Wellington Scoop

All electric? But when?

by Lindsay Shelton
2025? 2030? 2050? Wellington has been given conflicting forecasts for when we can expect to be rid of the city’s polluting fleet of diesel buses.

So there was surprise yesterday at the announcement by Adrienne Staples, the new chair of the regional council’s transport committee:

“Our plan is to have a fully electric fleet by at least 2040.”

Back in 2015, then chair of the transport committee Paul Swain told an election meeting that Wellington would have an all-electric bus fleet by 2025.

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.

Back in 2017, the Green Party announced a fast-track policy for Wellington to have a full electric bus fleet by 2030. But that was before the life of the trolley buses had been ended:

The existing trolley bus infrastructure means Wellington is well placed to be the first city in New Zealand with 100 percent electric public transport. The Greens will provide a one-off investment of between $30 – $50 million to upgrade underground trolley bus infrastructure, rather than wasting money pulling down the near-new overhead wires and converting trolley buses to diesel-hybrids.

Before the end of that year, the regional council had ignored all the warnings and had scrapped the trolley buses, and the city council was supportively pulling down the overhead wires. And as Gillian Tompsett pointed out:

In the run-up to the introduction of the new (diesel) 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.

Speaking in July last year, chair Chris Laidlaw agreed on the need for all electric buses but didn’t set a date for a fully electric fleet:

“We’ve set ourselves the target of a 100% electric bus fleet and the first stop on our way is 10 new double deckers this year and 32 by 2021. We have to be ambitious because transport emissions are a significant contributor to climate change. For Greater Wellington, a 21st century public transport system needs to offer practical daily alternatives to private cars, as well as being genuinely sustainable.”

And when 2050 was mentioned as a target date, Glen Smith gave reasons why it looked to be unachievable:

A fully electric trolley/battery hybrid network could have been achieved by the early 2020s. Instead, by forcing Transit to purchase 228 diesel dinosaurs with a life expectancy of up to 25 years rather than modern trolley/battery hybrids, the new target of a fully electric bus system by 2050 now looks optimistic.

So now we have the Adrienne Staples’ forecast of 2040 to add to the mix. And as for pollution – in yesterday’s announcement, she admitted that there has been

… around a 12 per cent increase in transport generated emissions over the last five years, which is a 5 per cent increase in transport generated CO2 emissions per person.

She blamed this on population growth and a growing economy. But not entirely.

Another step that the regional council will be taking to combat rising emissions is making the move to a zero carbon bus fleet. “There are some things in this report which are outside the regional council’s control, but what we can control is a cleaner, greener public transport system. We have already seen a significant reduction in bus-related emissions thanks to our new bus fleet.”

She didn’t provide any figures for this claim, but continued to be optimistic, if vague.

“We have a vision to be the first region in New Zealand to have a full battery electric bus fleet, which we began last year with the introduction of 10 fully-electric double decker buses. This action will be followed by a further 22 by July 2021, with a total of 83 within the next few years.”

Whatever that means…


  1. outraged, 4. December 2019, 10:34

    2040? Is this serious??? Gross incompetence on display here by the new GWRC.

  2. Paul, 4. December 2019, 11:26

    No, sadly, I think 2040 is only an aspirational target…

  3. Elaine Hampton, 4. December 2019, 14:48

    Incompetence explained with fluff and nonsense.

  4. Dave B, 4. December 2019, 15:26

    What a shame that the new Coalition Government didn’t block GWRC from scrapping the trolleybuses right at the start. Unfortunately timing was against this happening. Although the election was on 23 September 2017, it took Winston Peters until 19 October before he announced what the coalition would be. By this time GWRC was able to argue that the contracts for scrapping had all been let and that it would cost a lot more to cancel them. Phil Twyford as the new rookie Minister of Transport had barely got his feet under the table and was unwilling and unprepared to buy this fight, and was no doubt sweet-talked by Laidlaw, Swain & Co into accepting that scrapping was somehow the right decision.

    We were very poorly served over this by those we elected to lead us. The option to allow the trolleybus infrastructure to remain in place while the new government found its feet was not offered. Instead, with almost indecent haste and seemingly out of spite, GWRC obliterated the network to make damn sure that no reconsideration could occur. If regular vandals had damaged and destroyed valuable public infrastructure like this they would probably have ended up in court.

  5. Northland, 4. December 2019, 18:19

    Why is acquiring electric buses so difficult ? This isn’t rocket science. According to Google, China has gazillions and London has over 200. Given a 30yr timeframe, they could design the bus and create the factory to make it. USA managed famously to go to the moon within a decade. Wellington needs 30yrs+ to order and purchase some buses. Anyone know why this needs to take so long ?

  6. Brendan, 4. December 2019, 18:38

    Well said Dave B.

  7. Alan, 4. December 2019, 18:48

    “We have a vision” says Adrienne Staples. Ten electric double-deckers introduced in July 2018 with the next examples not due until July 2021. Is this the fastest this council can do things? Talk about LGWM… Lets Get the Regional Council Moving!

  8. Hel, 4. December 2019, 20:21

    Thank goodness they declared a climate emergency or else we might have to wait until the next century for the electric bus fleet. The time has really come for commissioners to be appointed at GWRC with a view to disbanding it.

  9. steve doole, 4. December 2019, 22:46

    GWRC is not alone in any Unacceptable Purchasing Decisions league.
    A city in England is banning diesels, but now purchasing 64 new for its own use.

  10. Concerned Wellingtonian, 5. December 2019, 7:41

    Northland, in reply to your very good question (“Why is acquiring electric buses so difficult?”) the answer is, of course, that it isn’t.
    GW was incredibly careless (of all our interests) when they signed the bus contracts and failed to tie down the types of buses which we needed.
    The new people now running the Council will hopefully fix this. It would also be nice if they gave us the details.

  11. Roger Blakeley, 5. December 2019, 8:02

    GWRC will make a decision on the target date when it receives advice from officers on the bus fleet strategy under the Regional Public Transport Review in the next few months. [via twitter]

  12. Ralf, 5. December 2019, 8:40

    Obviously it will not be in 2040. In 2030 they will give us 2050 as target date, in 2040 they will give us 2060 and so on until it is not necessary anymore to replace the buses with EVs because Wellington is flooded. Problem solved.

  13. Ms Green, 5. December 2019, 10:06

    “It is my view that we should be taking immediate action,…” new Chair Councillor Staples concluded. Did she mean now? 2021? 2025? 2040? 2050? What action was she thinking about? Another report or a fleet of electric buses?

  14. Guntao Stem, 5. December 2019, 11:03

    @Hel Brilliant idea – how do we go about getting some commissioners in to abolish GWRC?

  15. Keith Flinders, 5. December 2019, 13:21

    Roger: Would they be the same officers who created bustastrophe, and tried to convince us that Wellington’s terrain is ideal for battery buses when the exact opposite is true? Seems to me that Ms Staples is following on using the same script as Barbara Donaldson.
    The GWRC has a credibility issue to get sorted out, and soon, to regain any degree of confidence in the minds of ratepayers. Delay and dithering over serious environmental and health issues is not what we expect.

  16. Marion Leader, 5. December 2019, 13:55

    Like former Councillor Barbara Donaldson, Ms Staples is from a constituency outside Wellington City. That is why we are lucky that the two councillors running the other Transport Committee (the one that has wrecked everything) are from Wellington City.

  17. Curtis Nixon, 5. December 2019, 14:15

    Guntao Stem – I sent my application to abolish GWRC to the Local Government Commission on the 2nd of September this year. They have sat on it without making a decision so earlier this week I complained to the Ombudsman’s office. We will see if that gets any action.

  18. Guntao Stem, 5. December 2019, 16:44

    Good work Curtis – please keep us informed. The sooner GWRC is consigned to the history books the better.

  19. BHS, 5. December 2019, 20:29

    Get the Commissioners in and abolish GWRC.

  20. Cr Daran Ponter, 5. December 2019, 22:01

    Interesting comments as usual. GWRC is on a path to a fully electric bus fleet. Fair to say that that path has been a meandering one as we work through contractual issues with operators, who ultimately buy and own the buses, and with NZTA who are a part funder of the Metlink network.

    We are in the final stage of negotiations with bus companies to secure more electric buses.

    I am committed to no more diesel purchases so the big question now is a programme to retrofit diesels for EV operation – the two big operators are already working to tackle this challenge.

  21. Guy M, 6. December 2019, 6:40

    “Why is acquiring electric buses so difficult?”and “Is this the fastest this council can do things?” are indeed “Incompetence explained with fluff and nonsense.” but if you want to know the real reasons why the GWRC has cocked up our transport for the next 20 years, it is all to do with money. It’s always all about money. Plain and simple fact is that electric battery buses are massively more expensive than diesel buses, and that if Wellington was to order 300 new electric buses right now, then there would be a massive bill to pay – and GWRC would need to put our rates up.

    Instead, they have to gradually introduce electrics into the fleet over the years, spreading the cost so it does not hit us in one fell swoop (and then hitting us again in another 30 years when they all need replacing again). The other reason is that we are not the only city looking to buy electric buses – nearly every city in the world also wants electric buses now, and this technology is in its infancy – so we have to, in effect, “get in line”. There are few reliable makers of this tech, and battery companies are under extreme pressure. London has 200 electric buses already? Well, it will want thousands more, as will Shanghai, Birmingham, Auckland, Rio etc etc. These are not sitting, ready-made, in a carpark in China, just waiting for a buyer. Waiting lists are already years long.

    And yes, of course, the answer is that we should not have got rid of our fully electric trolley buses, which the previous, grossly incompetent GWRC did, with indecent haste. We should not allow those in charge to slink quietly off into their sunset – I’m speaking about you, Laidlaw. If there was any justice in the world you would be on trial for incompetence. Instead, we have to suffer for your bad business decisions, and pay the price over the next two decades.

  22. michael, 6. December 2019, 8:18

    What I can’t understand is the lack of accountability regarding this fiasco. How can this occur and we have no redress? And now we have to suck it up and accept rates rises and exposure to increased pollution and noise. Why??

  23. David Mackenzie, 6. December 2019, 8:39

    Can they not gradually and incrementally introduce electric buses. Let’s do what we can when we can. Any improvement is good. Let’s not complain about an unknowable predicted future state. Gradually one bus replaced at a time is good. We don’t need to buy the whole fleet at once.

  24. Guy M, 6. December 2019, 12:59

    David – see my comment above. That is exactly what they are doing.

  25. Benny, 6. December 2019, 18:42

    Gradual rollout is a given. The question is over what period of time. And the regional council’s track record of keeping their promises is not good. Quite the opposite in fact. That’s why a proper commitment with a reasonable timeframe is so essential. 2030 is less ambitious than some would like but is reasonable. Yet even that might not be within the ability of the council, and that’s disappointing. Especially since two prominent regional councillors freshly elected campaigned on 2030. Time to walk the walk.

  26. KB, 6. December 2019, 19:20

    @Guy M: I think you maybe overstating the cost of procuring and running EV buses slightly? Upfront costs are constantly dropping as battery prices plummet with increasing scale, and much of the extra current upfront cost is recouped through much lower TCO (total cost of ownership) due to electricity costing much less than diesel, and the lower maintenance costs of the EV drivetrain.

    I don’t know exactly how the Wellington procurement process works, but it wouldn’t surprise me if bus operators are taking the council for a ride by asking for a subsidy on the purchase price, while keeping all the lower operating cost savings for themselves.

  27. Northland, 7. December 2019, 16:23

    It’s still not rocket science @Guy M. GWRC can and should do better

  28. Guy M, 7. December 2019, 18:14

    Absolutely – yes I totally agree, they can do better, should have done better, and they better do better! For those interested in the costs: the main manufacturer is a Chinese company called BYD, and a 2016 report noted that the cost differential then was about $300,000 more ($US) for electric than diesel. So if a usual diesel single floor bus cost $500k then a similar sized electric would cost about $800k – and obviously all these costs are higher here as the buses we are looking at are double decker, and we are in NZ, paying with NZ dollars.

    So all up, we (NZ) are looking at a 60% increase in price to buy electric buses, with only 1 or 2 manufacturers, and a massive waiting list. As I said before – it IS all about the money, and we have to get in line. Just about every city on earth wants electric buses, and BYD will have to supply the vast Chinese domestic market, so an order from little old Wellington will get pushed down the bottom of the pile. It’s not Rocket Science – but it is Market Science.

    Of course, the answer that we all know is that they should not have scrapped the trolley buses, they should have bought back and invested in the lines company, and they should never have allowed a pile of Auckland’s crappy old diesel junk to be brought here.

  29. Brendan, 8. December 2019, 8:21

    Reduce the number of buses and bus stops. Buses are the bane of my life. Force office workers to walk half a kilometre. It would be good for their health and everyone else’s too. Diesel fumes are killing us.

  30. Keith Flinders, 8. December 2019, 12:37

    Guy M: Looking only at the cost of electric buses overlooks the other economic factors. It is estimated that the cost to society of each main income earner with a young family if taken out of the workforce by accident, disease, or the impact of pollution on his/her health is upwards of $4 million in health and social welfare costs alone per “victim”. Nearly 9500 people die in London each year due to air pollution (from carbon burning vehicles mainly) related issues. Pro rata that is equivalent to about 30 people in the Wellington region per annum at a cost well over $60 million, or the same as 40 electric buses in NZ dollar terms.

    Electric buses are being produced in their thousands in China, India, USA, Europe, not that the GWRC appears to be aware.

    The impact on the environment comes at additional cost to that incurred by the residents health wise, the reduction of property values along the bus routes is another factor conveniently forgotten. All these factors were totally ignored by the 2013 – 2016 GWRC council in 2014 when they engineered the scheme to rid the city of trolley buses using some spurious arguments, some which did not hold up to scrutiny. “Trolley buses are old and falling apart” was but one excuse yet the newest bus was then was only 6 years old, and a majority of the rest were built this century.

    We must not forget that the WCC and current WCC Mayor Foster were also complicit in ridding the city of trolley buses.

  31. Casey, 8. December 2019, 12:44

    Brendan. Long may you enjoy your good health and the ability to walk long distances, as many others are not that fortunate. Agreed that the diesel emissions are killing and impairing the health of thousands, when Wellington should have been leading the way with the adoption of modern electric buses to replace the trolley ones.

    A supposedly 1st World capital city that imported sixty 18 year old diesel buses shows just how badly we are being governed. It is an outrage.

  32. michael, 8. December 2019, 18:45

    Guy I totally agree with you and thus my real concern about living in the city.
    This fiasco is a result of false economy and will result in greater costs to ratepayers and taxpayers in the long-term.
    If this had been a private company they would have been sacked immediately, but GWRC haven’t had to take any responsibility or consequences. Why???
    Guess we will be changing our slogan to “Absolutely polluted Wellington” before too long.

  33. B. Dover, 8. December 2019, 19:22

    Keith F. The stories told by GWRC to get rid of the trolleybuses were so shameful that there should’ve been a public enquiry IHMO. Indeed the claims that they were “end of life”, worn-out, built from second-hand parts, were just not true. All this of course was very strongly pointed out to the GWRC, who changed nothing and continued with their plan. And then they were happy for these ‘worn out, end of life’ buses to be repowered as battery buses or Wrightspeed buses. Not so worn out or end of life after all.

  34. Roy Kutel, 8. December 2019, 21:45

    Time to kill off GWRC before they kill us off with diesel pollution!

  35. Henry Filth, 8. December 2019, 22:15

    Out of idle curiosity, what’s the lead time for an electric bus?

  36. Alan, 9. December 2019, 6:32

    B. Dover. Unfortunately just the one trolleybus was converted – to battery powered operation. One was tried with a Wrightspeed engine but was not successful. So out of the whole fleet just one lives on. The remaining lot have just been sold to a bus dealer. Who knows how they will end up. Certainly not as electric trolleybuses.

  37. GrahamCA, 9. December 2019, 7:25

    9 – 12 months Henry depending on specifications

  38. John Daniels, 9. December 2019, 20:54

    So, WLG wants electric buses? They HAD them–they were trolley buses! The trolley buses were taken out of service AND the overhead wires were removed. Only a first-class BERK would de-electrify a city transit system that was powered by NZ’s mostly emissions-free electric grid. Electric battery powered buses could’ve been equipped with trolley booms, which would’ve allowed them to operate in regular service away from the wires and use the overhead wires to recharge their tractive batteries whilst operating as trolley buses. WLG’s transit authority is off its trolley.