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Why trolley buses are more cost effective than battery buses

by Paul Bruce
“European cities are steadily converting back to trolleybus public transport“ was the message from Gunter Mackinger at a recent public meeting in Wellington. “Complete public transport systems cannot easily convert to fully battery-operated systems, and there is a significant problem with battery life and consequential waste disposal.”

Mackinger is an electric transport consultant and former general manager of Salzburg Railways and is now working with organizations such as the UITP (International Public Transport Organisation) and the German Government. He advocates trolleybuses and trams as an essential green emission investment in modern liveable cities.

Mackinger gave examples of new trolley buses being purchased for Seattle, San Francisco, Mexico, and west European cities Salzburg, Linz, Luzern, Arnhem, Eberswalde and Bratislava. Turkey has now mandated trolley bus systems for its smaller cities under 10,000 inhabitants, and modern light rail in the bigger cities. Major Chinese cities such as Beijing are ordering large numbers of new trolleys to replace diesel and its experimental battery buses. Shanghai is re-opening trolleybus lines after a recent closure decision, and Guangzhou is undertaking continuous network expansion.

Mackinger pointed out battery bus technology has proven to be impractical in the medium term future, except in very limited special applications. “The few systems which are using battery only buses are doing so in small numbers as a trial, on selected routes.”

bus men [1]
Left to right: Cr Paul Bruce, Gunter Mackinger, Allan Neilson, Alan Wickens.

I was delighted to hear Mackinger’s support for trolleys and to be shown that trolleys were cost effective compared to battery buses and polluting diesel buses. Mackinger’s statements were backed up by studies at three independent German universities.

However, the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s continued determination to trash Wellington’s clean green zero emission trolleybus fleet [2] flies in the face of emerging evidence of their value.

I have called for an urgent review of the GWRC business case, and I warn that the extra polluting diesel buses [3] would lead to a 2000 tonnes extra of carbon dioxide per year, and a 20% increase in the small 2.5 microns particulates that lodge in respiratory tracts leading to cancers and asthma of people in the Golden Mile. Both result in future costs to the economy. Euro diesel standards don’t ensure the removal of the smallest and most dangerous exhaust particles. Nor do they bring lesser greenhouse gas emissions.

A new business case should concentrate on the east/west route which has a considerable amount of new overhead wiring, and include the cost of modifications to increase the reliability of the power supply network, as well as the installation of lithium ion batteries in the trolleybuses for off line capability.

Aggregated costs of abandonment of clean green zero emission trolleys are estimated by Allan Neilson as being about $34 million [4] (of which $20 million is a charge to public entities), compared to a cost of $15 million for an upgrade of the entire network, and a further reduced figure for the east-west route.

300 cities around the world manage trolley bus networks successfully and I am confident that GWRC has the governance and management capability to operate its system as well as other cities.

The Council’s aspirational target is for a low emission city, and Wellingtonians support retention of their electric buses and see them as a vital part of their low emission city.

Paul Bruce [5]
 is a Greater Wellington Regional Councillor

Important upcoming dates
Regional Council 9.30am on 6th April, when tender documents will be approved.
The date for approval of the new operators has been deferred by one month until October.