Wellington Scoop

Ten years of diesel buses – ten years of increased emissions

By Gillian Tompsett
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released this week calling for a steep cut in CO2 emissions within 12 years to avoid irreversible climate change, highlights the shortsighted and incompetent leadership of Wellington’s Regional Council, which scrapped the trolley bus network in November without a clear plan to replace them with an equivalent or better carbon-free bus fleet.

In addition to the fiasco around the changes to the bus network and driver contracts, Wellington now has the dubious honour of being the only city in the world to remove sustainable public transport since the Paris climate accord was signed in 2015.

In the run-up to the introduction of the new bus network, the GWRC repeatedly failed to tell Wellingtonians that Euro 5 and Euro 6 buses release dangerous carcinogens and that carbon emissions would increase.

By failing to front-foot a plan to incentivise bus companies Tranzit and NZ Bus to electrify their bus fleets, the GWRC has imposed on Wellingtonians a fleet of predominantly diesel buses for the next 10-12 years: the length of the contracts the GWRC has signed with Tranzit and NZ Bus.


An OIA request by ReVolt to obtain NIWA reports to the GWRC, confirms that nitrous oxide emissions have increased in the city since trolley buses were decommissioned in November.

With only 30 electric buses planned to be on the road by 2021, Wellington will still have less than half the number that were operating in 2017.

The GWRC leadership points to Euro standards as being the best in the world. In fact, it is the state of California that has enacted the world’s most rigorous emissions standards, significantly reducing smog in cities such as Los Angeles.

Despite GWRC assurances to the contrary, Wellingtonians are still very unhappy about what they believe to be unnecessary changes to their bus network. There is no question that the GWRC has damaged Wellington’s brand as the “coolest little capital”.

Central government cannot afford to be complacent or complicit on this issue, following the IPCC Working Group Co-Chair Debra Roberts’ statement this week that “the next few years are probably the most important in our history.”

Given the lack of leadership on this issue from the GWRC, it is time for central government to take immediate action:

• Significantly increase investment in low carbon transport options
• Pass legislation introducing vehicle emissions standards to New Zealand
• Introduce onboard portable emissions testing (PEMS) for public transport to prevent the debasing of emission standards
• Introduce an emissions star rating system for buses, similar to what we have in place to rate car fuel-efficiency
• Hold an independent inquiry into the mishandling of Wellington’s bus network (if you agree please sign the petition)

For further information visit: http://www.revoltwellington.co.nz


  1. Graham Atkinson, 11. October 2018, 10:23

    During the 10 years that the Designline Trolley buses were in service (2007 – 2016) GO Wellington never managed to get more than 45 on the road at any one time.

  2. greenwelly, 11. October 2018, 11:00

    “With only 30 electric buses planned to be on the road by 2021, Wellington will still have less than half the number that were operating in 2017.”
    Where do the retrofitted battery trolleys fit in this number?
    It’s pretty clear they are coming – they have managed to convince EECA to fund chargers and that would not have got that over the line without a fairly likely contract with the GWRC.

  3. Gillybee, 11. October 2018, 11:29

    Times have changed Graham. It’s time to get serious about climate change given the IPCC’s report this week.

    @ greenwelly, according to reliable sources, it’s anything but certain that the trolleys are coming. Perhaps Mr Laidlaw can answer that question directly.

  4. Graham Atkinson, 11. October 2018, 13:51

    Gillybee my first point was that 32 electric double deckers (each carrying 84 passengers) does not represent less than half of what was on the road in 2016 (45 carrying around 60 passengers each actually works out at virtually the same number of people being moved by 25% fewer vehicles) while the question of are the converted trolley buses coming should really be directed at Zane Fulljames not Chris Laidlaw

  5. Traveller, 11. October 2018, 14:11

    When will we have 32 electric double decker buses?

  6. greenwelly, 11. October 2018, 14:14

    @GillyBee. He seemed pretty clear in August:
    The conversion of more than 50 former Wellington trolley buses to battery power will put Metlink among world leaders in the shift to zero-carbon public transport, says Regional Council chair Chris Laidlaw. “This decision is a major step towards the vision of a 100 percent electric public transport fleet. Indeed it is difficult to think of a more compelling example of a city and region taking meaningful steps to reduce its transport emissions.”

  7. Realist not ruse, 11. October 2018, 15:24

    Very good question @Traveller. The first ten are only on trial. Eight are apparently delivered but often unserviceable. Should the trial be successful, the proposal is for 32 by 2022. Leaving a fleet of 95% diesel for 12 years until contract renewal occurs. and by the day the trolley bus conversions are looking more like pipe dreams.

  8. Keith Flinders, 11. October 2018, 16:04

    greenwelly: At last report no agreement had been reached between the GWRC and NZ Bus to deploy the 50 former trolley buses being converted to battery operation. We could well see these buses head north in the near future. The GWRC is dragging its feet again, oblivious to the effects of diesel pollution on those in the CBD especially. Add to the mix, the noise pollution causing issues 18 hours a day to residents whose streets now have 100% diesel buses passing through them every few minutes. Moxham Avenue, for example. Then those in Seatoun who now have a bus terminus metres away from their bedrooms, with services every 10 – 15 minutes early morning until late at night.
    What the GWRC chair and his councillors intimate what might happen isn’t always what does. Alas.

  9. Gillybee, 11. October 2018, 16:07

    @ greenwelly, I wish you were right. I really do. Let’s just say they’ve had a change of heart. Like I said, my sources are reliable.

    @ Graham Atkinson, you’re ok with a 95% diesel fleet servicing Wellington’s streets for the next 10-12 years? Have you read the IPCC report?

  10. Graham Atkinson, 11. October 2018, 16:09

    It is correct that currently only 8 of the initial ten are in service, but they are now operating at close to 98% reliability restricted only by delays in commissioning the Island Bay Charging Station and the lack of a second charging station at the Lambton Quay Terminus.

  11. greenwelly, 11. October 2018, 16:29

    “restricted only by delays in commissioning the Island Bay Charging Station and the lack of a second charging station at the Lambton Quay Terminus.”
    Is Reef Street still not operational?

    Tranzit got funding in January for Lambton Quay. Does it require a resource consent from the WCC or are there other issues getting it installed?

  12. Martin C, 11. October 2018, 17:17

    “At last report no agreement had been reached between the GWRC and NZ Bus to deploy the 50 former trolley buses converted to battery operation.”
    So someone has lied to us?

  13. Trish Fenaughty, 11. October 2018, 20:23

    Are we waiting on the Regional Council to get the go ahead for the conversions of the old trolleys to the new electrics? Oh god please don’t say it’s so! It wasn’t only the trolleys that were planned for conversion either… They want to convert diesels that we currently use.

  14. Keith Flinders, 11. October 2018, 21:53

    Trish: Former trolleys with new batteries added so that they perform with the power of electric propulsion, and with no fumes. Trolley 361 has been converted and drivers seem happy with its performance. Or do we wait 10 years for new battery buses currently costing $1.5 million each.

    I have not heard of any plans to convert new or old diesel buses, which in the interim spew out toxic fumes and greenhouse gases. How ideal it would be to have them all electric too. Wellington could then get back its “coolest little capital” title.

    Procrastination by the GWRC is holding up the conversion project I believe.

  15. Facts not spin, 12. October 2018, 7:10

    @Graham Atkinson surprisingly no comment addressing the the increase in tailpipe emissions after the abandonment of the trolley bus system. No comment about the recorded concentration of carcinogenic levels exposing the Wellington travelling public to health risks for years to come. No comment on the continued trading off of the Wellington’s image by a failure of public transport service delivery. The warnings could be no clearer from the IPCC. But you keep defending the actions of consultants and officers that deserve to be moved on for their incompetence. History will judge who is on the wrong side of the ledger.

  16. Benny, 12. October 2018, 8:32

    I have asked, countless times in the past couple of weeks to GWRC and Daran Ponter if the deal to convert the trolleys to electric, for Wellington, was confirmed or not. They don’t seem to want to respond. That’s worrying since I did receive answers to other questions in the past. Silence speaks volumes. It is also worrying since GWRC’s report GWRC to Parliament stated the negotiations were underway. The report was submitted a couple of weeks ago, way after the Kilbirnie meeting where we were told it was a done deal. It’s hard to know if we have been misled intentionally or not, but truth is, the full electrification is way more complicated now that we have a 10 years contract which didn’t include the conversion. They let the trolleys go, without credible, clear, firm alternative. No matter how much PR spin they put on it, that’s fact.

  17. Cr Daran Ponter, 12. October 2018, 9:21

    Eerrr no Benny. The GWRC and NZ Bus are in commercial negotiations. They are no longer commercial negotiations if either party starts broadcasting their position. You will just have to wait I’m afraid.

  18. James S, 12. October 2018, 9:39

    Has anyone heard what the Airport Flyer has come up with as a substitute for Snapper payments, which ended last week?

  19. greenwelly, 12. October 2018, 10:01

    @James S, From November it will be cash/eftpos/credit card… Whether card users get the old snapper fare discount is unclear…

  20. Marion Leader, 12. October 2018, 10:07

    You can’t believe stuff you heard at the Kilbirnie bus meeting or anything else from Greater Wellington. For instance, there are tons of smelly old purple diesel buses which have been put onto our streets in spite of this report from a few weeks before the new set-up started: “The council recently introduced new rules limiting diesels to at least a Euro 4 emission standard for existing operators, and Euro 5 or 6 – the highest global emission standard – for new operators.” The question is whether they have begun fining operators who have not met this limit.

  21. Benny, 12. October 2018, 12:49

    @Daran: The reason we believed the conversion WAS a done deal came from you at the Kilbirnie meeting in front of 300 people. The message was so clear that a report was published about it on Radio New Zealand on 7th August. Do you understand why there is some confusion in my mind? But now it is clear that negotiations are still underway, do you have an estimated time as per when you think we should be able to have a resolution on this?

  22. Johnny Utzone, 12. October 2018, 13:24

    Benny: GWRC has no power over NZ Bus to convert anything.

  23. Cr Daran Ponter, 12. October 2018, 19:10

    No Benny, I said that GWRC was in negotiations and I was hopeful of a positive outcome. I said that the negotiations were about price and not about the technology.

    As negotiations have dragged on I have become sceptical that we will reach a positive conclusion on the ex-trolleys.

    If we do reach agreement then I suggest that there is now no chance that we will see ex-trolleys hitting the streets before Christmas 2018.

    If the parties can’t reach agreement on the ex-trolley then the GWRC will need to consider alternative options for electrifying the fleet, which I have already taken a motion to the Council on earlier in the year.

  24. Sean, 15. October 2018, 11:08

    Electric buses were not valued by GW in the tender round, regardless of the claim by GW that getting rid of the electric trolley buses somehow marked a step towards an electric bus fleet and despite the end result being an essentially all diesel powered fleet for the next decade or decades. NZ Bus probably have enough late model diesel buses in service or on order to meet their contract obligations. A battery build or conversion is very expensive (cost of batteries) and running costs very high due to the very short life of these expensive batteries in heavy duty service (2-4 years). So why would NZ Bus convert the parked up trolley fleet? The value of these 60 (57) buses has already been stranded and it makes no financial sense for NZ Bus to spend substantial extra capital on them to make existing compliant diesel buses in their fleet, or on the way, redundant. There has to be a substantial financial incentive. The best time for this was during the tender process, ensuring that tenderers were rewarded for investing in electric or other low emission buses and that they competed for these rewards. This did not happen, as the outcome of the process was to mostly eliminate Wellington’s electric bus network.

    GW will have to agree to a substantial financial package to make it worthwhile for NZ Bus, or any other operator, to invest in this. This is probably where we are at, confronting the cost of making it worthwhile for NZ Bus to convert these buses, discard an equivalent number of diesels and incur the higher operating cost, all with minimal competitive tension.

  25. Gillybee, 15. October 2018, 11:15

    So NZ Bus are asking for more than the $40 million “investment” that the GWRC gave Tranzit back in April for the purchase of 114 Euro 6 “clean diesel engine” buses? (source: Cook Strait News 26-04-18, p.4)

  26. sean, 15. October 2018, 12:25

    Gillybee. All I know is that, unless there are some other factors we are not aware of, cash up front or revised contract terms that provide an equivalent net value will be required to have NZ Bus convert these vehicles and use them to replace operating diesel buses. Any claim 50 of them will be back on our streets was and is subject to this being negotiated. I think we both agree that it would have been better had Wgtn not ended up in this position, but a largely diesel future was the inevitable outcome of the GW process, as Brent Efford has pointed out here.

  27. Keith Flinders, 15. October 2018, 13:08

    Sean: About 80 of the NZ Bus diesel fleet in Wellington, aged between 8 and 14 years old, are scheduled for replacement. Some of these buses have done well over 1 million kms already. A list of the fleet, as of mid 2018 and sourced from the GWRC, includes details of Euro ratings, etc.
    Agreed that NZ Bus is a commercial business and will want a deal that suits their bottom line and satisfies their shareholders. Wellington citizens want to see a dramatic decrease in bus diesel emissions and noise pollution, but in the meantime the GWRC is not acting in our interests with any urgency.

  28. Gillybee, 15. October 2018, 13:16

    Sean. That’s why we need an inquiry. It’s like the GWRC went shopping for a flash pair of brogues and came back with used Nikes.

  29. Dave B, 15. October 2018, 13:46

    If some serious pressure, the likes of which we have not yet seen, comes on governments to cut fossil fuel carbon-emissions, then it may be that the radical action necessary may just include things like urgently reinstalling trolleybus networks across various cities. We cannot predict how this is going to play out, but the indications are that diesel-as-usual may no longer be an option. Those presumptuous decision-makers who scrapped the trolleybuses and threw away Wellington’s head-start in this regard may yet get their come-uppance.

  30. Eric Blair, 15. October 2018, 16:54

    Oh you of little faith Dave B. Our illustrious leader Chris Laidlaw promised that our new fleet would be better than the old fleet (with trolleys in it) and our collective CO2 emissions would be lower.

  31. Smokescreen, 15. October 2018, 23:32

    @sean, the costs you speak of take no account of the increase in pollution that is being generated which we are now exposed to after the trolley bus era. For example a 200%+ increase on the East – West bus corridor from last year. This amounts to over $10million of social health costs to the people of Wellington who live, work and play in proximity to the route over the next ten years. Rather than invest in the emissions-free technology upfront to avoid the harm to our people and planet, the GWRC chooses to obfuscate and wilfully mislead claiming that “tailpipe emissions” have decreased (false facts direct from the GWRC “truthiness” files). It’s more clever for the Councillors to mince with mealy words whilst 1000s of our kids at the 13 schools which line the route are exposed to 10 years plus of carcinogens. Using the words of a diesel apologist is no mistake mind you, as former head of Anadarko NZ now leads the spin machine of GWRC. The bulk fuel suppliers have done very nicely thank-us-very-much ratepayers of Wellington, from the removal of the trolley bus system. Anyone smell a rat??

  32. sean, 16. October 2018, 9:16

    Seems like I may have been too subtle. I was observing that there is nothing in it (converting abandoned trolleys to battery power) for NZ Bus, as all the problems of abandoning electric transport are externalities. It is down to GW and Central Govt to create the conditions that favour zero emission buses, which they have not done. The resulting shift to diesel is the inevitable, and to me depressing, outcome.

  33. Jonny Utzone, 16. October 2018, 10:03

    I wonder if GWRC factored in the rising cost of petrol and diesel? The last eight years have been fracking fantastic. But no longer. Oh to have kept our trolleys!

  34. NigelTwo, 16. October 2018, 11:07

    @Jonny. The rise in fuel cost will be a factor in justifying the next round of fare adjustments.

  35. Jonny Utzone, 16. October 2018, 11:55

    NigelTwo – the bus company contracts already include automatic adjustments for fuel price rises – us ratepayers will be paying more simply because GWRC didn’t keep the trolleys as an insurance against the inevitable increase in diesel price! The bus passengers will eventually get hit with increased fares so they pay their 50% share of the rising diesel cost too.

  36. Graham Atkinson, 16. October 2018, 13:38

    Perhaps a few comments might be appropriate.

    Firstly there were never more than 45 trolley buses on the road and they seldom operated either at night or on the weekends (I don’t think the “new” trolley buses ever ran on weekends) so to suggest a 200% increase in diesel exhausts is overstatement. There might be a 70% temporary increase because I understand that the new buses NZ Bus are purchasing especially for the East West spine are all Euro 5 at a minimum and may even achieve Euro 6 standard.

    Secondly operating contracts for trolley buses also had escalation clauses for cost increases so the costs would have escalated – and much of the trolley power usage was at peak charging times.

    And as the person who for over 10 years to March 2016 was responsible for managing the operation of the trolley buses on the road I have no doubt that the network was past its use by date. The underground supply never achieved the desired 600v even at the feeder points and towards the end of sections such as Lyall Bay, Miramar and Karori the supply dropped to as low as 350 – 400v affecting the electric motors adversely. Any upgrade would have been both expensive and disruptive.

    As for “dirty diesel,” check the tailpipes on the new Euro 6 trucks and buses – there is virtually no residue or discolouration.

  37. Roy Kutel, 16. October 2018, 15:28

    Graham A – we are also talking about CO2 emissions which are different from NOx etc. Have you waited for a bus on Willis Street and inhaled the fumes? To a paraphrase a famous politician – I think I can smell it on some Planner’s breath! And the tragedy is that the powers that be did not want to run the trolleys outside the peak and let the trolley bus infrastructure fall apart through lack of investment and then had the gall to turn around and say “it’s too costly to do anything about”.

    Is the health of the population of Wellington and the climate of our world worth so little to our GWRC/WCC Planners? Surely it’s time to axe the GWRC and replace with a simple Public Transport Authority with mandated objectives on patronage, safety, health, CO2 and funding limits.

  38. Dave B, 16. October 2018, 18:13

    Graham A – Does Trolleybus ‘264’ ring any bells with you? This was one of the old Volvo fleet that was converted as a test-bed to a new state-of-the-art control system produced by a small Wellington firm for which I worked. I was closely involved with the design and installation of this system and it passed its test-phase with flying colours. Unfortunately the decision was made by the then-owners ‘Stagecoach’ to change away from this to a hopelessly-outdated control-system from Brazil, for the production fleet of 60 ‘new’ trolleybuses. That decision potentially cost a lot in terms of the reliability of the vehicles in-service, and also in terms of the accessibility of on-going technical support (for instance, few in the Brazilian company could speak English!).

    The point I would like to make is that the flexibility of the processor-controlled design and superior configuration of the traction motor windings meant that the NZ system could have coped much better with low line voltage and could readily be re-programmed to allow for changing conditions without adverse effects on the componentry. The Brazilian equipment was highly inflexible. I know, because I assisted closely with its commissioning after our local offering had been turned down. I do not know whether the ‘buy-Brazilian’ decision helped contribute to the ultimate demise of the trolleys since this decision was essentially political, but the unreliability of the equipment and difficulty in keeping it maintained cannot have helped.

    Oh, to be able to wind the clock back and buy the Wellington-produced, Kiwi solution instead! Things might have turned out very differently.

  39. Benny, 16. October 2018, 20:13

    @graham: suggesting we can now breathe better than pre-trolley decommissioning is cynicism to the extreme. If the old diesels were so bad, one could have replaced them with new diesels, or even better, with battery powered buses or anything clean. I don’t see how the trolleys were linked to the old diesels being out of date except for contractual reasons. In other words, a reason without anchor in the real world, one that demands clean buses, period, for all the reasons you are willing to ignore. If trolleys were that bad to you, they too could have been replaced by battery powered buses or anything that doesn’t exhaust co2. It’s because of climate change deniers that the world is in the state it is at the moment. There was zero excuse to not do the right thing, especially when an opportunity like contract renewal presented itself. GWRC could not have been more disappointing, disheartening and discouraging than they’ve been in this debacle.

  40. Herwin, 16. October 2018, 22:35

    @Graeme A, you may wish to look past the greenwash and find that the NZ Bus fleet is full of Euro3 diesels with so many miles on the clock that they effectively have no emissions control (look up the Euro standard deterioration allowances).
    Without a Portable Emissions Monitoring System, there is no way of knowing what is coming out of the tailpipes of the buses (even the Euro 6, just ask VW).
    Nitrogen Oxide monitoring profusion tubes in the city have however shown a pollution increase since the removal of the trolley bus system.
    The fossil oil thinking has shown itself again to be quagmired in the tar pits of lazy minded decision making. Why has $40 million of ratepayers’ money been invested into a diesel technology which will very soon likely become a pariah asset class and stranded as its value dives?

  41. Joanne Perkins, 17. October 2018, 13:33

    It is a fact that NZ Bus remains committed and ready to convert the old trolley buses to electric. As has been pointed out, the conversion of bus 361 is complete and it is performing admirably. The problem is that GWRC won’t commit, in the same way as they waited until the very last moment to sign a contract with NZ Bus, leading to insufficient time to paint all the buses in the new livery, a job that is still continuing. As to Daran’s ‘it’s a commercial negotiation’, they must be totally useless negotiators as they seem to be going on and on with no end in sight. It’s time the GWRC got over itself and started working for the people, not against them.

  42. Casey, 17. October 2018, 14:23

    Graham: Originally there were up to 119 trolley buses in service in Wellington, long before your time, so our situation went backwards in 2017.

    Be it 45 trolley buses on the road at any one time as you say, it was far better than 45 Euro 5 or Euro 6 diesel buses on the road now. Weekend running of the trolley buses was curtailed because no one wanted to pay for the standby time to the infrastructure support staff. The environmental impact then, as now, doesn’t matter to GWRC/Metlink as they are not picking up the health and social costs.

    You may not see any tail pipe emissions from Euro 6 buses but they are there, including 2.5 micron particulate matter which impacts on human health to the same extent as asbestos. The only environmentally clean diesel vehicle is one which never operates. Responsible authorities around the world are decreasing the use of diesel powered public transport vehicles. Wellington has become the ridiculed odd one out by going the other way.

  43. Rebosio, 7. November 2018, 16:25

    Another good reason for keeping trolleybuses was city planning. It’s to do with focusing passenger movements on certain corridors. Trolleybus or Tram is a major investment and instills confidence in business owners.