Wellington Scoop

All electric? But when? (2)


A possibly quicker timeline for electric buses in Wellington has emerged via an exchange of tweets.

It began when Benoit Pette asked Daran Ponter and Roger Blakeley to confirm that during their election campaign they’d pushed for full electrification of Wellington buses by 2030. He felt this didn’t tally with a regional council announcement that its plan was to have a fully electric fleet by at least 2040.

Here are the responses:

Roger Blakeley to Benoit Pette

You are correct that Daran Ponter and I campaigned for a fully electric bus fleet by 2030. I am sure you will appreciate that campaign pledges are not immediately Council policy! We expect that Council will consider its policy position early next year.

Benoit Pette replying to Roger Blakeley

Thanks Roger. You will appreciate too that you said exactly the same thing, exactly one year ago. What or who is in the way of full electrification by 2030 (or sooner)? You will agree it is not something that can be debated any longer. What can we do to help?

Roger Blakeley replying to Benoit Pette

Hi Ben It is a financial issue. We have 460 buses in the region. Of those, 10 electric double-deckers and a lot newish diesels. To get to a fully electric fleet by 2030, we would need to retire buses before the end of their working lives. That could mean more costs and rates. We will find a way.

And tonight came a response, direct to wellington.scoop, from regional council chair Daran Ponter:

As Clr Blakeley says, he and I are committed to a fully electric bus fleet by 2030, but our individual aspirations now need to align with those of at least five other councillors, and to do that we need to stare down the cost of making the transition to 100% electric.

In 2020 we will see Wellington bus companies place orders for more electric buses. I am confident that by 2021 close to 20% of our fleet will be 100% electric, and the electric buses will be doing a disproportionate amount of the lifting on the Wellington City bus network. The big breakthrough will be reduced costs for retooling existing diesel buses to 100% electric. Wellington bus operators are investigating options and costs which is assisted by ever cheaper and lighter bus technology and new approaches to financially packaging battery technology (i.e. battery leasing).

Former Regional Council chair Chris Laidlaw was unwilling to mention any date when he confirmed last year that his council has

“… set ourselves the target of a 100% electric bus fleet.”

So it is encouraging that his successor is willing to commit to much more specific ambitions. Stand by for the council’s first meeting in the new year.

This article was amended after first publication to include the response from Daran Ponter.


  1. Concerned Wellingtonian, 10. December 2019, 16:58

    Who is “we” in Cr Blakeley’s sentence “we would need to retire buses before the end of their working lives”?
    Doesn’t the contractee own and operate them in order to fulfil a contract with the Council? How does it work?

  2. Roy Kutel, 10. December 2019, 17:48

    They could try and sell the diesels to some other city run by similar people.

  3. Dave B, 10. December 2019, 19:38

    How come it was ok to retire the trolleybuses before the end of their working lives?

  4. Hel, 10. December 2019, 20:07

    So there is nowhere else in the world that wants our diesel buses? That tells you something in itself.

  5. KB, 11. December 2019, 13:44

    @Roy: yes they could sell the buses and recoup some of the cost of buying the electric fleet. This “converting diesel buses to electric” scheme is nonsense: an efficient electric bus is built from the ground up in a completely different manner. The frankensteinbuses converted from diesel to electric are going to have terrible efficiency given different structural requirements to accommodate the batteries’ different weight distribution. And what is the point of converting the buses when they will be close to half way through their “life” – won’t that mean replacing them a lot sooner than would be the case with new EV buses? Will that extra spending down the track be factored into the total cost of ownership when making a purchase decision?

    If the bus operators own the buses, then when the contract comes up for renewal the council should state that the successful bidders for the new contract must have electric buses make up a percentage of the bus fleet at certain milestone dates. Why would it be the council’s responsibility for how the operators dispose of their surplus diesels?

  6. Joanne Perkins, 12. December 2019, 11:57

    If the council requires the buses to be upgraded to electric, I think that there is some responsibility in the council regarding disposal, otherwise they are merely saying “make it someone else’s problem”. Too often our institutions pass problems on to someone else. If the council is committed to low or no carbon public transport they need to be involved in all aspects of the change, not merely passing the buck to the vehicle owners who are currently complying with council’s requirements

  7. steve doole, 13. December 2019, 3:49

    When all parties to a contract agree, usually the contract can be changed or replaced. Bus companies will likely consider the electric buses only from now option if they see their incomes increase, costs decrease, or asset values go up at little cost. GWRC fronts the bus contracts as client, although goverment agency NZTA sets the rules.
    As the NZTA office is in the area of highest pollution from buses (Willis Street), the “duty of care” of its employees should be of equal weight to its fiduciary (financial) interest – enough to push GWRC to offer a better deal.

  8. KB, 13. December 2019, 7:55

    @Joanne Perkins – I’m not so sure that is true, the bus operators claim a large amount in depreciation benefits each year on their bus fleets, and it is even likely the price they get on disposal of the buses will likely be higher than the value of the fleet that they place on their books. That is all part of regular business when companies bid for public transport contracts. However I still am unclear about who exactly owns the bus fleets in wellington, the regional council or the operators. If it’s the council then of course the calculation changes (but if that is the case one wonders why they are using contracted companies in the first place and not simply operating the bus network itself)

  9. Graham Atkinson, 13. December 2019, 9:02

    KB: operators have to fully fund their fleets and recovery is factored in over the life of the contract (9 years) but of course there is residual value also factored in so the operators don’t receive the full costs back. The tender documents specified that at the end of the contract term if another operator were the successful bidder Double Decker buses are to be transferred to the new operator at a determined figure with the existing operator responsible for disposal of the rest of the fleet. If the vehicles were able to be used elsewhere that is a benefit but based on past experience if a large number of buses (which will have been used for less than 50% of the life expectancy) go on to the market at one point the return is well below valuation.

    Joanne is pointing out that if diesel buses have to be replaced by Electric (or Hydrogen etc) before either the end of the existing or extended contracts then there would have to be a financial recovery plus the adjustment for the much more expensive vehicles – currently EV buses work out between 40 & 60% more than diesel equivalents and Hydrogen in excess or 100% more!

  10. Guy M, 14. December 2019, 7:46

    So, let’s do the maths on this. If Wellington has 460 buses, and 20% of the fleet will be electric by 2021, that means 92 electric buses within 2 years. Say 90, with 10 bought already, so 80 over two years i.e. 40 per year. That’s at least 3 new electric buses per month that we need to see. And at that rate, it will then take a further 9 years till we have a 100% electric fleet, i.e. 2030.

    It’s doable. Costly, but doable. At $800k per new electric double decker, that’s a cost of about $370million in buses over the next decade. Sort of puts into perspective that the apparent cost of rejuvenating the trolley-bus lines, of which I’ve heard estimates of between $3-10m, would have been a bargain to keep that going. Still, we’ll blame Laidlaw for that.

  11. Chris Laidlaw, 15. December 2019, 0:57

    Graham Atkinson is right on the realities of the situation. If the regional council owned the bus fleet there would be a different approach . We considered asking ratepayers earlier this year if they wanted us to pick up the additional costs of new electrics or upgrading diesels to battery electric. It was however judged to be wildly unrealistic in light of all our additional commitments with LGWMoving etc. Any thoughts of resurrecting the trolleybuses were ruled out long before that for similar reasons.

  12. Roger Blakeley, 15. December 2019, 18:38

    The delivery schedule of new electric buses is subject to negotiation, with the first buses delivered late 2020. [via twitter.]