Wellington Scoop

The long wait for electric buses, and the quick farewell to the trolleys

bus trolley bus

by Lindsay Shelton
Paul Swain of the regional council told us the other day that it’ll be ten years before Wellington starts getting electric buses. Whereas Chris Laidlaw was yesterday promising them “within five years.”

Who do you believe?

In the Laidlaw statement yesterday:

“We expect to progressively introduce electric buses to the region within the next five years,

But later this is qualified:

“The only way to achieve … big changes by 2018 is by replacing [trolley buses and old diesels] with the best technology available, which is a mix of hybrid buses and new low emission diesels.”

Not exactly the arrival of electric buses in five years. Paul Swain explained the 2025 date by saying that “technology isn’t yet sufficiently advanced for electric buses to be chosen now” though “if we could get electric buses earlier, we’d get them.”

Whether they arrive in five years or ten, there’s one date that is fixed: the regional council has not been swayed by the many campaigners who’ve been arguing for trolley buses to be kept beyond 2017.

Even the bus operators and the bus drivers want to keep the trolleys. But their fate was sealed because, says the regional council,

of their unreliability, the high cost of upgrading and maintaining the infrastructure and incompatibility with the new routes.

I’ve talked with people who believe that the costs of upgrading and maintaining the trolley bus network have been overstated. Kerry Wood has provided specific figures: which show that

modernising the trolleys is cheaper than either repairs or replacement

But such claims didn’t get any recognition as Tuesday’s decision went through.

So we’re all aspiring to a city with all-electric buses. But till that day arrives (in five years or ten), we’ll have to hold our breath and try to stay clear of all the extra diesels, as they replace the 60 electric trolley buses that are going to be scrapped.


  1. Alana, 17. December 2015, 13:14

    The arguments by the majority of the Regional Council don’t seem consistent and now they have given the Metro line contract to a foreign operator and passing over NZ owned Kiwirail.
    We need to remember the Councillors who voted on these proposals come election time.

  2. Paul Ross, 17. December 2015, 13:32

    What a sham. I dont want disgusting diesels spewing their carcinogenic fumes near me everyday.

  3. SusTrans, 17. December 2015, 17:00

    Allan Neilson and Mike Flinn just spent 200 hours researching the actual costing for trolley bus upgrades. They came to the conclusion that the whole network could be upgraded and maintained over the next decade for a similar annual investment/cost as today … $1.5 million or so per year. [Allan’s analysis is here.]

  4. wellington Commuter, 17. December 2015, 19:48

    So Allan and Mike have detailed costings that prove the trolleys should be saved? Where are they? [They were presented to the Regional Council on Wednesday. We have now published Allan’s analysis in full. It is impressively detailed and convincing.]

  5. Neil Douglas, 18. December 2015, 10:54

    It’s saddening to listen to Corporates and Councillors kill off our trolley bus network and make platitudes about battery bus replacements. Trolleys provide a quiet and clean way of getting around our city that makes Wellington unique in Australasia.

    GWRC should be marketing the Trolleys and looking for ways of improve the technology rather than ditch the whole network on the basis of relatively petty cost savings (compare and contrast with the $10 million + spent on the flyover fiasco).

    From surveys I’ve done, users like Trolleys, appreciate that they are environmentally friendly (rating them 2.7% points higher than other bus types) and would be prepared to pay more to use them. (Douglas—”Valuing Public Transport Service Quality using a Combined Rating & Stated Preference Survey”) link: http://atrf.info/papers/2015/

  6. Ben Foden, 20. December 2015, 0:10

    The recent GWRC decisions, particularly from Swain, Wilde, and Laidlaw have been terribly short sighted. They just don’t want to know anything other than their beliefs and plans.

  7. Rumpole, 20. December 2015, 20:14

    Members of the jury: You’ve heard evidence of some Regional Councillors claiming they know best. They are jointly charged with conspiring to scrap the Wellington trolleys without consulting their ratepayer employers. You are to consider whether they are fit and proper to stand again in the 2016 election. The foreman may see me in chambers at anytime pending your decision.

  8. greenwelly, 21. December 2015, 14:54

    The problem for the regional council is that the trolley buses are owned by Go Wellington (NZ Bus), and would cause a huge distortion in the PTOM tender if that bus type was specified as a required vehicle type.