Wellington Scoop

Why we care about trolley buses

What’s been our most-read topic over the holidays? No doubt at all. Trolley buses have attracted more than twice as many readers as any other subject on wellington.scoop over Christmas/New Year.

As the regional council today offers free rides on a hybrid bus – a technology chosen to fill the gap till the promised all-electric fleet is introduced in 2025 – it should remember that there’s big public support for keeping the trolleys.

And there’s plenty of authoritative proof that keeping them is not only possible, but would be less expensive than scrapping them, as regional councillors have decided must happen next year. Not one but two engineers have explained why keeping them would be cheaper.

Trolley buses are healthier too, as Sue Kedgley and Paul Bruce have convincingly pointed out. But they’re the only two regional councillors who voted in support of the trolleys.

Generation Zero is another trolley bus supporter. It gave the regional council a “keep it clean” petition signed by 2000 people. But the majority of councillors were unmoved. And they had nothing to say when another lobby group branded their decision a “big step in a stupid direction.”

Long before the final decision was reached, a contributor reminded us that the regional council’s anti-trolley policy conflicted with its climate change policy.

It was strange to see Regional Councillors dutifully lining up to make climate change worse by voting to get rid of the trolley buses. In the same week that the council started to consult on its climate change strategy, the majority of our elected councillors took a firm step backwards and decided to increase Wellington’s transport emissions. Yet the information about the climate change strategy seems to pretend this never happened: “Currently we do this through activities such as promoting and providing low emission transport options, supporting ecological restoration activities and sustainable land use, and encouraging household energy efficiency” (emphasis ours).

And more:

Given the very clear air-gap between what the Council is saying and what the Council is doing, it does beg the question as to what the purpose of the climate change policy actually is. Despite the increasingly urgent need for significant emissions reductions – clearly identified in the strategy – the Regional Council’s transport policies have headed in exactly the opposite direction; massive roading projects have been enthusiastically championed, railway stations have been closed and the bus network is now being aggressively re-carbonised. So perhaps the climate change strategy is merely window dressing, meant to give Councillors a warm glow without necessitating any tangible action.

Saying one thing and doing the opposite. This seems to be the record of most of our regional councillors, with their vote to scrap the trolley buses next year.

Study shows: Climate change benefit from electric vehicles


  1. Mark W, 13. January 2016, 16:18

    I went on the Hybrid Diesel this afternoon and funnily enough it ran about 95% of the time on the diesel engine.

    It certainly wasn’t quiet and wasn’t as smooth as a Trolleybus. I don’t see how going to a Hybrid Diesel is a better option than zero emission Trolleybuses. Not only are Trolleybuses good for the environment but they are great for tourism too.

  2. Newtown, 13. January 2016, 20:12

    I’d invest in Volvo’s fully electric hybrids instead. They’re commercially running these in Hamburg and Stockholm. Have a read, watch the video, and be amazed:

  3. jc, 13. January 2016, 20:27

    Trolley wires are a blight on the Wellington landscape. Getting rid of them would be great for the city.

  4. kevin morris, 14. January 2016, 2:25

    In the early 60s, Amsterdam tried replacing their trams by diesel buses. People refused to use them. Today Amsterdam still runs trams

  5. Henry Filth, 14. January 2016, 13:26

    So why do “they” want to scrap the trolley buses? I’ve rolled about the Internet hut can’t find a simple answer.

  6. Mark W, 14. January 2016, 16:23

    Likely answer is that Paul Swain was a bus driver who clearly has an axe to grind against trolleybuses – maybe because he was such a terrible driver and now he wants to get rid of them. The other funny thing is he lives in Upper Hutt and is deciding the fate of buses in Wellington City…

  7. George, 14. January 2016, 19:19

    Hard to understand why it is a regional council decision. At least if it was WCC the paying public may have slightly more chance of some input.
    The iconic clean energy trolley is or was Wellington just as Melbourne’s trams and San Fran’s cable cars are city icons.

  8. AlanW, 15. January 2016, 8:24

    “Trolleybus wires are a blight on the Wellington landscape”. Clearly the writer of that post doesn’t get out and about much. Wires strung up in Wellington streets are everywhere. Does he/she favour removal of all those as well? Totally agree with Mark W’s post. I also experienced a ride from the Interchange to Courtenay Place. Totally underwhelming would be my description of the experience. Diesel motor running almost continually, apart from at stops. Wow! Go the zero emission trolleybuses!

  9. Cr Paul Bruce, 15. January 2016, 20:57

    Wellington region’s bus fleet of 517 vehicles including 60 electric trolleys, reduce down to a proposed 412 all diesel fleet in 2018, with a 33% reduction in emissions according to Regional Council Chair, Chris Laidlaw. However, any change in greenhouse emission would be due to reduction in fleet size. The removal of the 60 zero-emission trolley buses, along with their supporting infrastructure, is counter productive.

    The recent COP21 meeting in Paris this last December called for urgent and drastic lowering of greenhouse emission through reduction in use of fossil fuels. Green Councillors are thus renewing their call for a rescue plan for the existing electric trolleys, so that these quiet, zero-emission vehicles can continue until battery buses and higher capacity light rail are made possible.  See petition http://www.generationzero.org/keepitclean

    University of Otago Medical School Assistant Research Fellow Ed Randal’s preliminary findings indicate that replacing all trolley buses with diesels could lead to an approximate 20% increase in the average mean value of the small carcinogenic particles on Willis and Manners Streets, bringing extra deaths. No information has been provided to suggest reduction in the tiny PM2.5 particulates that Euro5 and Euro 6 modern filters still struggle to remove. The small particles lodge in respiratory tracts causing cancer and respiratory disease, leading to a WHO Class One classification of PM2.5 particulates similar to that resulting from exposure to asbestos.

    Council needs to at least establish a base line for particulate emissions, and follow up with spot checks on diesels purchased to ensure they meet required Euro standards. At the moment, there are no measurements at all.

  10. The City is Ours, 16. January 2016, 1:37

    Pedestrian counts taken in March 2009 showed some 40.000 commuters traverse Manners Mall on their way to work and/or study daily. Southbound buses now sit at the bus stop idling, waiting either for a green light or the bus in front to move, and upon take-off blow their fumes out the back of the bus in a very narrow corridor.
    Pedestrian counts will increase with the popularity of city living where one can expect another 2400 apartments just in Victoria Street, not counting the increase in students once the Art School opens.
    Every year 79 people die prematurely from complications caused by fine particles causing air pollution in the Wellington Region and 30 are hospitalized. It also affects productivity in the work force and for up to 100.000 days in Wellington according to statistics taken from MFE in 2009.

    GW promised in its 2009-2019 10 year plan it had a target to “hold transport emissions to 2001 levels by 2016”. Who’s checking??

  11. John Gercken, 16. January 2016, 13:32

    Damn it, Wellington councillors. Don’t do it. It’s taken Sydney around 50 years to finally admit what an enormous mistake we made by removing our tram system. And now it’s costing billions of dollars and years of inconvenience to slowly start putting them back in.
    You have a system that is well established, has a quite modern fleet, that is environmentally friendly, and which, if properly marketed, could become as famous as the San Francisco trolleys. Hybrids are clearly a backward step and most are fully aware that the promise of a fully electric fleet in 2025 is probably just whitewash to try to soften the decision in voters’ minds. You have a viable tourist attraction. Marketed with the existing cable car, Wellington could easily become part of every transport enthusiast’s bucket list. Don’t allow some half-baked ideas of progress to destroy something that, once gone, can never be recovered.

  12. Henry Filth, 16. January 2016, 15:25

    Hybrids as a backward step? Yes, I suppose they are in this case. Rather than diesel – hybrid – electric, the RWC want to go electric – hybrid.
    Wellington. Absolutely, positively, [what, exactly?]

  13. Nora, 16. January 2016, 17:02

    Well said John Gercken, to be hoped the majority of councillors are listening as it would appear very few of them have seen the full reports.

  14. City Lad, 16. January 2016, 20:36

    Gambling on trolleys being replaced by buses fully powered with batteries without such technology in existence is silly. And is surely a sackable offence. October elections can’t come soon enough!!

  15. BBC News, 16. January 2016, 22:58

    Diesel exhausts do cause cancer. http://www.bbc.com/news/health-18415532

  16. Mark, 17. January 2016, 2:39

    Flash charge the bus’s battery in 15 seconds. The technology exists already. http://www.tosa2013.com/
    The automotive world is rapidly shifting to all-electric, losing all the mechanical complications, repairs, fuel management, emissions and noise. A little more vision from our councillors, and our existing charging network can be multi-purposed during transition.

    WCC engineers already won an international engineering award for their work on the WN trolley power network. Why are we tossing away our best work? For diesel? Ask the right questions, not leading ones. What is the most sustainable option? Least polluting? Less disruptive? Cheapest? Not one of these questions is answered by hybrid-diesels.

  17. Rumpole, 17. January 2016, 9:14

    Some regional councillors cannot see their bus passengers from the fumes. It’s time to weed the garden in October. Only then will my rate-paying clients obtain justice. Your Honour: The trolleys must stay and incompetent councillors must go. I rest my case.