Wellington Scoop

A double standard on pollution


The Wellington City Council is no doubt serious about its plans to extend the city’s ban on smoking. But it can’t escape suggestions of a double standard.

The reason: the council didn’t do anything to stop the demise of the trolley buses, which has been followed by increased pollution from the fleet made up almost entirely of diesel buses.

As Keith Flinders wrote in a comment on Sunday:

The council did next to nothing to encourage the GWRC not to remove 60 pollution free buses and replace them with diesel ones. The pollution from one diesel bus running through the city all day is more than the combined pollution output from all smokers and vapers. Since the trolley buses went out of service in 2017 the level of particulate matter in the CBD has increased substantially according the GWRC’s monitoring information. Particulate matter (soot) is ranked by the World Health Organisation as being on par with asbestos as carcinogenic and a threat to human health.

And Gillian Tompsett wrote last year:

Wellington has the dubious honour of being the only city in the world to remove sustainable public transport since the Paris climate accord was signed in 2015. In the run-up to the introduction of the new bus network, the GWRC repeatedly failed to tell Wellingtonians that Euro 5 and Euro 6 buses release dangerous carcinogens and that carbon emissions would increase. By failing to front-foot a plan to incentivise bus companies Tranzit and NZ Bus to electrify their bus fleets, the GWRC has imposed on Wellingtonians a fleet of predominantly diesel buses for the next 10-12 years: the length of the contracts the GWRC has signed with Tranzit and NZ Bus. An OIA request confirms that nitrous oxide emissions have increased in the city since trolley buses were decommissioned in November.

In the same year, the Mt Victoria Residents Association, in its LGWM submission, also warned about the health dangers:

The MVRA is very concerned about the negative health effects from transport emissions from trucks, diesel buses and other motor vehicles as these are a critical aspect of the city’s liveability, and also have major negative economic effects. There are known health risks from air pollutants, and in particular diesel particulates which are strongly implicated in causing or contributing to asthma in children and neurological illnesses.

Nothing new, of course. We’ve known about pollution from diesel buses for years. Back in 2015, a cynical audience at a public meeting in Aro Street heard Paul Swain of the regional council say there was an all-electric policy but the city wouldn’t have an all-electric bus fleet till 2025.

He agreed that diesel buses are not pleasant for pedestrians or cyclists. (“The smell.”) Asked how he planned to explain why the council, with its all-electric policy, was planning to drop electric trolley buses in favour of diesel? “With great difficulty,” he replied.


  1. Michael Gibson, 6. March 2019, 15:01

    Using the old buses from Auckland is a disgrace and a blot on the already tarnished reputation of the Regional Council. The Wellington City Council has done nothing even to protest against the record-high emissions from these, not to mention the NOISE (both inside and outside the buses).

  2. greenwelly, 6. March 2019, 16:30

    According to the last Sustainable transport Ctte Meeting
    “NZ Bus’s 17 double-decker buses are scheduled to start arriving in Wellington from 23 February. These buses should arrive at a rate of approximately
    three per day. They will go into service on the Wellington routes progressively from 26 February.”

    Does anyone know if this has happened, or is yet another milestone that has “slipped”

  3. michael, 6. March 2019, 16:30

    The noise and pollution is getting so bad now that many of us are looking to move from the city centre as concerns around health issues increase.
    In 2013, under agreements with United Nation protocols, the Government announced an unconditional target to reach 5 per cent below our 1990 greenhouse gas emissions levels by 2020. With this in mind, how is it that Wellington has lost its pollution-free buses and is now subjected to higher levels of noise and carbon emissions. Not only that, the government states that they “are applying the Kyoto Protocol rules in our emissions accounting to ensure transparency”. Well can someone please tell me what happened to that committment?

  4. Mike Mellor, 6. March 2019, 18:55

    gw: I saw three DDs travelling down SH1 towards Wellington on 23 February, so that milestone was achieved.
    During a trip on the 18e today, I saw four in service on route 3 (they’re also planned for the peak-only 31x and 36), but when they entered service and how many are here I wouldn’t know.

  5. Traveller, 6. March 2019, 19:19

    I rode home on the number 7 route from Willis Street to Brooklyn this afternoon in an electric double decker. (My first trip in an electric bus.) Smooth and comfortable and quiet. “Great bus,” I told the driver. If only they were all like that.

  6. greenwelly, 7. March 2019, 9:42

    “(My first trip in an electric bus.) ”
    Did you never ride on a trolley bus?

    “If only they were all like that.”
    Sixty used to be, now it’s 10…

  7. Keith Flinders, 7. March 2019, 10:24

    Traveller: I was in Oriental Parade yesterday and former trolley bus 361 glided past under battery power. Virtually no noise and zero pollution. It has been running on battery operation daily for about 15 months. Fifty other trolley buses could have been converted by now, but for the intransigent GWRC who will not recognize the damage the 98% diesel bus fleet is doing to the health of Wellington City residents. All five Wellington ward GWRC councilors are hiding behind the cloak of collective responsibility on this serious health issue, instead of representing the people who elected them. Remember this when you vote in October.

    One GWRC councillor told me late 2018 that the only reason the trolley conversion had been stalled is because the GWRC is evaluating new single deck battery buses. New single deck battery buses to enter service in 2028, and to hell with the consequences in the interim especially for those on east – west bus routes currently served by old diesel buses, some with more than 1.3 million kms clocked up already.

    Michael: ReVolt Wellington is actively on the pollution issue case and you might be interested to read correspondence between it and the GWRC at http://vault.revoltwellington.co.nz/combinepdf.pdf

    In late 2018 the GWRC were still denying that C02 is a harmful tailpipe emission. Finally that admission was forced out of Andrew Cooper at the October Sustainable Transport Committee meeting.

  8. Casey, 7. March 2019, 10:39

    Wellington once had 119 electric trolley buses. They were reduced in number to around 60 in the 1990s, then those left (58) were withdrawn in 2017. We now have ten electric battery buses, but due to battery-charging issues nine of them are limited to operating a small number of daily services, normally only in peak hours. No word yet on when the nine other buses are going to be adapted to use the Island Bay charging station. An absolute disgrace Metlink/GWRC.

  9. Mike Mellor, 7. March 2019, 12:21

    Keith F: “One GWRC councillor told me late 2018 that the only reason the trolley conversion had been stalled is because the GWRC is evaluating new single deck battery buses” – I would be less than impressed if GWRC was not considering all relevant options. Just because the 10-year-old ex-trolleys still exist is not in itself a good reason for spending large amounts of money on them, and new electrics may well be a better option. And it’s important to note that there are at least two parties to any contract, and it’s unfair to pick on just one of those – NZ Bus has to come to the party, too.

    That said, route 2 is becoming the Cinderella of Metlink bus routes: the second-busiest route and with the oldest buses, and no replacements in sight. The old dungers – many older than the trolleys – are clearly showing their pensionable age, and not just through their tailpipes. Whatever decision is made, it needs to be made soon.

  10. Michael Gibson, 7. March 2019, 13:13

    A coincidence that #2 buses are mentioned above. Earlier this morning I asked GW if I could operate a bus to leave Karori at 8 a.m. on weekdays. I referred to their saying that the Airport Flyer was a commercial service (and nothing to do with GW).
    I am certain there is a good reason for a private individual not operating a “commercial service” and hope to know about this sooner rather than later…..

  11. Benny, 7. March 2019, 13:14

    @Mike: except that one option considered as replacement to the trolleys (now “the old dungers”) is more diesels. Who, in this age, in his own mind, could consider this even as an option??!! Why not coal powered buses? When the world seems – at last – to understand we need to urgently leave carbon behind us, the purchase of more diesels is simply abject. The only option is electric, period (hydrogen, battery, wired or others). Public servants and elected members are here to work for the greater good, which now puts sustainability and wellbeing at the centre of all our decisions. Ignoring this is failing the public.

  12. Graham C Atkinson, 7. March 2019, 18:04

    In response to Casey firstly NZ Bus never managed to have more than 45 of their 59 trolley buses operational at any one time over the 10 years they were in use and apart from the overhead network the supply infrastructure was beyond redemption.

    Tranzurban have completed the trials of the locally developed rear mounted pantographs (which replace the internationally used roof mounted ones) and are in the process of fitting these to their existing fleet. The conversion takes several days and, to avoid disruption to services, only one vehicle is being converted at a time.

    And while the greater good may be at the centre of decision making, so to must cost and availability and electric vehicles are still considerably more expensive to produce than diesels and are not as available as diesel buses.

  13. Gillian Tompsett, 7. March 2019, 20:26

    As long as we’re saddled with the ridiculous situation where Wellington City has only 5 representatives out of a total of 13 on the regional council’s transport committee, our city’s interests will continue to be wagged by the regions’ “dog” at every turn.

    We need urgent action on this before the effects of ‘Bustastrophe’ get cemented in for the duration of the 10-12 year contracts, approved by councillors who reside outside the city (Paul Swain), who don’t have to live with the adverse environmental and health consequences that they’ve imposed on Wellingtonians.

  14. Gillian Tompsett, 7. March 2019, 20:44

    @ Graham C Atkinson: “And while the greater good may be at the centre of decision making, so to must cost and availability and electric vehicles are still considerably more expensive to produce than diesels and are not as available as diesel buses.”
    That was NOT what we, the public of Wellington, were told prior to the decommissioning of the trolley buses. GWRC press releases repeatedly and specifically spoke of an imminent “electric future”, and that tailpipe emissions would be “cut by 30%” (no-one mentioned an increase in CO2 emissions). I refer you to the relevant documents on the ReVolt Wellington website to refresh your memory.
    Public health and environmental considerations are not a nice-to-have, but a mandatory requirement by law. The GWRC are in breach of those requirements.

  15. Benny, 7. March 2019, 20:52

    @Graham: “… electric vehicles are still considerably more expensive to produce than diesels and are not as available as diesel buses” is not an excuse any more. Climate change mitigation and health costs will make the cost of electric buses look like peanuts on sale when we have to front them up. You might not be here any more but we will, and so will our kids. As countless scientists and economists have demonstrated, the true cost of running petrol powered vehicles is not reflected in the actual price tag and the gap is simply passed on next generations, inflating exponentially. Delaying the transition away from fossil fuel has been the strategy for decades. Had we acted sooner, there wouldn’t be mitigation costs for dealing with rising sea levels and other daunting consequences. How can cost still be in the equation when life itself is at stake? To quote Michael Bloomberg, just yesterday: “Mother Nature does not wait on our political calendar, and neither can we.”
    And by the way, this focus on cost has been the reason behind the underinvestment in trolley buses and their infrastructure. Had greater good prevailed, proper funding would have been allocated to maintain a perfectly functioning solution.

  16. Mike Mellor, 7. March 2019, 22:53

    Gillian T: in the Waikato, the implementation and monitoring of the Regional Public Transport Plan is overseen by a joint committee of the regional council and Hamilton City Council, with the other relevant district councils being represented but with voting rights just on items that affect them – see https://www.waikatoregion.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/HPTJC-agenda-pack-26-November-2018.pdf for a sample agenda.

    Such a model would be rather more complex here, but could form a basis for more equitable representation.

  17. Keith Flinders, 8. March 2019, 11:11

    Graham Atkinson: You should have stood for the GWRC in the 2013 and 2016 elections, as if elected you would have found yourself in the majority with regard to buses in Wellington. “Let’s go cheap and allow pollution free buses to be replaced with diesel ones, some second hand cast offs, some new. Just look at the savings to be made” was the flawed logic. Social, environment and health impacts were not even considered, as their costs are picked up by other agencies. Residents affected by noise and fumes just need to put up with what they get saddled with, is still the attitude. The young whose respiratory systems are not developed enough to cope with diesel, and other pollutants, are amongst the largest group of those affected.

    Thousands of words have already been written about the minimal maintenance of the trolley buses under the then Stagecoach management, and with the cheap electrical control systems “upgrades” from South America, some transferred to new buses. However 45 trolley buses out of 59 running were preferable to an all diesel fleet in July 2018 and the 97% diesel fleet we have now.

    As for the trolley bus infrastructure, the mis-management of it by WCC controlled WCCL is symptomatic of what happens when pro-active maintenance of plant, as well as scheduled upgrading of it, is not done to “save” money. Upgrading of that facility was 20 – 25 years overdue.

  18. Graham C Atkinson, 8. March 2019, 12:01

    Keith Flinders – there was nothing wrong with the WCCL management/maintenance which was proactively upgraded to meet current safety standards and this continued even when they knew the service was finishing. The problem infrastructure was the very old DC substations and even older underground cables – for example one cable that failed in 2016 (and it took almost 3 weeks to identify and locate the fault before repair could begin) had been laid around 1923.

  19. Benny, 8. March 2019, 13:29

    @Graham: case in point. Lack of proper funding failed the infrastructure which led to that situation. Had greater good been at the center of the decision, the infrastructure wouldn’t have been let down. Or an alternative solution, equally respectful of the environment and the people, would have been deployed the day following the trolleys’ decomission. What do we have today in-lieu of the trolleys? No need to answer this question.

  20. Graham C Atkinson, 8. March 2019, 16:53

    Benny I believe the funding from GWRC was in place but the predecessor to WE* was relying on the earlier announced plans to terminate trolley services by 2005 meaning there was little or no need to actually spend the money on upgrading. WE* to their credit did undertake some upgrading and resilience enhancements but there was insufficient funding to do more than minimal tweaking.

    If the supply to the WCCL network was going to be upgraded to provide a reliable constant 650V across the city then it would have required significant investment including the replacement of around 90% of the underground network (and additional WCCL feeders). This failure to deliver the required supply rating was one of the major problems WCTL encountered with the trolley bus fleet after the introduction in 2007.

  21. Gillian Tompsett, 10. March 2019, 22:43

    Graham Atkinson’s posts highlight what happens when public transport operations are exposed to the unfettered winds of market forces. We are left without effective oversight and planning that lacks any semblance of cohesiveness, as competing vested interests dodge for cover. At best it’s disingenuous, at worst it reflects disconnected siloed thinking and is characterised by:

    A lack of agency (no-one wants to own the fallout)
    A lack of urgency (alarming given the IPCC findings on climate change)
    A lack of acknowledgement that the health and environmental impacts even exist!

    Case in point: (smoking ban aside), the Wellington City Council has signalled a rates increase to fund climate change resilience AT THE SAME TIME that the GWRC introduced a diesel bus fleet! You can’t make this stuff up. Where’s the Kiwi version of the ‘Daily Show’? It’s not like there’s a shortage of material.