Wellington Scoop

Betrayed and insulted over trolley buses

by Keith Tomlinson
I have been closely following the arguments about the demise of the trolley bus fleet, and feel betrayed and insulted by the Regional Council (with the exception of a couple of councillors) who seem to believe their own self-serving propaganda.

As an ex-trolleybus driver (Auckland) I see depressing similarities between the run-down of the Auckland fleet and what is happening to the Wellington fleet.

I’ve recently returned from an extended stay in Germany, where commitment to electric transport is widespread and popular. To scrap trolley buses in Germany and replace them would be totally unacceptable, even unthinkable, to the wider population. I feel it is arrogant and short sighted of the Regional Council to throw out an electric fleet.

I have written in this vein to all the councillors, have received only three replies, two negative, and wonder who these characters are, and what responsibilities to the future they represent? Do they think that they make decisions in a vacuum, that economics are the sole arbiter of their decisions?

To argue with such as Cr Swain about economic and administration matters relevant to keeping the trolleys seems pointless. His and other minds are made up. To me the whole point of keeping the trolleys is one of clean air, better environment, using our own energy resources, and not wasting a perfectly good asset. Arguments over costs should be irrelevant. If we want to breathe fresh air, and not choke in our city streets in clouds of diesel fumes, how much is this worth?

Costs of keeping, upgrading, and extending the trolleybus system should be borne by all of us, I mean the wider community, after all we all breathe the same air don’t we?
For Mr Swain and other doubters’ benefit, I recently bought an “Euro-5” truck for my business. It’s noisy and it stinks, try standing behind it, then stand behind an electric vehicle. It’s a no brainer.

What is the Regional Council’s legal requirement to not increase pollution? If as I imagine there is such a requirement, could this be used as a block to stop the closure of the trolley system on legal grounds? I have no legal background, but surely there’s a Green lawyer out there who could follow this up? We need to explore all avenues.

Keith Tomlinson, a one-time trolley bus driver, now runs a beekeeping business, and has had a long-term interest in electric traction. Also a long term involvement in conservation/ecology issues.


  1. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 17. September 2016, 12:19

    I’d be interested to see what Cr Swain has said in defence of removing the trolleys.

    No other practical form of propulsion has the hill climbing power of a “mains” electric motor. Fully laden trolleys can fly up Pirie Street, quietly and without belching noxious fumes into the surrounding houses. But there are various reasons why GWRC wants shot of the trolleys. Chief amongst these is a desire to open every bus route in Wellington to competition. This is not easily achieved when you have one overhead power supply and one company operating trolley buses. The need for competitive tender is prescribed by government. Back in 1990when I rads the Regional Council’s public transport team, we secured (if memory serves correctly) a specific official exemption to allow the trolley buses to sit outside the tendering regime. This should happen again now. Free market competition should not be at the expense of environmental protection. It should be possible for GWRC to establish an upper limit for subsidies for trolley-operated bus routes, reflecting the reasonable cost of using and maintaining the overhead power supply.

    Viable battery electric buses capable of handling Wellington’s steep terrain may not be more than a few short years away. Electric buses are being introduced in London as we speak. It’s surely worth keeping the trolleys until there is some clarity on this issue.

    Will any of the candidates for GWRC pledge to reverse the decision to can the trolleys?

  2. Keith Flinders, 17. September 2016, 13:32

    In 2014 GWRC councillors voted to get rid of the trolley buses, 2 voted to retain them. Remembering that the out of Wellington councillors outnumber those from the city at a ration of 8:5. I believe Laidlaw, Wilde, and Aitken voted with the other 8.

    A majority of GWRC councillors voted to replace the suburban trains, electrify the route to Paraparaumu and then on to Waikanae at a cost of over $500 million in 2016 terms. Waikanae extension cannot be justified on current patronage. 11 million passenger trips are made on the Matangi units annually. 24 million passenger trips are made on the buses. annually. Why then are bus users being penalised with over crowded services, and indeed from 2018 not only the loss of off peak services but the need by many to catch two buses to get to and from work.

    Declaring my interest as a Wellington Regional Council candidate 2016.

  3. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 17. September 2016, 13:53

    @ Keith. Having read just some of the information on your website, it’s clear to me that you should hold a seat on GWRC. You have my vote!

  4. Keith Flinders, 17. September 2016, 14:26

    Eight of the 11 Wellington City GWRC 2016 candidates are 100% behind electric public transport. As one of them, I do pledge to get the trolley bus decision reversed if elected. I won’t speak for the others but if asked will likely join me. However 5 councillors out of 13 in the next council can be out voted. A poll of those candidates outside Wellington City needs to be taken. Their constituents enjoy 100% non polluting Matangis which cost the region $500 million plus another $20 million annually to use Kiwi Rail’s tracks.

    The rot set in with the trolley bus infrastructure in the early 1990s when then Wellington mayor Fran Wilde decided we must get rid of the MED. Fran saw the MED as a risk but the enlightened saw it as a potential gold mine. The MED which worked with the then Wellington City transport operation looked after the trolley bus power needs in their sub stations. For the past 25 years only reactive maintenance has been done, that is “wait until it breaks down and then fix it”, not the proactive maintenance it needed. You wouldn’t run a diesel bus for 25 years without doing regular oil changes etc.. One needs to do the same for the power supply to trolley buses.

    Remembering too that money spent now on sub station equipment will see this current fleet of trolley buses through to end of life plus another generation of them. Same of the replacement, and some of the present newer, electrical equipment, is suitable for light rail when that comes to be.

    Most of the overhead wiring has been upgraded and is good for another 20 or so years. Upgrading work was done after the announcement to scrap the trolley buses. Upgrading lines has also vastly reduced the incidence of buses having their poles accidentally disconnecting from the overhead lines.

  5. The City is Ours, 17. September 2016, 17:10

    I am voting for Keith and I wish CCF was standing for GWRC instead.

  6. Russell Tregonning, 17. September 2016, 17:59

    I am a GWRC candidate. We are under threat of a major climate emergency. We must do everything to protect climate– NZ is currently free- loading with its miserly ghg reduction target. According to the WHO, climate change is the greatest threat to global health. More air pollution is another result of diesel burning by the buses planned to replace the trolleys. The Health Act (1956) makes local bodies like GWRC responsible for the health of the community. If elected I will vote to upgrade infrastructure & retain the trolleys until suitable all-electric buses are available.

  7. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 17. September 2016, 18:07

    Thanks @The City is Ours. The City needs strong and informed representation on the Get Wellington Moving initiative and in any discussions between the two councils regarding buses and light rail. There is little evidence that the two councils have worked sufficiently closely and cooperatively together to date. This can be changed with a will from both new councils.

    CCF (Can Cooperate Fully)

  8. Michael Gibson, 17. September 2016, 18:57

    Russell Tregonning’s policies are not the only reason to vote for him – it is so good that the policies are backed up with his years of wonderful experience as a surgeon and that he is now turning to serve us through GWRC. If only more candidates had his background!
    P.S. I seem to remember that he was once in the same Otago team as Chris Laidlaw but this should surely not count against him too much.

  9. Daran Ponter, 18. September 2016, 8:18

    Only three councillors have consistently voted to retain and upgrade the trolley buses – myself, Sue Kedgley and Paul Bruce.

    There are thirteen regional councillors, only five of whom come from Wellington City. If we are to have a chance of reversing this decision then we need like minded councillors from outside Wellington to get on board.

    Greater Wellington Regional Council