Wellington Scoop

Trolley buses (non-polluting) vs diesel buses (a public health risk)

by Paul Bruce and Sue Kedgley
As people all over the world celebrate the fact that 195 nations have committed to drastically reducing their emissions over the next few decades, it’s important that local government, along with everyone else, does whatever it can to reduce emissions in our region.

Transport emissions are the most significant source of emissions in the Wellington region (37%), so reducing carbon emissions from transport should be a high priority for the Regional Council.

That’s why we have been campaigning for two years to keep our fleet of 60 non-polluting, zero-emission electric trolley buses (which have 10-15 years of life left in them), and we are deeply disappointed that the rest of the Regional Council is still calling for their demise and replacement, for the next decade at least, with polluting diesel buses.

Unless other Regional Councillors can be persuaded to change their mind, our trolley buses will be put out of service from June 2017, and replaced by diesel buses. This will mean that Wellington will have a fleet of 400 diesel buses in our region, all increasing carbon emissions and emitting carcinogenic particulates that are a serious public health risk.

New diesel buses will be expected to meet a Euro 5 standard (not even Euro 6 which is the mandated European standard). But the existing fleet of around 200 Euro 3 diesel buses will continue to chug around Wellington until they are 20 years old, spewing their diesel fumes.

A battery electric bus is to be trialled next year, along with a diesel electric hybrid bus. And the intention is that when electric battery buses become widely available and cost effective, the Council will switch to electric battery buses. The problem is that electric battery buses are heavy and may be limited to 45 passengers, when just relying on overnight charging.

This makes them well suited to some bus routes, but not to major bus routes that require high capacity buses, which need to carry at least 75 passengers. By contrast, trolley buses are ideally suited for Wellington’s conditions as they don’t need to carry a full complement of batteries and are therefore not so heavy.

The Regional Council also intends to introduce a fleet of double decker buses on several routes in the region, but these buses will be so heavy they will exceed allowable weight limits on Wellington roads, which will therefore require strengthening, at some cost.

The news about hybrid buses is not good. New York and Toronto ditched them because they did not prove cost effective and the batteries needed replacing too frequently. And three cities in Australia have ditched hybrid buses after trialling them for some time.

Despite our frustrations over the new bus fleet in Wellington, we have had some successes.

* Sue Kedgley chaired a Climate Change Working group that consulted widely with the community and developed an excellent Climate Change Strategy and Implementation Plan, which the Regional Council has adopted. Paul was an active member of the working group.
*She is a member of the Wellington City Council Climate Change Strategy Committee, and is helping to coordinate an Electric Vehicle Symposium that the Regional Council and City Council will hold mid-next year, to examine the latest electric bus and car technology, and what policy changes are needed to increase the uptake of electric buses and cars in the Wellington region.
* The Council agreed to adopt her proposal that it promote and coordinate a network of fast charging stations for electric cars around the region, so that people with electric cars can travel freely in the Wellington region, without fear of running out of power. (At present there is only one charging station in the region). The Council has also agreed to her motion that it replace its fleet of vehicles with electric vehicles, once there are appropriate vehicles available and sufficient charging stations in the region.
*She is also Deputy Chair of the recently established Sustainable Transport committee and Paul is a member.
* Paul Bruce is the Waste Spokesperson for the Wellington Regional Council and a member of the Regional Waste Forum. He successfully persuaded Local Government New Zealand to agree to a remit calling for all e-waste to have a fee incorporated in their purchase price that would ensure its re-use. The industry supports this proposal and Paul has been urging Local Government NZ to be
more active in lobbying the government to implement waste stewardship.
** The Council recently adopted Paul’s motion calling for the Council and Local Government NZ to conduct an analysis of the impacts of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement on local government. The provisions of the TPP would provide opportunities for transnational corporations to oppose actions by Councils to limit greenhouse emissions and promote clean alternatives, or other environmental initiatives. Other Councils have supported this excellent initiative, and the full report from LGNZ to government is expected in the New Year.
* Paul pushed for a proposal for a trial of free bus transfers and free bus fares on Saturdays. When the Regional Council refused to support this, Cr Pannett took up the proposal and the Wellington City Council introduced a one-month trial of cheaper fares on weekend buses.
* Paul and Sue strongly opposed a proposal to increase Wellington’s already steep bus fares and Councillors were eventually persuaded to freeze fares
instead of increasing them.
* We are also trying to get cheaper fares for students as well –ideally a 50% reduction for all student fares. It seems odd that over 65 year olds have free bus fares, while students are expected to pay full fares.
* We are both members of a Council committee, Te Upoko Taiao, that has developed a far-sighted Natural Resources plan for the region.
* We both opposed the creation of a so-called super-city in Wellington and Sue was part of the group Coolest Little Capital that campaigned strongly against the super-city and made submissions to the Local Government Commission.
* We work closely with Generation Zero, Save the Basin, TramsAction, the Fair and Intelligent Transport group (FIT), the Victoria University Student Union and
other groups, on proposals for simple, at grade solutions around the Basin Reserve and for light rail in Wellington. We are also opposing the proposed route for Bus Rapid Transit in Wellington through a new Mount Victoria tunnel, and the proposed motorway through Wellington and on to the airport.
* We are trying to stop the aerial spraying of pesticides by the Regional Council, and are working with residents who are opposed to its use. We have also been calling for the Council to stop using Glyphosate, now that it has been as a possible carcinogen, and other highly toxic pesticides. The Council is holding a working group early next year to investigate our concerns.

A recent survey of Wellington residents by the Wellington Regional Council found there had been a significant drop of 20% in the number of people using cars in the region. This begs the question — why is the government continuing to build a network of new motorways in the region, when car usage is declining?

The survey also found there had been a substantial increase in cycling, which is great news, and justifies the expansion of cycling networks in the city. We are delighted that the government has finally agreed to fund a cycleway from Ngauranga to Petone, but can’t believe we will have to wait till 2019 to see this vital cycle way completed.

Regional Councillor Sue Kedgley
Email: sue@suekedgley.com
Regional Councillor Paul Bruce
Email: paul.bruce@greens.org.nz


  1. Ross Clark, 15. December 2015, 22:33

    Hybrids can work, but they are a lot more expensive to buy than a conventional diesel. Have a look at this link for more information:


    Refer also:


  2. Andrew Braddock, 16. December 2015, 10:41

    It is time for politicians of all parties to wake up and realise what a tremendous asset the city’s trolleybus system is. In the light of COP21 it would be an act of pure folly to abandon it just as other cities are realising that trolleybuses (and trams) are the future.

  3. Victor Davie, 16. December 2015, 12:41

    The latest trolleys in Wellington have batteries that keep them mobile during loss of mains power. Should the GWRC withdraw them by 2017 and dismantle the overhead cable network, this would be the end of pollutant-free transport in the Capital City.

    I challenge all anti-trolley mayors and councillors to stand outside the bus stops in Willis Street throughout peak hours of 4.30 to 6.30 pm on a hot summer day. The noise and fumes from diesel buses would be enough to convince them to retain the trolleys. Without a mix of trolley buses, the noise and fumes would become intolerable. The carcinogenic dangers of diesel fumes in confined areas such as Willis Street cannot be ignored any further by our local representatives.

  4. Alan Wickens, 16. December 2015, 13:48

    Let’s use the trolleybus assets that we already have, and not only that, let’s expand the network! As I have said in a letter to the DP today, why are the trolleybuses not used seven days a week, from morning till late and not in the half-hearted way they use them at present. I don’t want to hear excuses about maintaining the overhead etc at weekends. Places like Melbourne don’t shut down the trams at weekends or whenever there is work to be done. They work on regardless. Wellington always seems to have an excuse. Viva la trolleybus!

    Thanks goodness for battlers like Sue and Paul and all power to them!

  5. Paul Bruce, 16. December 2015, 15:34

    We lost the amendment to keep the trolleys for a few more years until replaced by battery buses. Fran Wilde and Paul Swain said it was all about increasing capacity and getting people out of cars, Nigel said trolleys were out dated and had to go.

  6. Michael Gibson, 16. December 2015, 17:40

    How did the voting go on kicking out the public?

  7. City Lad, 17. December 2015, 10:34

    Nobody can smell the roses from the bus fumes.

  8. Mark W, 17. December 2015, 10:54

    Trolleybuses outdated? I think Beijing, Shanghai, San Francisco are quite a few large cities that would disagree with the notion of them being outdated…

  9. Paul Ross, 17. December 2015, 13:41

    This blind doctrine of monetising the benefits of a systems like the trolley buses is flawed. Has anyone costed the adverse affects we will suffer when we have stinky diesels spewing their fumes all over us? Or is that someone else’s problem to care about because it doesn’t fall into the next financial year?

  10. David Lee, 18. December 2015, 10:24

    So trolleybuses are “outdated” according to other regional councillors. This is a bit rich coming from political retreads, who have been too long at the public trough, such as Swain, Laidlaw and Wilde. What nonsense! At least 44 countries run trolleybus systems, including the most advanced and progressive ones, such as Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. Austria is expanding its system. The logic of getting rid of electric buses so we can have them in the future smacks of American military thinking in Vietnam. In the meantime we’ll be getting increased carcinogens and irritants, benzene, soots, nitrogen oxides and tars from more filthy diesels in our narrow downtown streets. But we’ll be “up-to-date”!

  11. Ben Foden, 20. December 2015, 0:06

    Wasn’t it the GWRC only a short few years ago that championed the NEW trolleybuses? I stress the new part because now the GWRC / PWC report insists on saying they’re recycled or rebuilt or similar (can’t remember just which off-hand), yet only the (reconditioned) motor and rear axle were reused from the old ones – the rest of the bus is new. Now this same group (or rather several members of it) are making foolish decisions and reversing everything they stood for previously. All based on shonky information and what seem to be personal bias.

    I may not agree with everything Paul B and Sue K come up with, but am very pleased to have them pushing for this now. Bus noise and fumes in the city are terrible now. And the dodgy hybrids proposed are still diesels. Shame, shame, shame.