Wellington Scoop

Having it both ways with trackless trams

Did you see that Justin Lester wants trackless trams rather than light rail?

“Personally I’m in favour of a trackless tram,” Lester said, according to a DomPost report.

But hold on. His support is not unqualified. The report also tells us:

Lester said he’d withdraw support for trackless trams if the business case didn’t support it.

And how will such a decision be made? The DomPost goes on to tell us:

The mayor is trying to setup an overseas visit to investigate trackless tram technology. “We need public transport otherwise we’ll just be a city of flyovers and spaghetti junctions.”

Let’s hope that LGWM isn’t secretly planning any of those. But let’s also acknowledge that there’ve been warnings about trackless trams, as John Rankin detailed earlier this month. Among his cautions:

Trackless trams on Wellington’s low quality roads would deliver a low quality ride, while requiring regular road repairs.

And then there’s the issue of how these decisions should be made.

The mayor has also been reported as favouring a second Terrace Tunnel, though (like spaghetti junctions) this is not included in the projects approved for financing by LGWM.

His approval was quoted by John Milford after the mayor spoke at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

We’ve asked the mayor’s office to confirm whether this report is correct. No response yet.


  1. Russel C., 3. June 2019, 11:34

    Justin Lester of the. WCC (but shouldn’t it be Chris Laidlaw of the GWRC?) should invite CRC of China who make the trackless tram and DB from Germany and whoever from France who do Light Rail to come to Wellington and demonstrate their technologies and tell us the likely cost and the benefits of getting from the railway station to the Airport using their technology.

  2. Local, 3. June 2019, 14:22

    An overseas trip for the mayor to ride on a bendy bus with rubber tyres called a trackless tram?? Of course some staff will go too? Has someone offered this?

  3. Concerned Wellingtonian, 3. June 2019, 15:48

    Is he really trying to get an overseas trip out of this?

  4. KB, 3. June 2019, 17:54

    I’m in favour of exploring the trackless trams idea – if the technology is feasible (and multiple deployments in China suggests they are) then it could be in service within months rather than the decade light rail will take to build, and trackless tram routes could be added/changed relatively easily with little investment. The “toad repairs” worry sounds like nonsense.

  5. HR, 3. June 2019, 18:21

    How come public transport is GWRC and Justin therefore won’t comment on the chaos with the buses – but he is taking a lead on this? Is it not GWRC as well?
    Please fix the buses first. Then move on to something more.

  6. Andrew, 3. June 2019, 18:24

    Im not sure about that KB. Up here in Brooklyn we have a lot of HV traffic and the road gets hammered, especially where a contractor has dug up a section for cables, pipes etc. I would imagine a trackless tram will be harder on the road than a bus so the road design will be important. Forgive me if you were actually referring to toad repairs.

    Surely it makes sense to get vendors over here first to evaluate Wellington, rather than go on a fact finding mission first? Unless of course, the mayor just wants to go on a trip.

  7. stub, 3. June 2019, 20:22

    I have been following the discussion of options around the LGWM mass transit for a while now, and I have to say I’m fairly skeptical of the trackless tram. Whilst a lot of good sounding fluff has been published about it, similar efforts to supplant LRT at reduced cost have poor track records. A similar optical guidance system for buses was offered as “optiguide” and evidently hasn’t taken off, it has been removed from service in all but a few places where it has been trialed due to issues with achieving reliable operation.

    Another notable example was the “Guided Light Transit”, employed in Caen and Nancy in France. This could be steered independently like a bus but would normally be guided by a central guide-rail. This system failed to deliver cost savings over light rail and is now being replaced with LRT.

    What is most worrying however is that for the trackless tram to work right, it will need a dedicated right of way and signal priority at lights. These are both things within the WCC purview, which could be done now for parts of the bus network. It seems however that our elected leaders are deathly fearful of removing traffic lanes or parking to achieve. My fear is that this promotion of the trackless tram tech before there is even a finalized route and capacity requirement that would be needed to properly evaluate any proposed systems simply indicates that our Mayor has no interest or intention of getting that done, and has either been convinced or has convinced himself that the necessary capacity can be added without these changes.

    Whatever is chosen should be chosen based upon what the actual requirements are and not as some shiny thing for a politician to parade around.

  8. Roy Kutel, 4. June 2019, 8:47

    Bring back the trolley bus!

  9. Alan, 4. June 2019, 9:45

    Better hope that this wonderful technology turns out better than the Wrightspeed project did (that came to nought).

  10. paul, 4. June 2019, 14:09

    @KB the “road repairs” are not nonsense, the increased weight of the new double deckers is having a noticeable detrimental impact on city roads.

  11. KB, 4. June 2019, 22:39

    @paul: what does road repairs caused by double deckers have to do with trackless trams? The advantage of trackless trams is of course they can travel around road works where needed (unlike light rail which would have to wait for road works to finish if they were taking place on its route.)

  12. Leviathan, 4. June 2019, 22:52

    Russell, and others who might be thinking of supporting a “Trackless Tram System” (TTS) technology – have a read of this:
    The French and the German companies who were making “trackless trams” have both given up, and some of the cities who installed the systems have decided to replace TTS with the more traditional Light Rail / Tram system of steel wheels on steel tracks. It seems that the TTS is not what it is cracked up to be.

  13. mason, 5. June 2019, 13:54

    Trackless trams/bendy buses are basically just stalling tactics by the four lanes to the planes autonomous battery ecar wannabes.

  14. Gillian Tompsett, 6. June 2019, 11:50

    The man aggressively promoting “trackless trams”, Peter Newman (Professor of Sustainability, Curtin University, WA) has a PHD in chemistry. Whilst I’d respect his views when it comes to the environment, his transport planning credentials are woefully lacking. Good salesman though!

    KB: at least LRT will be guaranteed to arrive, rather than being stuck in traffic or cancelled without notice.

  15. John Rankin, 6. June 2019, 19:11

    @KB says: “light rail … would have to wait for road works to finish if they were taking place on its route.”

    This is why design standards for light rail running on-street specify the kind of track bed that requires only minor maintenance for at least 25 years. The way rails spread the load means the light rail vehicles do not damage the track bed in the way that rubber wheels on asphalt do. And why cities relocate underground utilities where light rail runs.

    If we do the job properly, the issue KB raises will not arise.

    A system where vehicles merge with general traffic whenever there is an obstruction is not rapid transit.

  16. Brendan, 7. June 2019, 9:42

    @JR – pushing all the utilities to one side means remaining road users are more likely to suffer from road closures due to utility maintenance etc. So it may not be the tram users who suffer from road closures but the road users who will keep paying for the upkeep of narrower roads via higher petrol excise and Road User Charges. I wonder if the tram operator will be levied Road User Charges like the bus operator?

  17. Andrew, 7. June 2019, 9:54

    Luckily we would not be the first city to have light rail, so we can look to existing solutions to see how others have approached services.

  18. John Rankin, 7. June 2019, 10:21

    @Andrew: as I understand it, in France the owners of underground utilities are private operators who benefit from using a publicly-owned road corridor. Hence, they are expected to carry the cost of relocating their services when the public decides to upgrade a road corridor to a higher-value use like light rail. This gives them an incentive to upgrade the service at the same time, so the issue @Brendan raises does not arise. Perhaps we should do the same.

    If Brendan chooses to drive rather than take light rail for his journey, then that’s his choice and he must expect to bear the costs, including some form of congestion charge. Urban road space is a scarce resource and we have to start using it wisely.

  19. Andrew, 7. June 2019, 11:31

    Thanks John, good to know.