All change? Trolley buses, music lessons, and snake oil

After the long debate about light rail and the transport spine, yesterday’s news about the demise of Wellington’s trolley buses came as a surprise, as did the concerns stated by the company that runs them.

The Regional Council told the DomPost that trolley bus services will end in 2017 as part of a plan for Wellington to have more modern vehicles, though these haven’t yet been found.

Zane Fulljames of NZ Bus, which owns the trolley buses, said it was pointless to get rid of them without deciding what would replace them. “A decision hasn’t been made. There needs to be a solid plan in place from trolleys to the next piece of technology.” He said the trolley buses could be used till 2022.

His dismay was echoed by the chief executive of the Cable Car Company which runs the overhead lines. He said it was disappointing that trolley buses would be stopping because “they’re an iconic part of Wellington that we all know and love.”

But Paul Swain of the Regional Council insists the trolley buses are too expensive. “Axing them was a big call but the correct one.” His reasons: the cost of maintaining the wire network, and the backlogs caused when they break down.

According to the DomPost, the decision is contained in a draft public transport plan released yesterday by the Regional Council. But the release has been a very restricted one – there’s nothing about it on the council’s website this weekend so it’s impossible to discover the complete details.

The paper says the council is also planning to change bus routes around the city, focusing on north-south and east-west spines. There will be more frequent services, but also the need for more passengers to change buses.

Mr Fulljames of NZ Bus is “very, very supportive” of the new routes. However, he is concerned that there’s no plan about how to introduce the changes.

Save our trolley buses, say two regional councillors

Maximus: Off your trolley

Not only bus services are facing change. Changes to music education in the city have been announced, and challenged, this week. On Radio New Zealand yesterday, two university professors were questioned by Eva Radich about the news that the New Zealand School of Music, till now a combined venture run by VUW and Massey, is being taken over by Victoria. But the word takeover isn’t mentioned in the official announcement, which does its best to play down what is being planned.

The two vice-chancellors say they are both very proud of what the combined Music School has achieved in the areas of teaching, research and community engagement on two separated campuses over the past eight years. But their pride is qualified, as they say the joint operation has to end. Why? “To ensure the long-term viability of tertiary music programmes.” They promise that no jobs will be lost and all students will be able to complete their studies when everything is transferred into one venue up the hill at Victoria. And music at Massey isn’t to be completely abandoned – it’s to be given new courses in popular music in its college of creative arts. (“Lorde is the great example.”)

Then there’s the long-running debate about changes to Wellington local government. It was given some new life during the week when Bob Harvey, on a flying visit from Auckland to speak to the Lower Hutt Rotary Club, said he thinks we need to become a super city . Sir Bob, who was mayor of Waitakere for six terms till the super-city arrived, warned that we’ll be left behind unless we follow the example of Auckland. “Wellington is in danger of losing its voice, its power and its identity, and that’s disappointing… Local politicians need to forget about protecting their patch.”

There are, of course, other points of view, notably that of Lower Hutt mayor Ray Wallace, who organised a widely-reported “secret meeting” of mayors opposed to amalgamation. (Was he in the Rotary audience for the Harvey speech?)

Three correspondents in the DomPost’s letters section gave their reasons for disagreeing with Sir Bob. Gavin Dillon of Mt Victoria referred to the selling of snake oil and wrote: “Wellington’s identity is unique … Who wants it to be compared with Auckland with its sprawling crowded roads, and high cost of rental and property ownership?” Teresa Homan wrote “the residents of Hutt City and Upper Hutt … do not want to have our assets stripped from us and used to buy more big-ticket items that will be centralised in central Wellington.” And Lewis Holden wrote: “Having lived in Auckland and seen their rates rise along with their grass berms, I would caution Wellington not to rush into amalgamation.”

Sir Bob seems to have forgotten his regrets when Waitakare city vanished into the super-city monolith. As he wrote in 2012: “I personally felt a great deal of grief, believing Waitakere was the one city that had a genuine sense of pride, place and progress.” Perhaps he may have some secret sympathy for the views of Ray Wallace and the people of the Hutt Valley.



  1. Gareth Hughes, 16. March 2014, 8:36

    Wellington’s iconic, clean trolley buses are part of what makes our town unique. I’m going to fight to save them. [via Twitter]

  2. Paul Bruce, 16. March 2014, 8:39

    If Wellington is going for a low emission fleet, then we need to get rid of the diesel buses. [via Twitter]

  3. Ian Shearer, 16. March 2014, 9:32

    Why is it that an innovative electric vehicle inductive power technology charging system, developed and patented by researchers at Auckland University, and now being trialled in municipal bus fleets all over the world, cannot be introduced here? Want to know more – search for HaloIPT.

    We should use this NZ grown system – and possibly even start by converting the existing trolley buses to battery / GNG hybrids and use HaloIPT for the battery charging. Then we could remove the lines.

  4. Daran Ponter, 16. March 2014, 14:09


    Before you go on an all out assault to keep the trolley buses you might want to consider:

    a) Ratepayers pay approximately $4million more per annum to keep the trolley buses on the road than the same number of Euro 5 diesel buses – let’s not confuse low emission with low cost.

    b) The trolley buses only run during week days. If they are to run on Saturdays and Sundays that $4 Million figure gets closer to $5 million per annum, and still only on particular routes.

    c) There is huge deferred maintenance/upgrade due on the power supply – in the $ Millions.

    d) Trolley buses only serve a portion of Wellington City’s bus routes – wouldn’t it be better to move to a low emission fleet that covered all routes in the City, not to mention the Hutt Valley, Porirua, Kapiti and the Wairarapa.

    e) The trolley bus fleet is coming to the end of its life. Now is the time to consider if there isn’t better technology that can deliver many of the things we appreciate about electric buses now at a lower cost and across the region.

    This is also the opportunity to push for things that should be universal in a cosmopolitan bus fleet – accessibility (low floor design, pram accessibility), integrated ticketing, bike racks, wifi etc.

    It will also be a time for us to consider how we act to preserve a part of our transport heritage for future generations.

    Rather than riling against the demise of trolley buses, how about looking forward to modern and integrated transport solutions!

  5. CC, 16. March 2014, 17:22

    Thanks for the comments Daran. It is surprising to hear that the trolley bus fleet is obsolete after only seven years. Added to that, it is obvious that diesels, hybrids etc. also have relatively short life-spans and depend on fossil fuels. So – shouldn’t you be making the case for light rail on the main routes (as pre- 1960). After all, the (new) Wellington cable car is still going strong after 35 years and internationally, trams seem to go indefinitely, with some units having served cities for the best part of a century.

    The level of subsidy you state as applicable to trolley buses certainly makes scary reading. Could you please provide information about all the PT subsidies so the trolley bus subsidies can be put into context. That would also put some serious context around your final two paragraphs.

  6. Daran Ponter, 16. March 2014, 20:18

    Hi CC,

    The GWRC opt-out of the trolleys is, I understand, largely informed by the current contractual arrangements. The current fleet could go on beyond 2017 for perhaps another 5 years, But don’t forget the current fleet is largely just a refreshed fleet based on 1980s running gear and body frame.

    As for trams, yes, I think it is a superior mode, but a viable tram network can only be built around a solid core. When the Regional Transport Committee recently voted for buses for the transport spine they basically put the stake into trams full stop.

    The subsidy for running trolleys is approximately $4million more than the equivalent diesels. The reasons for this largely relate to the fact that with trolleys you have to pay for a second road (the wires) and there are no other users to share this cost with. The actual subsidy data for routes and modes is tightly held by the Council.

    I would hope that the Council would be more transparent around these numbers, but I don’t hold out much hope.

  7. CC, 17. March 2014, 7:00

    Daran – in your opinion, does that mean that WCC pick up $4m in subsidies through the Wellington Cable Car Company to run the ‘Kelburn Light Rail’ and maintain the trolley bus wiring? If so, can it be assumed a bus operator wants to get its hands on that as well as all the other subsidies GWRC hand over to them for running a PT system that is far from efficient or user friendly? If Infratil had its hands on the light rail levers, one suspects that the rails would already be going into the ground – especially if they were being paid for by public funding. The profits would of course be privatized!

  8. Philippa, 17. March 2014, 8:30

    Here’s a link to the Council papers which were published online on Friday and include the draft Regional Public Transport Plan. The report and draft plan is item #4 – Draft Regional Public Transport Plan for public consultation. The link is not hyper-linked so you’ll need to copy this link and paste it in your browser.

  9. John, 17. March 2014, 12:33

    A bit cheeky of you. Yes, Bob Harvey did write that he “personally felt a great deal of grief, believing Waitakere was the one city that had a genuine sense of pride, place and progress” – immediately followed by “But things had to change. Auckland needed a wrecking ball, good leadership and a new vision.”

  10. Mark W, 17. March 2014, 12:51

    With regards to the whole anti trolley bus brigade -

    a) Euro 5 diesel buses are far from clean compared to a zero emission electric trolley bus. But hey let’s just lump trolley buses in with diesel buses that still omit pollutants.

    b) The trolley buses only run on week days so that maintenance can be undertaken on the overhead. Though i’d be happy to see them run on weekends like they used to.

    c) The reason for the high expense in power generators / converters is because successive city councils ran the equipment into the ground without rebuilding and creating new generators / substations.

    d) Trolley buses only serve particular routes due to snotty rich people who live in suburbs like Roseneath, Wadestown and Oriental Bay who were concerned about the overhead wires devaluing their houses. But they didn’t seem to care too much when Telstra strung up fat cables to give them high speed internet or when the power company strung up power cables.

    e) The trolley bus fleet is coming to the end of its life because the incompetent regional council allowed Go Wellington to re-purpose their existing Volvos using their outdated electrics and chassis, instead of buying brand new trolley buses.

    Let’s not let history repeat itself when the trams were pulled from the streets of Wellington. Isn’t it ironic that people talk about how we should have light rail and yet if we hadn’t removed the tram network in the first place we could have.

    This is what happens when you allow the ignorant and the self absorbed rich to run the city. God forbid what would happen if we became a Super City.

  11. David Bond, 17. March 2014, 13:09

    @ Daran Ponter – “But don’t forget the current [trolleybus] fleet is largely just a refreshed fleet based on 1980s running gear and body frame”.

    No! The body frame is entirely new. The only parts recycled from the old Volvo buses were the traction motors, front and rear axles and the 600v line filter. The traction motors were overhauled and ought to be good for many more years. The axles and line filters are also long-lived components. Apart from these items, everything else was new and these vehicles should have the same – or longer – lifespan than the equivalent diesels. A feature which may let them down is the Brazilian electronic control system which apparently suffers failure from time to time. However there are options to fix this that are less drastic than scrapping the buses.

  12. Ross Clark, 17. March 2014, 22:17

    Have a look here at hybrid low-emission buses:

    Not perfect, but the fuel savings (and therefore pollution reduction) are not insignificant. The extra cost for a hybrid is about £110,000 over a standard low-floor bus chassis of £150,000 ($205,000 over $290,000).

  13. Vladimir, 17. March 2014, 22:19

    Wellingtonians like their trolley buses.

    We need a Crimean referendum right here right now.

    Kick the fat diesel smokin politicians out. They are truly hopeless!

  14. James, 17. March 2014, 22:39

    @Daran, which council holds the subsidy data tightly, and on what grounds?

    I was in the meeting where the spine study was signed off. That didn’t include a discussion of scrapping trolley bus service either.

    I’ve been in a presentation on inductive power. I don’t know how flat it needs the roads to be. @Ian, do you want to find them and ask them whether it’s ready for retrofitting to trolley buses?

  15. Ernie, 18. March 2014, 1:37

    Convert the diesels to CNG for a cleaner option. Better still, go for CNG/ electric hybrids, so you can get the advantage of Wellington’s bends and hills in regenerative braking. Cheaper, more flexible and just as ‘clean’ as the trolleys, and speedy with it.

  16. John Osborne, 18. March 2014, 11:38

    The destruction of the trolley bus system, one of the finest public assets in Wellington, an asset that helps to reduce the noise, vibration and fumes of diesel buses from the capital’s Streets. How short sighted is this, for the Wellington Regional Council to make the call and force the trolleybus system to be scrapped. The system is the envy of many cities around the world. Most switched on cities are going for Proven Electric Transport like trolleybuses, because they are cleaner, quieter and have none of horrible diesel fumes. Electric trolleybus is civilised and this act by the Wellington Regional Council, being spearheaded it seems by a Labour man, is uncivilised. Mind you it’s worth pointing out that Mr Swain and Ms Wilde of the Labour Party were both members of that disastrous Government that in nazi-like fashion destroyed the working class in the 1980s. Considering their connection to acts of public vandalism from the past … the removal of the trolleybus system is in the same vein.
    Trolleybuses account for about 60-70 per cent of Inner City Runs. Removing the trolleybuses means you will be flooding Wellington City with 60 per cent more diesel buses. 60 per cent more noise, 60 per cent more fumes, 60 per cent more vibration. Anyone who has lived in the central suburbs for any amount of time will notice how much quieter and cleaner they are thanks to the trolleybuses. You don’t find yourself shouting as much, because the noise factor just isent there. The ride in the trolleybus is quiet with no engine sounds thank god. Trolleybuses are crucial to quality of life. Returning to Auckland after a spell in the Capital, one could see that diesel buses affect the nerves and health of people. Auckland made the big mistake of getting rid of its trolleys years ago. Dont allow the WRC to do the same to you.
    The WRC and their apologists will try and smooth over the removal of the trolleybuses with such ideas as battery buses, hybrid buses and low emission diesel buses. Firstly on the low emission diesel buses. A diesel bus is a diesel bus and theres no taking away from that – it’s still a noisy machine emitting fumes. As for hybrid and battery buses, they are ludicrous proposals for Wellington given its hilly nature. Hybrids and battery buses are not proven technology. If they close the trolley routes down, replacing some services with hydrids, then 6 months down the road when all the trolleys are gone, the WRC will come out and say the hybrids don’t work, you will have to tolerate diesel buses. and by that stage it would be too late to restore the clean quiet trolleybuses. The trolleybus system is essential to any future light rail system. The costs of implementing a new light rail or tram system will be significantly reduced if the trolleybus infrastructure remains in place. It’s the complex electrical network which is the most vital part of the enterprise.
    It’s worth pointing out that trolleybuses make sense on hilly routes, and although they cost more then diesel buses, they have a long lifespan and are more economical long term. I urge All Wellingtonians to get rid of Paul Swain and the other Labour hacks off the WRC as soon as possible and to vote for Green candidates because only the Greens have shown a concern and commitment for the trolleybuses. [Abridged]

  17. Neil Douglas, 18. March 2014, 16:02

    Wellington should make more out of its trolleybuses. They are pretty unique world wide. Yes they are slow and they come off their trolleys, but is speed all we think about?

    I know of research conducted in NZ that has shown that users are willing to pay more to use trolleys because they rate them higher environmentally than diesel buses.

    NZ Bus could paint the trolleys in a different colour to differentiate them and could also give some information on them.

  18. Matt L, 18. March 2014, 16:41

    A table in the Regional Council report (page 30-34) provides more detailed comparisons between the options. One of the things that surprises about them is the cost difference in purchase price.

    Diesel Bus – $300,000-$450000 per bus
    Trolley Bus – roughly $700,000 per bus + investment needed to bring the overhead network up to scratch.
    Hybrid – roughly $600,000 per bus.
    Electric – $900,000-$1.1 million per bus

    I suspect some of the anger/disappointment that the trolleys are going is that people suspect they will just be replaced with the cheapest solution. [Published in Transport Blog]

  19. Pete, 18. March 2014, 16:45

    Where did they get $700,000 per trolley bus? It should be cheaper than a diesel! The entire thing can be made in NZ too, nothing exotic or new there. Smells like a deliberate mistake. (From Transport Blog]

  20. Tony, 18. March 2014, 17:50

    Is our”trolley bus system one of the finest public assets in Wellington” ? It seems to me that something that consumes an ever increasing amount of money for no return is not an asset but a liability.

    When the business case to “save the trolleys” was first put, it was clear the buses themselves would be very expensive. It was also clear that the overhead was expensive (then estimated at $1.5M/year) and the power system needed upgrading. However, the Greater Wellington Regional Council that led the saving of the trolleys claimed the power system only needed $4M over 10 years to keep going. It seems the regional council was wrong by an order of magnitude.

    The trolleys have become a huge money pit funded by Wellington City ratepayers and bus riders. The huge cost increases to keep the trolleys going is the main driver of increased bus fares. We CAN keep the trolleys going but no one will be able to afford to use them.

    It is quite clear that if the real costs of the power system were understood, the trolleys would have been scrapped in 2006. Instead Wellington now has the highest bus fares in the country, no investment (except to keep the trolley buses going) and plummeting patronage. In other words, the trolley bus system is one of the finest public liabilities in Wellington …

  21. The City is Ours, 18. March 2014, 20:10

    No matter what type of bus is used to run the public transport system in Wellington, when the buses are run by private operators particularly those who sell petrol, bus fares are bound to remain high.

  22. Hel, 18. March 2014, 21:05

    I thought one of the main issues with the existing trolley bus network is related to the power supply and the need for a major upgrade if the trolley buses are to be retained at some ridiculous cost of tens of millions. The cable car is iconic to Wellington. Not sure the trolley buses are.

  23. Duke, 19. March 2014, 12:27

    Trolleybus is clean and quiet and glides about the city with ease. You may be paying slightly more for trolleybus but what you getting in return is a cleaner and more liveable city. Going by the logic of people like Tony, we should also get rid of parks and gardens because whilst they beautify the city, they nonetheless cost money to maintain and by his logic are black holes, endless pits to throw money into. Tony says that as the Trolleybus system is costing money, it is a liability, Well the same can be said for Parks and Gardens yet we still have them, so as to beautify the city and make it liveable and attractive. Well the Trolleybus also helps make Wellington liveable because having trolleybuses dominate bus routes instead of diesel buses, means that the city eliminates the noise and fumes of the diesel buses. If we can’t justify having clean green electric traction like trolleybus, then we cant justify all those other things which help make the city beautiful and which are paid for by ratepayers. We might as well have a bland concrete box city with nothing but endless concrete and tarseal, filled in between by noisy polluting diesel buses. Maybe that’s Tony’s ideal City, But that is not a City which I or thousands of other people want to live in or visit.

  24. Tony, 19. March 2014, 16:06

    We were told (and agreed) that users “may be paying slightly more for trolleybus” when the Trolleys were “saved” back in 2006. The original business case included environmental benefits as well as the greater patronage attraction of trolleys as factors towards offsetting the significant cost. Of course the patronage benefit also turned out to be wrong, Wellington bus usage has fallen back to 2006 levels despite our city having 61 trolley buses that are “clean and quiet and glide about the city with ease”.

    However, as I explained, the actual cost for the trolley buses did not turn out to be “slightly more” than diesel buses . . . it turned out to be much much more.

    To Duke and others: This year Wellington City bus subsidies are $31M. How much of these bus subsidies do you think GWRC now expects to spend on the 61 trolleys ? 20%, 30%, 40%, or 50% ?

    This year the GWRC again increases fares including One Zone cash fares. For Adults the One Zone price goes from $2.00 -> $2.50 (a 25% increase) and children from $1.50 -> $2.00 (a 33% increase).

    Do you agree, Duke, that children going to school and the disabled going to the doctor should pay more for the bus to cover the unbudgetted cost blowout on your precious trolley buses Because these fare increases (and equivalent rates increases) are the price to keep the trolleys going . . . and even this will not be enough.

  25. Duke, 20. March 2014, 14:18

    Well let’s just go over the facts.

    The GWRC Do not own the trolley buses, and neither do they own the trolleybus infrastructure. Technically speaking, Wellington Cable Car as a business should be investing in its infrastructure and charging access fees or royalties for bus operators to use the lines. These fees could then be offset by the GWRC. The Wellington City Council as owner of Wellington Cable Car should be investing more into the business, and, if WRC wants to throw money into it, they should be able to buy shares in Wellington Cable Car thus giving them something for their money, namely a seat on the Cable Car Board. At the present time one gathers that the GWRC simply hand out money.

    The trolleybus infrastructure is an asset because it contributes to cleaner quieter streets, and therefore a much healthier City Environment. That is the benefits of having a bus system mostly operated with trolleys. If the public are going to be subsidising bus companies then the general expectation should be that the buses be clean green and silent like the trolley buses. The public deserve more for their financial support then a diesel bus. The diesel bus is both offensive from the standpoint of passengers and the public at large. The thought of increasing the public nuisance that is the diesel bus, is sickening to say the least. Only those who live and work on trolley routes and who use buses on a regular basis know how disgusting diesel buses are and thus why the trolleys must be retained.

    Tony goes on about the cost of the trolleys. What about the cost of the effects on the public’s health by exposure long term to increased noise, emissions and vibration from diesel buses? There are enough studies worldwide to show that the diesel bus is potentially lethal to our health, and as such, its use should be restricted, not encouraged. The anti trolley bus brigade cite the ongoing costs of trolley bus, without taking into account the benefits of trolleybus long term.

    The Wellington Public Transport system cannot make a financial return for the GWRC because the GWRC do not own the system and that goes for the whole Passenger Transport system not just trolleys. The dividends received from funding a service are holistic ones. Connecting people with places, providing a viable alternative to the private car. These are all the benefits of having regularly scheduled public transport services. But the aim isnt for the GWRC to make a profit from this. There are flow on benefits from having a well run public transport system.

    There is debate over the cost of trolleybus infrastructure. . Perhaps The way forward may be for Wellington Cable Car to buy the trolley buses and then lease these to the operator under a profit sharing agreement. The operator in return either pays a lease or royalties to Wellington Cable Car off each fare. A $0.20 cent royalty on each fare, to go back to the Cable Car Company, is not a lot to ask for having the clean quiet splendour of the trolley bus.

    Tony mentions children and the sick having to pay more for trolleybuses, well what about children and the sick dying a lot quicker thanks to the carcinogens pumped into the atmosphere from diesel buses? Reports overseas have proven that the diesel bus is almost lethal with respect to emissions. So whilst the sick and the young might pay less with diesel bus, long term their health will be degraded and their lifespan cut short.

    Trolleys keep our streets clean,. and they reduce the transport system’s dependence on imported fuel oil. The trolley buses being electrically powered, hedge in the transport system from the inevitable oil price rises that will occur in the next ten years. Given the ups and downs of the oil business, it is a crime for anyone in this supposedly more enlightened age to even suggest ripping out a clean green electric transport system powered in the main by renewable energy sources.

    Another factor of diesel buses are they have more moving parts, greater wear and tear and thus higher maintenance costs and a shorter service life.

    The trolley system is a public benefit no different to public gardens or a fresh clean water supply. The dividends from trolleybus are already noted, it is clean and green public transport. On that basis alone the trolleys justify their existence and our continued investment in them. [Abridged].

  26. Daran Ponter, 20. March 2014, 16:53

    Hi CC. If now appears that the cost for trolley buses has blown out from $4million per annum to closer to $5million per annum. The bulk of that is money that goes to the WCC controlled Cable Car Limited to maintain the overhead wires.

    Yes, it is possible that a bus operator could get a subsidy from the Council for introducing low emission buses (e.g. super capacitor buses). Yes, the profits would be privatised, but that is effectively what happens when the GWRC pays money across the the Cable Car Company now.

    My preferred approach would be to bring the entire bus fleet back within the control of the Council – with efficient management we would deliver lower fares to Wellingtonians rather than share dividends to Infratil shareholders!


  27. Daran Ponter, 20. March 2014, 17:11

    Hi Mark W. Yes, there are some people who are definitely anti-trolley bus. But there’s also a bunch of people who are saying “perhaps now is the time to start looking forward to alternative green technology”.

    No the trolley buses don’t just run on weekdays so that maintenance can be done in the weekends. It would cost ratepayers another hundreds of thousands of dollars to run the trolleys in the weekend. Because the cost is prohibitive they just run five days a week.

    Yes, it is undoubtedly the case that successive Councils did not reinvest in power supply, but it is also worth noting that the current system is largely designed for a tram network and not a trolley network. Either way, we get to the same point – somewhere between $40 and $60 million is likely to need to be spent to get the power supply up to spec.

    I’m sure there are many reasons trolley buses only serve some routes – but here is our opportunity to confirm a new standard of low emission buses that serve the entire city.

    Yes, the existing fleet was refurbished, But I venture to say that had the option of new trolleys been on the table ten years ago, then the GWRC would have made the decision to can the trolley at that point.

  28. Daran Ponter, 20. March 2014, 17:19

    Hi James. The GWRC holds a tight grip on the subsidies that it pays to bus companies and the contractual arrangements they have with Wellington Cable Car Limited. Feel free to ask for the data and documents under the Official Information Act. What you will get is a load of paper with lots blanks that would have left even Nelson Mandela bewildered!

    The Energy Conservation and Efficiency Authority commissioned a study on alternative bus technology options in 2012 which is well worth a read.

  29. Daran Ponter, 20. March 2014, 17:46

    Hi John Osborne. Well, no – the trolley bus system is not one of the finest public assets in Wellington. Rather it is a public asset that we have allowed to gradually run down over time, have failed to future proof and build on.

    I fully agree with your list of the virtues of trolley buses. But what if we could find many if not all of those virtues in an alternative technology – low emission, quiet, low vibration etc . Add to that the possibility of new technologies that might virtually eliminate the need for overhead wires.

    And then, how about if the low emission, quiet, low vibration fleet was able to be extended to the whole of the Wellington Region. Why shouldn’t the residents of Lower Hutt or Johnsonville be able to benefit from these virtues as well?

  30. Daran Ponter, 20. March 2014, 17:59

    Hi Duke. You are right. The GWRC do not own the trolley buses – they are owned by Infratil.

    Wellington Cable Car Limited only do the bare minimum that they are paid to do via a contract with the GWRC – no more, no less. If Wellington Cable Car tried to extract a fee from Go Wellington to use their trolley lines, then the trolley buses would be gone tomorrow. For years the GWRC have tried to have Wellington Cable Car Ltd shifted under their control. But WCC has resisted.

    I agree that trolley buses contribute to cleaner quieter streets, and therefore a much healthier City Environment, but increasingly new technology will be available that does this and more.

  31. John Osborne, 20. March 2014, 23:26

    Daran, if you agree with the virtues of trolleybuses, why do you support scrapping them?

    With regards to low emission diesels, don’t delude yourself. The trolleybuses are the only viable clean green transport option. A diesel bus is a diesel bus no matter how much it emits, it still emits. They are called low emission, not zero emission. Low emission buses still emit fumes, still make noise, still have vibration. You can’t take that away. And that’s the problem. Trolleybuses are proven technology, and are clean and quiet.

    To get rid of them is utter nonsense. Either make a stand in support of the trolleys or face a community backlash that will wipe the Labour Party out of Central Wellington. Scrapping the trolleys is about as stupid as scrapping the trams. People have long memories and they still remember how Labour destroyed the Post Office and other publicly owned organizations. Scrap the trolleys and for generations Labour’s name will be mud as a result.

    With regard to the idea of Wellington Cable Car charging royalties, I doubt that an operator would have a problem with a profit sharing agreement provided say that Wellington Cable Car invested in the lines and provided new trolley buses, thus saving the operator the need to pay for expensive fleet renewals. Then again, Wellington Cable Car should be able to charge a $0.20 royalty on fares on the trolleys, to recoup some money from the trolley system. The charging of a royalty by Wellington Cable Car would not close the trolleybus system down.

  32. Daran Ponter, 6. April 2014, 17:02

    Hi John, Yes, I agree with you on many of the virtues of trolley buses. They are clean and quiet and have a strong following by public transport users.

    But trolley buses represent 12% of the Wellington bus fleet.

    With a huge cost (in the $10s of millions) to upgrade the current trolley bus network the time has come for a complete review. This cost does not involve any extensions to the network. It does not involve a greater number of buses. If you want that then the cost will jump again by many $10s of millions,

    In my last term as a Councillor I voted every year against bus fare increases. I also knew that it was partly the expense of the trolley buses that kept hiking bus fares up.

    So, what I am looking forward to is a Wellington-region wide fleet of low emission buses, which we can afford and which won’t inflate bus fares. I rather fancy that in the time it takes to make a final decision, battery technology will have advanced considerably….sufficient to make ultra-capacitor buses a real possibility for Wellington (with the benefit of using much of the current lines infrastructure).

  33. Sarah Free, 22. May 2014, 21:08

    Figures obtained from the Cable Car Company show that the actual cost of maintaining/renewing the trolley bus network appears to be closer to $3 million than the $6 million I have heard quoted by GWRC.
    Also rumour has it that much less needs to be spent on the substations than GWRC is claiming. We need much more accurate costings to make a well informed , well considered opinion.

  34. The City is Ours, 23. May 2014, 14:31

    Great work Sarah!!! I recently spoke with the on the ground maintenance crew for the network and they agreed trolley buses need specialist drivers so saving on costs for repairs etc. I suggest we bring the trolley bus service back in house and employ drivers who know the network like the back of their hands. Wellingtonians should have the choice and opportunity to travel a safe, clean and unique bus service (Wellington is the only city in Australasia that has trolley buses) even if it means paying a little extra. I know bus drivers who would love to contract to GWRC providing this excellent service, bringing meaning to what we refer to as “public transport”.

  35. Rosamund, 24. May 2014, 14:05

    Wellington Cable Car’s responsibility within the council is for the overhead wires, not the trolley buses. WCCL gets a subsidy from the Regional Council to utilise its overhead wires which have been leased to various entities since the legislation changed in the early 90s.

    I understand that changes to the LGA allow WCC to again become responsible for its transport network as has Dunedin Council but am not sure whether subsidies from the Regional Council would be transferable.

    Public transport is a service to citizens. The fare rises proposed are extortionate. It is not many years since one zone cost a $1 and the daytripper cost $4 thus making public transport a preferred option.

    The new buses are cramped with very little legroom even for small people and as a consequence many passengers drape themselves diagonally across two seats. A driver told me of having to extricate a person from between seats. The “contravision” veiling detracts from making a journey scenic and some buses have both the “contravision” and advertising blocking views. Why is it allowed?


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