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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 [1] 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 [2]. 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 [3]

Maximus: Off your trolley [4]

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 [5]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, [6] 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 [7]. 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 [8]. (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: [9] “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.