Wellington Scoop

Diesel buses, noise and pollution – thwarting local democracy

by Gilly Tompsett
In two weeks, Wellingtonians will start to feel the full environmental impact of a new, high-frequency, predominantly diesel bus network. That’s thanks to a government agency’s ability to override the Wellington Regional Council’s publically-consulted Long Term Transport Plan (2014) that identified diesel as “the cheapest” and least desirable option for the city.

Community group ReVolt Wellington – which is campaigning for a faster transition to electric buses – is calling for an overhaul of the Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM) and wants to rein in the influence of the New Zealand Transport Agency, which is dictating regional transport policy despite funding only 20% of the region’s public transport costs.

Campaigners says the NZTA is stalling the introduction of an all-electric bus fleet, along with regional councillors sympathetic to the PTOM.

According to the council’s own figures, Wellington’s electric bus fleet will comprise less than 5%
of the total fleet by 2023, well below that of November 2017 when the trolley buses were decommissioned.

The PTOM was introduced by the previous government in 2013, aiming to reduce government subsidies by forcing regional councils to introduce competition on public transport networks. It focused only on reducing costs, offering no incentives to mitigate the environmental or health impact of increased diesel emissions and noise on residents.

The PTOM failed to incentivise operators to provide better quality buses above the minimum requirement of 50% Euro 5. (California maintains the most stringent emissions standard in the world, not Euro 6 as has been widely reported in NZTA and GWRC public statements)

Bus and Coach spokesman Barry Kidd told RNZ in November that in reality the PTOM “forced bus companies to reduce all costs, including wages.” Mr Kidd said he would welcome “a more cooperative model” unimpeded by a “harsh penalty regime”, which includes performance-based league tables.

The GWRC sustainable transport committee has revealed it needs NZTA approval before it can bring forward the timetable for the introduction of electric buses and has to find the money in its budget line to pay more than the minimum contract amount. This highlights one of the unintended consequences of PTOM: regional councils are forced to compete with each other for the latest bus technology using ratepayers’ money.

The NZTA wants to reduce the government’s subsidy even further.

ReVolt Wellington says residents in suburbs across the east-west corridor will experience a doubling in harmful emissions and an increase in bus noise of up to 6db compared to the trolley bus era, due to the age of the buses servicing those routes and lack of provision in contracts to introduce electric buses within 10-12 years.

ReVolt says that PTOM is not fit for purpose in 2018 and needs to be urgently overhauled or binned.

ReVolt Wellington is a community organisation. For further information visit our website:
If you would like to offer support or receive regular updates please contact:


  1. Ross Clark, 2. July 2018, 4:11

    ReVolt have put their finger on the problem; that central government’s PT funding policy is far more focussed on efficient outcomes (=saving money) than effective outcomes (doing what works best, on a number of levels). It was ever thus.

    Saving money is not a bad aim; but what ReVolt want is going to cost more money, and they need to have a clearer idea as to where that money is going to come from. My guess (at a distance) is that the Government is throwing so much money into Auckland that there will be nothing more for Wellington. Will the Wellington (City and Region) ratepayers make up the difference?

  2. Ozzie Battler, 2. July 2018, 21:30

    Ross – have a look at the debacle over the billabong. I bet Phil T does it even worse in AKL!


  3. Cr Daran Ponter, 2. July 2018, 21:55

    The GWRC has recently agreed to review the Regional Public Transport Plan. An opportunity to be more aspirational and set hard targets.

  4. Roy Kutel, 3. July 2018, 8:38

    @ Another review! That’ll keep the officers and councillors busy redoing their awful work. I guess they don’t have much to do now their bus plan that took 10 years (#$!&) to do is coming to ‘pear-shape’ fruition.

    Hey Daran why not review the stupidity of removing the trolley buses? How silly is the decision now when you look at the expensive folly of LRT across the billabong (see Ozzy Battler’s post)? $1.5+ billion for steel wheels on one corridor from WRS to the Airport (and only in 10 years time and with 2 years of chaos) versus $100 million spent on trolley buses for a environmental NETWORK suitable to Welligton’s conditions. How very very stupid indeed. Compare with Vancouver’s 262 trolley buses – isn’t somebody important coming from there to here this week?

  5. Gillybee, 3. July 2018, 10:50

    The problem with PTOM is that it leaves out health and environmental costs.

    The Euro 6 standard doesn’t filter out particles in the PM 2.5 size range emitted by diesel engines, which can travel deep into the respiratory tract and reach the lungs. Long-term exposure is associated with lung cancer and heart disease. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.

    European cities like Paris and Hamburg are front-footing the issue and have included the full effects of diesel vehicles in their calculations. Based on emissions information provided by Metlink and Emissions Impossible, there is a measurable and quantifiable cost to the health of Wellington citizens and the environment of around $10 million over the next decade if we don’t take action now.

    $10 million pays for a lot of electric buses.

    @Ross Clark “It was ever thus.”

    A fallacy. Prior to the 1980s, public transport was run as a utility – like electricity once was. Costs to the public were kept to a minimum, patronage was high and infrastructure well maintained.

    Forcing a market model on public transport is a race to the bottom, with a predominantly diesel fleet and drivers wages and conditions cut.

  6. Cr Daran Ponter, 3. July 2018, 15:24

    Thanks Roy, a review of the trolley bus decision may satisfy some people’s curiosity but it is not going to take us forward. I did’t agree with the removal of the trolleys but I would now prefer to look forward. The Regional Public Transport Plan allows us an opportunity to do that, recognising that there are changes to legislation, as suggested by Gillybee, that could really assist.

  7. Andrew, 3. July 2018, 16:02

    Daran, can you please cast some light on the bus hub development in Brooklyn? A few weeks ago a very solid foundation full of steel was poured, then work stopped for over a week. Now, the foundation has been removed (yes, removed…) and they are currently pouring concrete into the same hole in the ground. What exactly has happened to require the first foundation to be removed? I can imagine this would have cost tens of thousands.

  8. Ross Clark, 4. July 2018, 3:36

    @Ross Clark “It was ever thus.”

    A fallacy. Prior to the 1980s, public transport was run as a utility – like electricity once was. Costs to the public were kept to a minimum, patronage was high and infrastructure well maintained.

    Some historic context might explain where I’m coming from. The 1960s had seen significant declines in the use of Wellington buses, as levels of car ownership grew, and as the Council had to face more of the financial shortfall. The Carter Report in 1970 recommended central Government subsidies for bus services; and these were eventually put in place (on a much more formalised basis after 1980). However, there was increasing pressure on the subsidies budget during the 1980s, and by that stage, there was only so much the Council and the WRC of the time would pay for.

  9. Paul Bruce, 4. July 2018, 14:56

    In my last term as regional councilor, I fought for greater incentives for electric vehicles in the tender documents, along with the higher air quality standards and emission testing. However, other councilors opposed my motions.
    Note that even if new buses had Euro 6 filters, the likelihood is that they would not be maintained to that standard. It is also important to remember that European traffic engineers still regard modern trolley buses as the most cost effective electric public transport.

    The signs are looking good for light rail through to the eastern suburbs which would have higher amenity values also removing the particulate emissions of rubber tyres. However, modern trolleys that have off line capability would be very suitable for feeder services to the light rail line.

  10. Concerned Wellingtonian, 4. July 2018, 17:20

    It seems to me that there was a political jack-up which stopped Paul Bruce from being re-elected. It is the same jack-up which is wrecking our transport.

  11. Cr Daran Ponter, 5. July 2018, 23:47

    Hi Andrew, the concrete poured initially by the contractor did not meet the required specs, so they were required to repour. Contractor’s cost.

  12. Andrew, 6. July 2018, 7:18

    Thanks Daran, much appreciated.

  13. Farmer John, 6. July 2018, 16:05

    Funny National never puts up any local candidates. Seems to be a Labour / Greeny thing yet you would think that National supporters would be more likely to be house, land (us farmers) and business owners so would care where their money gets spent/wasted.

    So come on National give the Labour sponsored candidates a run for our money.