Wellington Scoop

Old and decrepit – why trolley buses are being scrapped next year

by Chris Laidlaw
There is a certain amount of mythology around the relative costs of keeping as against scrapping the trolleybuses. The Regional Council’s decision that the trolleys would be discontinued by mid-2017 wasn’t one that was taken lightly but it was inevitable for several reasons.

The most significant of these is the fact that the trolleybus network severely reduces the flexibility of the Wellington bus system as a whole and that alone adds substantially to the cost of providing a fast, efficient service. The other reasons lie essentially with the age and decrepitude of the trolley infrastructure.

Sustaining the trolley fleet beyond 2017 would inevitably raise awkward health and safety issues. There would be additional costs associated with compliance in this area.

Then there are the numerous difficulties associated with trying to maintain a hopelessly outmoded infrastructure. In his assessment of the costs of maintaining the system, Allan Neilson substantially underestimates some of these difficulties. For instance, the assumption that the trolleybuses will be able to use their batteries to see them through out-of-service or faulted sections of the network has been found to be impracticable by the bus company concerned. Another mistaken assumption appears to have been that the DC switchboards would somehow be able to survive without regular failures which lead to disruptions of all trolleybus power supply from that substation which requires costly and inefficient substitutions of diesel buses and very expensive upgrades.

Then there is the reality that the equipment to be renewed has something like a 50 year lifespan and investment in a much shorter period, which is inevitable with the fast approaching conversion to full electric buses, simply does not make commercial sense. Several of Alan Neilson’s suggestions are really no longer practical given the service agreement entered into in 2007 that provided for a 10 year extension of the trolleys which was seen as the only affordable option at that time.

In 2014 GWRC commissioned PWC to evaluate the options for improving Wellington’s bus fleet in order to improve performance across a range of measures. The PWC report found that:

– maintaining the current network (including trolleys) would require significant investment, and was the poorest performing option of those considered. Poor performance came from high network investment costs, poor environmental performance of the current diesel buses, and the unreliability and delays caused by the trolley bus fleet.

– replacing the early Euro diesel buses with modern cleaner technology will bring the largest environmental benefits

– the net benefits of all options are at least $50 million higher than the current network configuration.

To be frank, the trolleybus substations and cables system is far past its use-by date. The electricity network they operate on dates back to the days of the trams which ceased operation in the city in the 1960s and it is the firm view of Wellington Electricity Ltd that it can’t be patched up any longer. Wellington Electricity advised GWRC that to keep key plant equipment operational and to replace aging power cables would cost around $50 million, perhaps more. This would be a huge investment to extend the life of the trolley fleet when it makes up only 12% of the regional network. The buses themselves are also visually misleading. The bodies are in good enough shape but the mechanics are old and increasingly vulnerable. Breakdowns are incessant.

Since taking that decision on the trolleybuses, the Regional Council has set itself an unequivocal objective – to transform the regional bus fleet into fully electric, in the shortest possible time frame. It can’t happen overnight. Replacing older buses and reducing the average age of the fleet to less than 10 years will result in a 33% reduction in tailpipe emissions. This is a significant first step. It is now clear that the hybrid–diesel electric option will be a transitional one and provision has been made for the introduction of at least 10 hybrids over the next few years via the contracting system GWRC has with the operators. Within a relatively short time we will see the introduction of full electric buses which will progressively replace the older diesels and, in time, the hybrids.

It is easy to draw a picture of one option being better across a single dimension such as cost, or carbon emissions. But the Council is looking at a multi-dimensional matrix. People want public transport to be fast, reliable and affordable as well as being clean in terms of carbon emissions and particulates. That’s our objective.

The Regional Council hosted a hybrid bus in January and we are also planning a symposium around the middle of this year to map out the transformation process to a full electric bus fleet.

Chris Laidlaw is chair of the Greater Wellington Regional Council.


  1. Mark W, 13. February 2016, 6:34

    Chris Laidlaw is forgetting some important facts:

    1. It was a combination of the WCC and GWRC that let the infrastructure deteriorate in such a state that it needed to be replaced. For years they all knew about how it needed to be repaired / replaced and still did nothing.

    2. Trolleybus routes used to extend far beyond its current network but the GWRC saw to that with the scaling back and removal of sections of the network.

    3. Trolleybuses are FULLY ELECTRIC. We are planning to go from fully electric to diesel which isn’t going to do wonders with our clean green image.

    4. The public do want a fast reliable and the keyword CLEAN transport system. Having 111 seater double deckers doesn’t exactly scream either of those things.

    5. If cities like Beijing and Shanghai are renewing and extending their trolleybus fleets, then why is it that Wellington is unable to do the same. The sheer costs of replacing the infrastructure of the trolley network would surely have been minimised and be cheaper than buying 50+ brand new double decker buses which spout diesel fumes into the air.

    6. The incompetence of this council will have repercussions in years to follow.

    We made the same mistake in removing the trams and it now appears that we are allowing history to repeat itself.

  2. Moss, 13. February 2016, 11:27

    It’s madness to use diesel double decker buses in the CBD when claiming to be moving toward electric vehicles! They are already electric! The trolley network should have been upgraded within the CBD and become a core loop that moves rapidly between the two or three main hubs in Wellington city. The diesels should be relegated to outer suburbs services from Courtenay Place and Wellington Station, and maybe Newtown needs a hub . We will require light rail/trams in the next 50 to 100 years because buses won’t be able to scale efficiently. Keeping trolley buses reduces the cost of building that in the future.

  3. Tony Hurst, 13. February 2016, 12:38

    Chris Laidlaw is trying to disguise how GWRC has painted itself into a corner regarding trolleybuses, by ignoring them when planning the new routes and tendering system, so now they have to drag up technical reasons to try and justify their removal. It was perfectly possible to run the tendering with certain routes allocated to trolley buses (which GWRC might have owned), just as the suburban train operation was tendered, but using GWRC trains.

    We are told exaggerated tales of how much infrastructure renewal is required for trolleys (the costs looking high because GWRC sees no long-term future for the trolleys), but there is no consideration of what electric bus future we are heading towards. Especially with the hilly routes in Wellington City, it is not likely that electric buses can run all day on their batteries, so the likelihood is some form of street charging.

    For years, Rome has run trolleybuses on only partially wired routes, with automatic raising and lowering of the poles, and improved battery performance is likely to make this a viable way forwards. Scrapping the whole trolley system, including an overhead that has mainly been upgraded and replaced in the last few years, is a really stupid way of moving to an electric bus future, as we are assured GWRC intends to do.

  4. Alana, 14. February 2016, 0:28

    Diesel has been linked to increased incidence of lung cancer in LA – why bring more of it here?

  5. NigelTwo, 15. February 2016, 11:19

    This is trying to justify nothing short of vandalism. At least 3 generations of ratepayers have contributed to this network. Re-use, improve, repair it GWRC.

  6. Wellington Commuter, 15. February 2016, 12:00

    In response to Mark W’s “important facts” on scrapping trolleys:

    1. It was a combination of the WCC and GWRC that let the infrastructure deteriorate in such a state that it needed to be replaced. For years they all knew about how it needed to be repaired / replaced and did nothing.
    But: the case put to keep the trolleys was marginal. It is now clear that the “Save the trolley” business case in 2006 was wrong with major costs needed keeping the trolleys running either being too low or forgotten completely. If the real costs of keeping the trolley buses were properly outlined … they would have been scrapped a decade ago.

    2. Trolleybus routes used to extend far beyond its current network but the GWRC saw to that with the scaling back and removal of sections of the network.
    But: the key extension needed for the trolleys is north to Johnsonville and Newlands … the inability for them to service the 1/3rd of Wellington city’s population north of the railway station totally screws up the bus planning and requires extra buses on the golden mile.

    3. Trolleybuses are FULLY ELECTRIC. We are planning to go from fully electric to diesel which isn’t going to do wonders with our clean green image.
    But: only 60 buses are electric, with literally hundreds of diesel buses still operating on our roads. Scrapping the trolleys will increase emissions by maybe 1/2%.

    4. The public do want a fast reliable and the keyword CLEAN transport system. Having 111 seater double deckers doesn’t exactly scream either of those things.
    But: the keyword is not CLEAN but reliable. The huge capital drain of the trolley buses has meant that no investment is available for the bus lanes and priority systems needed to get ALL bus service running reliably.

    5. If cities like Beijing and Shanghai are renewing and extending their trolleybus fleets, then why is it that Wellington is unable to do the same?
    But: the GWRC HAS run the numbers and it is cheaper to buy brand new double decker buses than keeping the trolleys.

    6. The incompetence of this council will have repercussions in years to follow.
    With this I agree … it was the GWRC’s political cowardice and technical incompetence that led them to keep the trolley buses back in 2006. They said then that the trolleys were cost effective against diesel alternatives and they were obviously wrong. Eventually the trolley costs have caught up with them and they have to admit that the trolley buses are a serious hindrance to improved PT in Wellington as well as a waste of money.

  7. Mark W, 15. February 2016, 15:07

    In response to Wellington Commuter:

    The WCC / GWRC have known for a long time that the electric substations needed to be replaced but, since they have been wanting to find a reason to remove them, then doing nothing seemed the logical choice.

    It wouldn’t be hard to extend the trolleybus network further north – but the question remains why do you need a Johnsonville to Island Bay route in the first place? What purpose does that serve when the incumbent works just fine – the nos 1, 4, 32 followed by the plethora of Newlands buses that all use Johnsonville as a central hub.

    We had more than 60 trolleybuses but the GWRC and WCC scrapped half the routes and the trolleybuses that went with it. I would like to see your statistics and facts on what would happen when we remove our electric buses and replace them with diesels where you would only see a 1/2% increase. It seems to me that you are taking your talking points and facts from the GWRC.

    The numbers are skewed, Beijing tested hybrid electric buses and found they were so useless that trolleybuses were more economical and far more reliable. Modern trolleybuses like in Beijing can automatically raise and lower their poles and run on battery power should the need arise. If trolleybuses work in a large metropolis like Beijing, then surely common sense would dictate that they can work in a small city like Wellington.

    Double Deckers are not logical – they cannot run on all the routes of the current trolleybuses, and they sure as hell are not environmentally friendly.

    It appears to me that you have no idea what an improved PT system would look like. I hope you remember the time you had clean electric trolleybuses while you choke on those diesel fumes.

  8. Kerry Wood, 15. February 2016, 15:45

    Chris Laidlaw should be asking his advisers a few questions. Inflexibility is a very poor case, and yet it is claimed to be the strongest. In the 1950s, most trolleybuses had effective backup batteries, so why is Wellington still unable to do it? The ‘too slow’ argument is just as weak. Trolleys in Wellington are faster than diesels, when in the hands of old-timer drivers who were properly trained.

    Fully electric buses will need heavy-current DC charging, which the existing trolleybus system can provide, either on a section of route or to fixed charging points.

    Officers might be wise to check Allan Neilson’s qualifications before criticising his estimates.

    “…replacing the early Euro diesel buses with modern cleaner technology will bring the largest environmental benefits” is a simple porkie.
    — Diesels can never match the local emissions benefits of trolleybuses because they emit dangerous nitrous oxides and particulates. More recent Euro diesels are little better.
    — Diesel hybrids can match the carbon dioxide emissions of trolley buses: about 250 of them should be sufficient to match 60 trolley buses. How many is GW now proposing?

  9. Cr Paul Bruce, 15. February 2016, 20:54

    The removal of the sixty zero-emission trolley buses, along with their supporting infrastructure, is counter productive, and will lead to a one-off increase of 2,000 tonnes of C02 if replaced by diesel buses. Diesel hybrid trials in three Australian states found that there was no fuel use (emission) reduction. The recent COP21 meeting in Paris in December called for urgent and drastic lowering of greenhouse emission through reduction in use of fossil fuels.

    The expert traction engineer (Allan Neilson) spent many hours last year researching the actual situation and costing for upgrade of the power supply and overhead lines for the 60 trolley buses. Based on experience from other similar traction systems, he came to the conclusion that the whole network could be maintained with some upgrades over the next decade for a similar annual investment/cost as today. He also calculated that the cost of scrapping the trolley buses will be about $34million, whereas the life extension capital costs for both the traction power supply and overhead trolley wires necessary to keep them in operation would be only about $15million. His findings were independently audited.

    Generation Zero have asked 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)

  10. Paul Ross, 16. February 2016, 17:18

    The analysis of diesel buses should be not only economic, but also inclusive of the detrimental health impacts diesel fumes have on people as acknowledged by the World Health Organisation. How can it be acceptable to knowingly have dozens of buses daily traveling within meters of many thousands of people spewing cancer causing fumes on them. It’s easy to accept a few million now and become wilfully ignorant to the fact that you are indeed harming people for potentially decades to come.

  11. Keith Flinders, 17. February 2016, 15:55

    When the GWRC announced a couple of years back the replacement of the trolley buses with hybrids by end of 2017, one would have assumed that we were going to see all new buses purchased as being hybrid ones. 60 trolley buses are going to be replaced with 10 hybrids and the rest will be normal diesel ones. Not that the emissions between the two are that different.

    Odd that we see the argument that the underground cables are due to fail. These cables were replaced in the 1950s and some much older cables are still in service feeding homes and businesses. I inspected some of the trolley bus feeder cables last year and they are as good as the day they went in. Methinks the public are being feed information which is not fully correct and only serves to justify the removal of the trolley bus fleet.

    Double decker buses through the CBD will add to the congestion. How stable are these buses in high winds is a question not answered by the GWRC. What is going to happen to the Karori route? The buses cannot be accommodated through the Karori tunnel.

  12. The City is Ours, 17. February 2016, 18:25

    Thank you Keith. With a safety review pending on the Golden Mile ordered after the death of a jogger in Willis Street, safety aspects associated with double deckers also need to be addressed. Because of the weight of these DD buses, with a full pay-load, they are less able to swerve and avoid collisions with pedestrians in the narrow precincts of Manners and Willis streets. The growing inner city population will put more pressure on pedestrian networks; in March 2009 some 40.000 commuters traversed what was formerly known as Manners Mall daily to get to and from work or study.

  13. Keith Flinders, 18. February 2016, 10:01

    When I visited London in 2014 for the first time in 10 years, it was noticeable that the proportion of single decker buses in the inner suburbs had increased compared to double decker ones. The slow loading of double decker buses was perhaps the reason for the shift. There were a number of “bendi” buses in service too, but they are not that practical for the Wellington CBD. Most of the buses I travelled on there would only accept the Oyster card, or travel passes, thus speeding up passenger movements on to the buses.

    Thank you “The City is Ours” for those daily commuter numbers which I have been trying to get out of the GWRC but on an hourly basis. I have made the point to them that part of the congestion could be relieved if some of 149 buses per hour each way do not traverse the Golden Mile. Not all eastern and western buses need to go through the CBD and could turn back at either end to whence they came from. These buses with passengers both sitting and standing could handle 14,000 people per hour but how many of them are full each way Cenotaph – Courtenay Place in peak hours ?

    Cr Swain in the DomPost letters today has virtually told Wellington commuters to get used to double decker buses, totally ignoring the point that they will add to the congestion, not solve it.

    The headline for this contribution from Laidlaw starts “old and decrepit.” Did he mean the trolley buses or the GWRC!

  14. Wendy Parsons, 18. February 2016, 10:36

    Have to say as a bus driver I do notice the stink when I’m waiting behind a diesel bus in the golden mile. Not to mention at peak hour. Even the new buses that have an additive to the diesel to reduce lead (?) emissions make you cough (I think it’s ammonia or chlorine?).
    Best to have fully electric buses ie trolleys in our cbd. As long as they are maintained properly they work well. And so nice and quiet!

  15. Keith Flinders, 18. February 2016, 18:20

    Perhaps we should invite Paul Swain to have himself lashed to the front of a bus following a diesel one, for an hour in the morning peak, and see how he enjoys the environment the dedicated drivers put up every business day. Have the drivers been consulted over the implementation of double decker buses?

    Lack of maintenance on the overhead wiring was a concern, but Lambton Quay to Karori services were brought up to date last year. Perhaps other routes also. The existing trolley buses have another 10 years of life left in them, and by the time their replacement is needed we may see electric buses that don’t need the overhead wiring. The technology is advancing but isn’t there yet. The GWRC would have us believe that come the end of next year all the trolley bus infrastructure will fail, but this isn’t so as experts have advised. The withdrawn trolley buses being right-hand-drive ones have no second hand value. $60million worth of ratepayer-funded assets will be reduced to a few thousand dollars worth of scrap materials.

  16. Wellingtonian, 19. February 2016, 8:26

    If money was saved and our new buses were left-hand drive then the driver could watch out for cyclists so much more easily. Hasn’t the local Council made cyclists a priority?

  17. Pauline, 19. February 2016, 15:27

    Have just helped some Festival visitors to Wellington from Invercargill and they cannot believe we are losing the trolley buses and replacing them with double deckers.

  18. Ellen, 19. February 2016, 19:36

    Trolley buses haven’t been lost yet – we have an election coming up. What we need is some reliable information not just rhetoric Chris – what are the actual figures on all of this – we are left guessing too often by our councils. What we Wellingtonians know is trollies are quiet, comfortable, and clean powered – we like them. We don’t like noisy smelly diesels. Trollies aren’t hopelessly outmoded, some cities are putting in new systems. San Francisco for example – replacing many buses over only 5 years.
    The pedestrian review of the Golden Mile should have been done by now – but no results public. How buses interact with pedestrians should be a key consideration of any system – but no discussion on that.

  19. Keith Flinders, 20. February 2016, 20:09

    GWRC regions outside Wellington city may not appreciate the impact of changing trolley buses for polluting diesel ones. Apart from the environment, the cost to all the GWRC ratepayers will be what ? Tens of millions.
    Last year GWRC rates went up by about 10%. Those on the average wage, pensioners, and some beneficiaries got a 2.07% percent income increase. Laidlaw and most other GWRC councillors were quite happy to see this massive increase impacting on those who can least afford it.
    In Lyon, France’s second biggest city, trolley bus routes are being expanded where the introduction of light rail is not practical. The people I spoke to there in 2014 were astounded to learn that the GWRC is ditching trolley buses.

  20. Mark W, 21. February 2016, 17:01

    In Beijing, the capital city and 2nd largest city in China with a population of nearly 20 million and huge pollution problems, they are expanding trolleybus numbers. They are combating pollution by purchasing more trolleybuses not less. Beijing Transport have said that fully electric battery buses are expensive to run and require far too many resources compared to trolleybuses.


    It seems to me that the GWRC have no idea what they are doing and have been bought into this notion of hybrid diesel double deckers and electric battery buses as the next generation. While other cities like Athens, San Francisco, Beijing & Shanghai are buying new trolleybuses.

    Such short-sightedness by the GWRC without any consultation with ratepayers is astounding and we should send a clear message come the elections that we want our city to be environmentally friendly. This doesn’t mean buying more diesel buses.

  21. Wellington Commuter, 22. February 2016, 9:40

    @Keith Flinders: The merits of the trolleys may be debated but not their cost. They are quite clearly much more expensive than equivalent dissel buses both to operate (over $1m/year to just maintain the overhead wiring for 60 trolleys) and to fund the required future investment (with the biggest outstanding bill being $50m to replace the power supply equipment some of which dates from the 1930s!)
    Also, whether the trolleys go or stay makes no difference to ratepayers outside Wellington City … the GWRC makes sure that 100% of the trolley costs are funded by Wellington city ratepayers. That said, North Wellington City ratepayers who get billed for the trolleys don’t see the supposed benefit of them. The Wellington City rates drop from scrapping the trolley buses is likely to be significant, as is the pressure on fares (the fare increases a couple of years ago were driven mainly to fund the extra cost of keeping the trolleys going).

  22. Mark W, 22. February 2016, 10:12

    @Wellington Commuter – are you Paul Swain in disguise?

    Trolleybuses if maintained properly have a low upkeep compared to hybrid or electric battery buses. As for the power generators – the council(s) have known about them since the trams and yet did nothing. So whose fault is it really?

    The bus fares themselves were increased to fund the Matangi trains and not the trolleybuses – you need to get your facts right. The bus fares are not going to decrease and may well increase to allow for the purchase of the double decker buses.

    Its about time you stopped getting your talking points from Paul Swain unless you are him – that would make sense given the rubbish you’re spouting.

  23. Andrew, 22. February 2016, 16:04

    One million a year to maintain overhead wiring due to the use of 60 buses. What is the RUC scenario regarding trolleys?

  24. The City is Ours, 22. February 2016, 16:27

    A recent request under Lgoima confirms that GW has kept their promise to hold transport emissions at 2001 levels. However, transport emissions are measured by annual regional fuel sales, not where they are emitted. Because Manners Mall is not only a two-way bus lane but also a bus stop, idling buses (waiting for a green light or loading or unloading passengers) will push emissions into the atmosphere in an area where pedestrian counts are the heaviest in Wellington and New Zealand.

  25. Chris Laidlaw, 22. February 2016, 16:40

    As part of the contracts, older diesel buses ( Euro 2-4 mainly) will be phased out and replaced with far lower emission versions ( Euro 6) and some hybrids; thus a steady reduction in emissions.

    The double deckers will be used strategically to ease bus congestion in the city and of course reduce overall emissions.

  26. Mark W, 22. February 2016, 19:23

    So a steady reduction in emissions by implementing emission-producing diesel double-deckers compared to zero-emission trolley buses. Can someone enlighten me as to how this all adds up?
    Where did Chris Laidlaw study mathematics? The arrogance of the GWRC is staggering. No public consultation but they are more than happy to hike up my rates and no doubt i can foresee another increase to pay for the double-deckers.
    We need to vote them all out with the exception of Crs Sue Kedgley & Paul Bruce who appear to be the only sane ones in the council.

  27. Brent Efford, 23. February 2016, 16:10

    “Talk electric” but do diesel – the refrain of the GWRC, continuing the pattern of obfuscation and public transport crippling apparent in the Public Transport Spine Study.

    Everyone is obliged to progress towards a post-carbon future. What is the GWRC doing within its area of responsibility – public transport and transport planning? DE-electrifying PT, keeping the incomplete rail system limited to its current non-CBD extent (almost unique in the world) and promoting as much motorway development as the Government will pay for (a lot)!

    Come and hear a response to the GWRC’s trolleybus lies – 10 March, 5.30 pm, Greek Community Centre Media Room, Hania St.

  28. Keith Flinders, 24. February 2016, 9:10

    Wellington Commuter, who hides behind a non de plume, writes: “$50m to replace the power supply equipment some of which dates from the 1930s!)”
    A largely inflated figure that suits the GWRC’s case. And a lot of the other electrical infrastructure supplying other than the trolley buses also dates from that period. The cables supplying the trolley buses were replaced in the 1950s to allow the trolley buses to operate. Certainly most of the rectifiers providing the DC power are 60 years old, but they are not all going to fail by 31 Dec 2017.
    The GWRC is making the case fit their argument for competing bus companies to ply the Wellington streets. As a business model, this will not work to save ratepayer money. Then have we ever seen a local body run anything at a profit in recent years? The WCC got rid of the M.E.D in the 1990s when it was in danger of making a profit.
    If as a Wellington city ratepayer I am paying a bit extra on my rates to keep polluting diesels to a minimum, it is a impost I gladly accept. As it is, I already subsidise the entire region’s transport system, including the hopelessly inefficient diesel powered Capital Connection service, by $375 a year and seldom have the need to use it.

  29. Conn G, 25. February 2016, 8:28

    The passion this topic evokes in Wellington ratepayers and commuters alike is uplifting. I see similarities with the loss of the massive Los Angeles trolleybus system in the 1950s. GWRC is only taking the quick cheap option of scrapping the trolleybuses so that future tendering may bring in other diesel operators without their need for incorporating the use of electric trolleybuses. GWRC is cleverly using a ruse, they are determined to have their way for what was decided along time ago. People need to recognise ‘100% Pure NZ’ is being made into a global joke, when local clean green Wellington wind farm electricity that powers public transport is being replaced with fluctuating priced import fossil fuel diesel.

  30. Keith M, 17. March 2016, 23:37

    I have only just become aware of this article by Chris Laidlaw. Some searching criticisms have already been made. I add the following:

    1. Chris states that the most significant reason for the trolleybuses’ demise is that they “severely restrict the flexibility of the bus service as a whole”.
    Surely, with Wellington’s situation, where thousands of train passengers arrive and depart the Railway Station (at the northern end of the CBD) daily, the pressing need for most Wellington city bus services is to run between the station, via the CBD, and to/from the southern, eastern and western suburbs – precisely where the trolleybuses go. Council needs to change its thinking and reduce duplicated bus and train services (such as from Johnsonville) rather than increasing them as proposed. The transfer between bus/train at Wellington railway station will not be overcome until rail can be totally integrated, for example with light rail/train services. In the meantime, in my submission, trolleybus routes are ideally placed to cover most of the densely used routes from the Railway Station. The need to adhere to trolleybus routes need not be a major restraining factor at all.

    2. Unreliability is given as another reason for their demise. This could be eased with a little more preventative maintenance on the trolley bus system and perhaps more emphasis on trolleybus driver training. Overseas trolleybus systems are often noted for their reliability. An increase in Health & Safety issues is also given as an issue. I suspect this is a growing issue in all forms of transport – not just trolleybuses. How do overseas trolleybus systems handle them?

    3. Substations and Cable Systems: Wellington Electricity’s assertion that “the system cannot be patched up any longer” and that “to keep key plant equipment operational and to replace aging power cables would cost $50 million maybe more” needs to be taken seriously. These are leading statements but the Regional Council has apparently accepted the figure in assessing the financial costs of trolleybus retention. What investigation has the Regional Council carried out? Have Wellington Electricity’s statements been peer reviewed? Allan Neilson is a highly qualified and respected engineer in the field of electric traction systems and his study indicates that it is highly unlikely that anything like this figure is required to keep the system reliable and operational for the remaining life of the trolleybuses.

    4. Tailpipe Emissions: Replacing older buses with newer ones to reduce the average age of the fleet to less than 10 years (and reduce tailpipe emissions) may be a laudable plan with diesel buses but to include trolleybuses, as is implied, is laughable.

    5. The Regional Council’s much vaunted “multi-dimensional matrix” may look quite different if the following are taken into account:
    – the savings through NOT purchasing new buses to replace the trolleybuses for another 6 – 10 years;
    – the inclusion in costings of properly researched and measured costs of necessary trolleybus infrastructure costs over this period – not simply an upfront cost of $50 million;
    – using the existing trolleybus routes to best advantage to compliment the train services to/from Wellington Railway Station, and using diesel bus services around them as necessary.
    – Giving credit in the exercise to trolleybuses clean credentials, rather than somehow, with smoke and mirrors, proclaiming an improvement by replacing them with new diesels.

    If, as implied in Chris’s report, the 10 year service agreement entered into in 2007 means that the trolleybuses capital costs will be fully paid by 2017, this is even better. As trolleybuses world-wide routinely last for 20 years, this will provide Wellingtonians with ten years of operations with no capital charges (or, looked at another way, we ratepayers will have paid twice the capital charges that they need to have over the first ten years).

    I am aware that the presence of trolleybuses complicates the competitive process for the awarding of bus operating contracts. How to run a competitive process when only one operator owns trolleybuses? Perhaps this is the real reason for the haste and urgency of the Council’s push to replace trolleybuses. Whatever the case, perhaps Regional Council should purchase and own the trolleybuses, and call for tenders from prospective operators – like it does the trains. If the capital charges have, indeed, been nearly fully paid they should be cheap to purchase.

    Regional Councillors need to be aware that they will be held accountable for their poor decision making if it results in costly early disposal of trolleybuses and in unnecessary bus purchases. It will not be sufficient to say that’s what the consultants told us!

  31. Conn G, 18. March 2016, 21:07

    Thanks and well presented Keith; I hope you don’t mind that your presentation has now been added on the Facebook site ‘Save the Wellington Trolleybuses’

  32. John D. of SFO, 25. April 2016, 21:12

    Here is what I know. Here in San Francisco, decades-old overhead trolley wire for buses & trams didn’t begin to get renewed until the 1980’s. On 18th Street, between Mission and Castro Streets, the overhead wires for the 33-Ashbury are the original ungrooved wires installed in 1936; they’re still suspended with clinch ears. Straight wire is virtually maintenance-free; specialwork (switches & frogs) does require some maintenance, but if it’s routine, there shouldn’t be problems or great expenses.

    Power supply issues claimed by the trackless trolley killers seem suspicious; transformers are VERY long-lived, and so are solid state diodes used to rectify the AC to DC. Are the rectifier substations actually still using mercury arc rectifiers or… rotary converters? If they want battery buses, leave the OH wires alone and use them to charge tractive batteries so that the routes may be extended without having to extend the wires.

    I have looked at WLG’s OH wires on Google’s street viewing photos, and it looks like it has been neglected; specialwork looks like it causes dewirements. I may be wrong, but it looks like it needs to be straightened or aligned in some places. The trolley buses are an annoyance to the operating contractors? Then, privatisation has gone too far! Then the city should run them and damn the operating contracts!

    NZ’s electric power mix is largely pollution-free, so junking your trackless trolleys in favour of motor buses seems quite stupid. In other countries, trackless trolleys are making a comeback where they were abandoned years earlier. The Russians and many countries in the EU have retained, restored, or expanded their systems.

    Complaining about the cost of the system? You’ll scream blue murder if it is decided later that removal of the wires was a mistake and it is realised how expen$ive it will be to put them back in.

    Another lesson: Seattle de-electrified many (but not all) of its trolley bus lines in the early 1960’s, only to re-electrify two of them again in the 1980’s. One line was the 7-Ranier, which is one of Seattle’s busiest lines. Trolley wire was restored to another line north of the ship canal also. (That line goes over a draw bridge — eek!)

    Lastly, don’t forget the cost (and price volatility) of the fuel (that you have to import) for motor buses. You’ll be sorry!! Don’t forget that carbon, that awful carbon, which is what any internal combustion engine-powered buses will emit.

    You people need to sack your councillors.

  33. Keith Flinders, 8. September 2016, 11:34

    Comments by John D. of SFO are very apt in respect of the Wellington situation. Most of the rectifiers are still mercury arc from the 1950s, but can be replaced with solid state ones that will be suitable for the 750 volts light rail needs if it ever replaces the trolley bus system.
    At “The Future is Electric” symposium held in Wellington in June, and partially sponsored by the GWRC, Malcolm McCullough warned also that pulling down the overhead infrastructure will be regretted in a few years. How right he is.
    Declaring my interest as a GWRC candidate 2016