say Trexit was dumb three years ago when you had power and influence. Nowadays GWRC is deaf as well as dumb.