Wellington Scoop

NZ Bus loses bus routes, Tranzit bringing new-technology diesel


How did it happen? NZ Bus, which currently runs 73 per cent of Wellington bus services, is being cut back to running only 28 per cent from the middle of next year. At that time local bus travel will be dominated by Tranzit buses which will be increasing their share of the market from 1% to 60%.

Tranzit will be running buses for the north-south Spine, Khandallah/Aro, Brooklyn/Owhiro, Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt, Wainuiomata, and Porirua.

The Regional Council made the decision to change after calling tenders. It received 86 bids from nine tenderers, including several international operators.

“It was a highly competitive and robust process,” says the council on its website.

“The council believes it is important to promote competition in public transport, which leads to value for money outcomes for ratepayers and taxpayers… We are pleased with the outcomes that we have secured for ratepayers and look forward to negotiating with the preferred tenderers.”

Membership of the Tender Evaluation Team was selected to provide a balance of independence, critical thinking, subject matter expertise, internal knowledge and external viewpoints. Tenders were assessed on a combination of price and quality. The process considered many aspects of the service, including track record, employee welfare, customer service performance and the emissions profile of the fleets offered by tenderers.

And what about the new bus fleets? Tranzit says it will be building 228 new Euro 6 certified buses for its new routes. The Regional Council’s website says the Preferred Tender Outcome will bring 228 new EuroV1 buses and 220 EuroV buses to the routes covered by the tender.

A definition of these buses hasn’t been provided. They seem to be diesel buses with reduced emissions. The council describes them as …

… fitted with the latest technology to reduce harmful pollutants. This technology will significantly reduce emissions of the most harmful diesel pollutants NOx and PM10. There will be a 38% reduction in harmful pollutants in Wellington city and an 84% reduction in the Hutt Valley when compared against the existing fleet operating in these areas.

But they’re diesel buses.

And not all the new companies’ buses will use the new system. [Only] “at least half of these must be EuroV or better,” says the Regional Council.

It seems that there are still details to be worked out. Read the small print and you discover that the new bus operators are described as “preferred bidders” who will be confirmed “once negotiation is complete.”

NZ Bus will be negotiating too. It retains four contracts in Wellington city and needs to negotiate new deals which will begin mid-2018 and run for between six and 12 years.

As for the trolley buses. The Regional Council insists they’ll be gone by October, six months later than the intended date. It says NZ Bus is testing “the development of a plug-in range-extended electric bus that will re-use and refurbish the trolley bus fleet.” But the timing seems uncertain.

.. the transition from trolley buses to the new converted fleet … may require the use of diesel buses until the conversion programme is complete.

More diesels, again.


  1. Brent Efford, 5. May 2017, 16:03

    What a mess! This completes the collapse of the Wrightspeed illusion. Behind the spin – just more diesels, and no steps forward along the “Pathways for NZ’s transition to a low carbon society”. Only backward steps, signifying that the ‘responsible’ authorities don’t give a stuff.
    I note, BTW, that the spin has also shifted from the trolleybuses “lasting until at least October” to “the decommissioning of the trolleybuses … will be completed in October …” I have heard a rumour, admittedly from an unreliable source, that only 40 trolleys are now serviceable and hence the older diesel buses (left over from lost Auckland contracts) chugging around as a stopgap measure.
    This is the sort of low-rent public transport system you get when saving money takes precedence over all other considerations. The die was cast when the GWRC switched to the PT-minimal strategy route in order to facilitate Transmission Gully et al

  2. Rumpole, 5. May 2017, 19:19

    Tranzit buses used recently as replacements during rail maintenance were a disgrace. Old, noisy, and mechanically questionable. Some could hardly climb the Ngauranga Gorge. Would have been quicker for the passengers to get out and push.
    So we are being promised new buses by this company? Where are the “Wrightspeed” buses?

  3. Ross Clark, 5. May 2017, 22:31

    Tranzit could well end up buying many of its vehicles off NZBus … I can see Infratil walking completely away from the bus business; as I always wondered why they had gone into it in the first place (not a natural fit for an infrastructural investor).

  4. City Lad, 5. May 2017, 23:11

    GWRC don’t know what they’re doing. Especially their ongoing attempts to get rid of our 100% emission-free trolley fleet. And misleading the public about their “Wrightspeed” hybrid proposal with no prototype ever produced. The Wellington City Council should resume responsibility for the city bus fleet. “Local Council for Local Transport.”

  5. Morris Oxford, 6. May 2017, 8:58

    Should the WCC resume responsibility for the city bus fleet? One of the things the WCC could do is to return to the good old days when the “Big Reds” were not held up interminably by the slowness of out-of-towners getting on to their out-of-town buses in the middle of Lambton Quay (not to mention Courtenay Place and Manners Street etc., etc.)

  6. Mark Stocker, 6. May 2017, 13:12

    I’m frankly less bothered about trolleybus or diesel than I am at bus drivers habitually beating the lights, increasing the risk of nasty accidents and setting an appalling example. I’ve complained any number of times, but no change of behaviour has yet ensued.

  7. Tom, 6. May 2017, 14:25

    I agree entirely Mark. They are horrific and dangerous red-light offenders. Surely there is a way of enforcing behaviour change? Do we have to stand at each intersection with cameras before they take the complaints seriously? Or do we just have to wait until somebody is hit?

  8. Casey, 6. May 2017, 15:07

    Rumpole: Don’t bank on taking Hilda for a spin in a Wrightspeed bus any time soon. Unconfirmed reports have the first conversion, started 12 months ago, as having been abandoned, and the second conversion not completed either.

    If you thought the Tranzit bus going up Ngauranga Gorge was slow, then I shudder to think of the speed of a Wrightspeed trying to get up Bowen Street on its 40 kW/hr battery.

  9. Henry Filth, 7. May 2017, 5:21

    This is starting to remind me of the British rail system, which is also going through a wonderful diesel vs electric turmoil.

  10. Rumpole, 7. May 2017, 7:48

    Hilda is most disappointed in being misled by GWRC. They had promised her a Wrightspeed bus would have been available last year to go for a test ride. If the bus hasn’t been stolen, where is it?

  11. Casey, 7. May 2017, 11:26

    Convey my commiserations to Hilda, Rumpole, and tell her that the incomplete Wrightspeed is in a shed in Newlands, as is the second attempt to get a bus operational and at last report wasn’t.

    Will the GWRC be issuing gas masks to all those who need to use the CBD where the air quality will deteriorate even further when the trolley buses go. Euro 5 and Euro 6 diesel engines may be cleaner than earlier standards but they still pollute with noxious emissions harmful to humans and animals.

    An interesting study would be of the health of bus drivers who are held captive to massive doses of pollution now whilst working for a pittance, and seemingly will be getting even less from mid 2018. No wonder so many drivers are contemplating quitting, and why so few of the younger generation want to take up bus driving as a career. They value their health.

    40,000 people a year in the UK suffer premature death due to mainly diesel fume pollution, which translated to the NZ population is 2600, most being Wellington or Auckland residents. Makes one think, does it not.

    Diesel is a killer, yet Laidlaw and his team are promoting its ever increasing use which speaks volumes for an organization whose paramount duty is to protect the health and well being of its citizens. The WCC is remaining quiet on this increased pollution issue, and by doing so is giving the GWRC tacit approval to impact our standard of well being.

  12. Neil Douglas, 7. May 2017, 11:41

    I’m wondering about NZBus and Mana morale over the remaining months of their contracts.

    Must be a real good kick to the guts for management and staff alike so its difficult to see why they would put the same effort into running their services over the next year as they have done in the past.

    Passengers could be in for long bumpy ride.

  13. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 7. May 2017, 12:23

    I think you need to direct your disappointment at NZ Bus, Rumpole. Their CEO told me they’d be proving the Wrightspeeds would work by driving one of them up Baldwin Street, the world’s steepest residential street (Dunedin). Yes, really. And they say politicians are economical with the truth.

  14. Richard Keller, 7. May 2017, 16:39

    Another element of this picture is the national (global) neo-liberal takeover of politics. The philosophy of this was (is) that the money will be spent (given) on projects which filter profits up to the elite.

    To invest in “sustainable” transport options may not be as likely to be able to do this, but more to the point, would send the wrong signals to the electorate that significant change for sustainability is not only necessary but was actually beginning! This has been greeted with relief by the electorate which has preferred denial.

  15. Rumpole, 7. May 2017, 18:58

    My Hilda is unamused with the intense secrecy surrounding any progress on a Wrightspeed prototype. When will it be driven up Dunedin’s Baldwin Street? It’s a hybrid, so no cheating please!

  16. Keith Flinders, 8. May 2017, 10:16

    Chris Calvi-Freeman. Using the so called range extender, otherwise known as fossil fuel engine, a Wrightspeed bus may possibly get up Baldwin Street. However using its 40 kW/hr battery only, it seems by my calculations unlikely to do so. Spin is key to fooling the public into believing that which isn’t so, or has yet to be established.

    Two months ago I was informed by Wayne Hastie of the GWRC, via Cr. McKinnon, that the Wrightspeed conversions were running to schedule, so I asked for a demonstration. Darn, the invitation must have got lost in the email system!

  17. David Bond, 8. May 2017, 17:37

    Dear Minister of Transport Simon Bridges,

    Please step in and override the current malicious policy to deliberately destroy Wellington’s 100% electric Trolleybus system.
    Such an intervention on your part should flow naturally from your stated enthusiasm for electric vehicles.
    Shouldn’t it?

    Yours sincerely. . .

  18. paul bruce, 8. May 2017, 21:02

    Recent revelations relating to filters installed on vehicles indicates that, in the real world, performance is quite different to “in factory”. Euro 5 and especially Euro 6 filters are expensive to maintain on diesel buses, and the temptation will be to not renew them so that their effectiveness will diminish over time. In any case, Euro 5 or 6 standards are still unable to remove all the very small 2.5 micron particles which are responsible for cancers and respiratory disease and led to the WMO classifying diesel as a class one toxic substance.

    And we will never know how effective the filters are, as no testing is required in New Zealand – we are just asked to have faith that a profit driven operator will keep to the standards set. It is a game of smoke and mirrors.

    I understand that the chosen operator already runs buses with Euro6 filters – has anybody ever verified that these standards are being met in their existing fleet?

  19. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 8. May 2017, 21:17

    Keith: I don’t really care if a Wrightspeed could get up Baldwin Street. I wish NZ Bus well in trialing the Wrightspeeds. If and when they get one running I’ll be keen to see how it performs on the climb up Pirie Street or the Brooklyn Hill with a full load of passengers.

    NZ Bus has retained a proportion of the bus routes in Wellington – although Tranzit will have the lion’s share, NZ Bus vehicles will still be in clear evidence from July 2018 onwards. Whether NZ Bus’ share of the market will be sufficient to justify their continuing to experiment with the Wrightspreed conversions (or whether the routes they’ve retained will be appropriate for these vehicles) remains to be seen. Good luck to them if they can make the Wrightspeeds work

  20. Brent Efford, 9. May 2017, 8:57

    When two trolleybuses were taken out of service for Wrightspeed conversion last year we were told that the prototype conversions would be on the road for testing LAST November! So how Wayne Hastie, one of the GWRC’s top spinners, can claim they are “running to schedule” beats me. They don’t seem to be running at all, and the evasion – “you will have to ask NZ Bus about that” – by Mr Wright himself, when questioned about progress at his promotional presentation at the car show at Queens Wharf recently, only heightens the suspicions. Particularly when he refused to answer any follow-up questions.

  21. aidy, 9. May 2017, 8:59

    @ Chris Calvi Freeman
    So we can take it that there are no firm plans to replace the current low carbon trolley bus system with an environmentally friendly alternative ?
    Glad to see our Regional Council is serious about preparing the region for the future, and acting as a leader in moving our transport system forwards into the 20th century. Must be great to make a difference.
    Ostriches the lot of them, hiding behind glossy Press releases and consultant reports.

  22. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 9. May 2017, 11:44

    @aidy – I’m a city councillor so can’t speak for the Greater Wellington Regional Council. Cllr Sarah Free (also WCC) and I have made many enquiries to try to secure the future of the trolley buses but it appears to be a lost cause.

  23. Glen Smith, 10. May 2017, 8:14

    CCF. Isn’t this a bit of a cop-out? Aren’t the overhead wires in Wellington owned by Wellington Cable Car Ltd which is owned by Wellington City Council? Can’t the WCC simply refuse to be a part of the proposed vandalism of a potentially very useful network based on the whim of a few Regional Councillors, many of whom don’t represent the people of Wellington who will be exposed to diesel fumes forever, and who will only (hopefully) be in their positions for an historically short period of time?

  24. Andrew, 10. May 2017, 10:04

    Glen, Mr Laidlaw was re-elected, so unfortunately not a historically short period of time.

  25. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 10. May 2017, 13:59

    Glen, what good would WCC refusing to remove the wiring do if GWRC refused to continue to fund the operation of the trolleybuses? Anyway, there are other parties involved, including Wellington Electricity (privately owned) who supply the power and who would need to substantially upgrade the power supply at significant expense were the trolleys to continue. Then there’s NZ Bus, who own the trolley buses and have been withdrawing them one by one for some time now,

  26. Lindsay, 10. May 2017, 15:58

    Too many contradictory messages. Chris Laidlaw says the trolley buses are to be kept in use till October. Chris C-F tells us they’re already being withdrawn, one by one. Another source tells me only 40 remain in service, being replaced by old diesel buses rejected by Auckland. Then there are the regional councillors who are supporting the plan to scrap the trolleys. Recent reports indicate they’re not being given any information at all. I’ve been asking for clarity. There’s been no official response.

  27. Keith Flinders, 10. May 2017, 16:14

    Glen: $10 million of ratepayer funds will be spent to remove the overhead wiring as we know. At The Future is Electric symposium, held in Wellington last year, speaker Malcolm McCullough warned that speedy removal of the overheard wiring would be regretted. Other enlightened cities now see what we have as an asset, with off wire capable trolley buses being the answer instead of using polluting diesels. An interim and cost effective step until battery technology advances is to continue with trolley buses.

    Approximately $18,000 per trolley bus per year for the next 10 years needs to be spent on the electrical infrastructure, over and above general maintenance costs, to have it safely operate to end of present trolley bus life. A small sum compared to the cost of extra pollution that will impact on the health of ratepayers.

    Although some trolley buses have been withdrawn, that is not to say that they can’t be made operational again. It makes commercial sense for NZ Bus not to repair/maintain buses due to be decommissioned in a matter of weeks. The last minute extension to the trolley bus operations was made by the GWRC whose business acumen has never impressed me.

    Unfortunately the WCC has not been active in seeking a pollution free public transport solution from the GWRC for our city, and has failed us too.

  28. Mark Shanks, 11. May 2017, 8:05

    “With the conflicting responsibilities regional councils already have for environmental protection and regional development, you don’t have to be a political scientist to see the environment will be the loser if the economy is elevated.”– Brian Johnson Chief Executive Fish and Game. Money is driving this debate, not the well being of the planet or its citizens. Some would argue that wellbeing has everything to do with money. I am not one of those.

  29. Glen Smith, 13. May 2017, 23:18

    Keith Flinders. You say diesel is an ‘interim measure’ and I agree it is likely that newer battery technology will eventually replace lithium cobalt oxide batteries (contenders include graphene, lithium sulphur, lithium air, solid state batteries etc). But these have been promised since the 90s with no signs of any commercially viable option yet. Tesla (who should be aware of evolving technology) don’t seem to anticipate anything any time soon since they are spending billions on a lithium ion ‘Gigafactory’ ( http://www.tesla.com/en_NZ/gigafactory). We need to assume we will be stuck with current technology for some time and that Trolley buses may well be the only viable option for clean, fossil fuel and pollution free buses for several decades.
    CCF. Regional councillors and central politicians come and go (we may well have a different Government later this year) and there are many bus and electrical companies. But infrastructure that hasn’t been destroyed can be resurrected. Your job as a City Councillor is to represent the wishes and interests of the people who elected you (the public of Wellington – not the whole region). This public has consistently indicated their desire for a high quality fossil and pollution free bus system that doesn’t expose them to noise and nxious fumes. What actions are you going to take to achieve this? As above the best and only viable option of achieving this for several decades may well be trolley. The Regional Council have decided against trolleys without apparently undertaking any thorough analysis, listening to the City Councillors and before any viable alternative is proven. You and other City Councillors can disagree and take a separate view. I put it to you that not only CAN the WCC decide to retain the trolley wires but that they are morally obliged to do so until a proven alternative is available.

  30. Keith Flinders, 14. May 2017, 13:36

    Glen Smith. No, I don’t see old ex Auckland diesel buses, which we are getting more of, as an interim measure. What I do see as an interim measure are trolley buses capable of off-wire running too, as are in operation in several cities including some in China where battery-only buses haven’t been the success that was hoped for. Constant recharging, low travel range, relatively short service life, and high cost of replacement batteries mean the evolving technology isn’t yet satisfactory or economically viable for public passenger transport. Putting enough batteries on a bus gets over the range issue but then there is still the cost and weight issue, as well as the expensive problem of recycling worn out batteries every few years.

    The decision to get rid of the trolley buses in 2014 was made without a business case, with incorrect and misleading information given to councillors and without concern for the health and safety for those in the CBD.

    One of the reason put forward in 2014 was that the trolley buses were clapped out and falling apart. Darn odd statement to make as the same buses were going to be used to convert to the illusionary Wrightspeed technology. It was also stated that the entire trolley bus infrastructure had to be replaced at a cost of $56 million; that argument has been disputed by a respected electrical traction engineer. Subsequent to the withdrawal notification, millions were spent upgrading the overhead wiring which had been neglected for about 20 years, and which was a major cause of trolley bus service failures. There is another $10 million, approx, that needs to be spent over the next few years on sub station equipment that ought to have been replaced over the past 20 years but wasn’t. WCCL have a case to answer here too.

    In this past week Chris Laidlaw stated the new bus route contractor, Tranzit, will start introducing electric buses from 2018. We await the details. There is a least one GWRC councillor who believes that the double decker buses on the Johnsonville/Newlands to Island Bay route from 2018 will be battery ones, which isn’t the case. If one councillor believes in this, then can we assume all the councillors remaining from the 2014 intake, apart from Sue Kedgley and Daran Ponter, have not received correct information?

  31. TrevorH, 14. May 2017, 18:54

    Non fossil fuel biodiesel is the answer. No particulates either. Battery electric is extremely polluting and energy intensive to manufacture and dispose of. You can make biodiesel out of old chip fat or other organic waste and most diesel engines can already use it or a mix.

  32. Casey, 15. May 2017, 8:22

    Trevor. Algae bio fuel development is interesting to follow too. Fish and chip shop waste vegetable oil would barely produce enough bio diesel to cover the needs of its owners and their friends, but every bit helps.
    So going back full circle to trolley buses powered by windmill and hydro power stations is the best option for the environment, not that we can persuade the GWRC to relook at it.

  33. Andrew, 15. May 2017, 9:07

    There are still particulates with biodiesel. Although lower amounts and of different composition to petroleum diesel.

  34. Michael, 15. May 2017, 22:42

    Have any of the decision makers ever stood on Lambton Quay or Willis Street when 4-5 very noisy diesel buses are stopped at lights or bus stops belching out their obnoxious fumes.
    This is a massive step backwards and it won’t be long before city living with the extra noise and pollution becomes less attractive to many.
    Why is the WCC just sitting by and letting this happen to our city??

  35. Colin, 20. June 2017, 22:33

    The Regional Council’s spin on all this is making me dizzy. First, the crowing about the ‘new technology diesel’ and low emissions, with the cry ‘Euro VI’ having been adopted by Chris Laidlaw as some sort of mantra! In fact the Euro V standard (to feature in 220 of the new buses) dates from 2008 and Euro VI (for 228 buses) from 2013. And of course those buses will be on the roads for at least 10 years by which stage the ‘new-technology’ Euro V standard will be 20 years old.

    Secondly, neither of these standards cover CO2 emissions, the primary cause of the greatest environmental crisis confronting the planet, yet apparently so peripheral to the strategy and vision of the Regional Council as to not warrant a mention. While other cities around the world are planning for zero carbon in a relatively short time frame, the GWRC mindset is more suited to Dannevirke c.1957 than the capital of 100% Pure New Zealand, which should be prioritising a goal of zero carbon by 2050.

    Thirdly, there have been many vague references to electric buses in future; this has been mentioned by Mr Laidlaw on several occasions in recent weeks, including in the GWRC media releases. So, the GWRC is rushing to junk an existing electric vehicle fleet and infrastructure powered largely by sustainably produced electricity, that would be the envy of many other world cities and could, with some vision, be enhanced. And apparently, without irony, it has chosen to soften that blow with vaporous promises of – yes, that’s right – electric buses, in the same breath as announcing the introduction of an all diesel fleet. You have to admire their gall.

  36. Marion Leader, 21. June 2017, 9:32

    In answer to Michael’s question (Why is the WCC just sitting by and letting this happen to our city??) WCC are in awe of the Regional Council because of its preponderance of heavyweight ex-MPs especially Labour ones.

  37. Michael, 21. June 2017, 20:09

    It is time the Wellington City Council removed the following misleading statement from their website: “Our Long Term Plan 2012-22 supports the aim to develop Wellington as an eco-city that: proactively responds to environmental challenges and takes an environmental leadership role, as the capital city of clean and green New Zealand”. It is becoming fairly clear they have no will or plan to implement it.