Wellington’s Trolley Buses – why they should stay

Written By: - Date published: 7:43 am, August 21st, 2017 - 76 comments
Categories: capitalism, climate change, public transport, workers' rights - Tags: ,

Trolley buses make sense for the environment and for people who drive them. But in just a couple of month’s time the Greater Wellington Regional will start an $11m project to dismantle the trolley bus system. Council Tramways Union Vice President Chris Morley writes about why this is a huge mistake. Show your support at www.together.org.nz/thankyou-driver

To drive a Trolley on its route to its destination in the manner for which it is designed is “a true work of art,” wrote the deceased iconic NZ poet Dennis Glover in an obscure poem “ode to a trolley bus.”

In a move that reflects everything that is wrong with the public transport operating model, Greater Wellington Regional Council have voted to remove a key component of Wellington City’s transport infrastructure. The present system has served the city for 67 years and was seen at the point when Wellington’s trams were phased out in 1964 as a viable alternative. Key to this is that fact that the trolley bus system replicated the tramcars by running on the existing tramways. However a more desirable aspect to trolley buses over tramcars is that they have the ability to work up to 15 feet either side of the overhead track giving enhanced flexibility.

For Wellington bus drivers, the trolley network has protected jobs, wages and employment conditions. Wellington is the only city in New Zealand where drivers have retained pre 1991 penal rates. This means drivers get paid time and a half when they work over 8 hours during the week, time and a half for working Saturday and double time for working a Sunday. This means drivers have greater control of their working life, so if they work a weekend they are reasonably remunerated. However if they have family commitments and can’t work a weekend day, it is easy enough to find another driver to pick up a shift. As a result drivers at Go Wellington are about $200 better off a week that drivers working for other bus companies who pay a flat rate. Penal rates were once standard conditions for bus drivers in New Zealand, and internationally many drivers still receive such rates.

The Trolley Bus network created a monopoly in the city. While in Auckland or Christchurch councils were able to break up the bus network and tender routes to different companies, in Wellington the trolley bus network prevented this. Due to councils awarding tenders to the lowest bidders, drivers in most NZ cities lost their penalty rates, service pay and other hard fought conditions. In Wellington all these conditions were protected, due to the trolley buses and the workforce being fully unionized. The goal of Greater Wellington in removing the Trolleys is to break this and save money by reducing drivers’ earnings.

According to then Greater Wellington transport chair Paul Swain at the time that Greater Wellington tabled their 2014 report in a comprehensive document to revamp Wellingtons entire public transport system, the time was ripe for radical change with the Wellington bus system. Swain claimed that Trolley buses didn’t necessarily go where people needed to travel to. This was a peculiar stance by Swain given the city grew around the tramways and Wellington’s hilly topography limited any future growth. Which begs the question where do people need to go in the future where they can’t get to at present by public transport?

Most cities in the world that run good public transport do so off a solid base system. Wellington is no exception with its trolley bus network spanning the city from the CBD in all directions, especially including areas which have been earmarked for high density accommodation within the north/south spine between the Basin Reserve and Wellington Hospital along Adelaide Road.

Worldwide trolley buses are enjoying a renaissance. Yet in Wellington an opportunity is being missed through a Regional Council implementing the competition model. This is underpinned by heaping potential savings on the backs of workers with a thinly veiled dogma about the existing systems being outdated and removing the trolley bus network to allow pure competition into the market place.

~ Chris Morley

76 comments on “Wellington’s Trolley Buses – why they should stay”

  1. Ad 1

    Good to see a new author.

    I can’t see the relationship here between retaining overhead wires and retaining penal rates.

    I also can’t see the point of defending fixed routes when the City is preparing for massive motorways from Wellington to Kapiti.

    Buses that are fully electrified – as most will be – but not fixed to the overhead wire system should provide a better service, and respond to how the City is growing.

    The most successful newer bus service I am aware of in Wellington is the Wellington-Airport bus, which gets you all the way to Jackson Street and beyond at a price far more competitive that taxis. That doesn’t require the fixed wire system at all.

    I would hope to see higher quality service and lower OPEX win out.

    • mpledger 1.1

      It’s too costly for another company to buy trolley buses so no new company can enter the market. This means the company that uses the trolley bus wires has been around for along time and so has employment conditions that have survived for a long time.

      Now that the WRC have said that they are going to stop the trolley buses, pretty much all companies that put in a tender will have to get new buses (if they win) so it levels the playing field. The only point of difference between companies becomes how much they can screw down labour costs.

      • Ad 1.1.1

        That’s helpful. But not a good reason.

        In Auckland the bus service have improved massively – from dire to average. The tenderers really have to prove that they have something special to offer. It’s not about fixed routes – it’s about better service to more places that Wellingtonians actually live.

        The WRC need to demonstrate that there will be superior service out of the new bus fleet – but that shouldn’t be too hard against those trolley buses that keep breaking down.

        • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.1

          That’s helpful. But not a good reason.

          I’d say that keeping wages high was a good reason as it helps keep the local economy going.

          In Auckland the bus service have improved massively – from dire to average.

          That’s largely due to AT bringing most of the functions of running the bus service in-house and then taking competitive tenders for specified routes.

          When you think about it though it becomes obvious that public transport run as a full council monopoly would be even more efficient as it would seriously decrease the bureaucracy needed.

          It’s not about fixed routes – it’s about better service to more places that Wellingtonians actually live.

          Wouldn’t it be better to then extend the routes for the trolley buses?

          Yes, we’re going to see fully electric buses but there’s going to be a need for charging stations every few stops and so, one way or the other, you’re going to need that infrastructure in place.

          • Ad 1.1.1.1.1

            The ARA had a full monopoly on bus operations without an ounce of competitiveness (until Shipley required them to sell it) and completely ran the service and the patronage into the ground. The monopoly didn’t work.

            AT’s managed but competitive model has been shown to work because bus patronage is going up strongly for the last seven years.

            Wellington have had several decades to improve this service, stop it breaking down, and potentially even extend it. It wasn’t worth it.

            • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.1.1.1

              The ARA had a full monopoly on bus operations without an ounce of competitiveness and completely ran the service and the patronage into the ground.

              [citation needed]

              AT’s managed but competitive model has been shown to work because bus patronage is going up strongly for the last seven years.

              I doubt if you could put the increase in patronage down to the competitive model. IMO, you’ll find it’s down to starting to properly fund the public transport system.

              Wellington have had several decades to improve this service, stop it breaking down, and potentially even extend it. It wasn’t worth it.

              It was worth it but, by the looks of things, the council have been busy saving money instead of doing the necessary investment.

              Of course, that necessary investment probably would have required a slight increase in rates which would have had all the rate payers screaming blue murder.

              • Ad

                Here’s the ARA and ARC’s public transport performance:

                https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2013/05/09/aucklands-historic-pt-patronage/

                Bus PT trips in Auckland have gone up because of the multiple service improvements over a decade. None of which involved a single monopoly delivering the service.

                Welllington has simply made a decently bold choice from a declining set of choices that it has neglected to make over decades. Sure hope its rail passenger investments work out.

                • Here’s the ARA and ARC’s public transport performance:

                  Great, thanks. Shows that the real problem wasn’t that they had a monopoly but that the city councils followed the wrong ideology. Embracing the car rather than buses and rail. Interestingly enough, the bus service was still actually quite good despite the underfunding and neglect.

                  Bus PT trips in Auckland have gone up because of the multiple service improvements over a decade. None of which involved a single monopoly delivering the service.

                  Correlation != causation.

                  There’s been improvements, yes, but there’s no evidence that those improvements came from the competitive model.

                  Welllington has simply made a decently bold choice from a declining set of choices that it has neglected to make over decades.

                  Yes, Wellington failed to properly invest in the necessary upgrades and are now choosing the cheapest option available to them – a bad option. It would be better to keep the trolley bus network going until fully electric vehicles were available than going for diesel powered. There are even, get this, trolley buses available that can leave and return to the power network. So, the flexibility that you deem so necessary would be available while, at the same time, keeping noise and pollution down to a minimum.

                  • Ad

                    No one could say that the ARC “embraced” the car.
                    The ARC were just shit at their job for years.

                    If you want to get into the details of how managed competition has enhanced service, there’s a few steps. None of them are sufficient causal in their own right, but all in the current system are necessary to be causal in total.

                    1. Mayor’s Letter of Expectation – haven’t had this instrument before a t least in Auckland.
                    2. Letter of Expectation informs Statement of Intent. This includes targets that are pretty carefully broken down to report against. when the AT Board appears in front of Council.
                    3. RLTP subsidy per passenger rates are set from government
                    4. Business plans, and then Annual Plans and Long Term Plans
                    These confirm the level of patronage and other service levels and allocate the amount of money needed to achieve them.
                    5. Underneath that, AT negotiates route design. They have just finished a complete redesign of the entire network. This is in turn negotiated with the AT Infrastructure team, who…
                    6. Build new busways and stations. Typical example of busway being AMETI, and integrated stations typical example being Otahuhu just opened.
                    7. Negotiate new routes by tendering, Each new tender bring new requirements. For example EU particulate standards, or air conditioning, or zero graffiti ever, or super-soft suspension, or must go hybrid or fully electric by x year. Some operators win, some lose,, most losers now understand the new benchmark required to win.
                    8. Contract performance is measured monthly by the AT Board, and quarterly as a whole-network performance by Auckland Council.
                    9. Wrinse and repeat.

                    Granted it’s pretty awkward causal chain, but at least for Auckland it’s the most successful we have had in my lifetime.

                    On your point about flexibility and taking the cheapest option, it would depend a bit on whether the existing service that is being run down is pulling patronage down fast with it. I don’t have any sympathy for WRC.

                    • All the way to #6 there’s no competition. It’s just AT doing its job.

                      At #7 & #8 we see the need for increased bureaucracy because of the sudden implementation of competition but we’re still not seeing anything that shows that competition has improved the service.

                      Granted it’s pretty awkward causal chain

                      There’s still no causal chain.

                      No one could say that the ARC “embraced” the car.

                      The link you provided said exactly that:

                      Unfortunately our city leaders fell hook line and sinker for the utopian dream spreading out from the US that cars and buses powered by petrol and diesel were the future. It was decreed that buses were to replace the trams and in typical Auckland fashion, we not only proceeded to do this but extremely rapidly – and likely very expensively – pulled out the entire tram network over roughly a 6 year period.

                      On your point about flexibility and taking the cheapest option, it would depend a bit on whether the existing service that is being run down is pulling patronage down fast with it.

                      It’s still climbing – just like everywhere else.

            • millsy 1.1.1.1.1.2

              So you support privatisation of bus services then.

                • millsy

                  “The ARA had a full monopoly on bus operations without an ounce of competitiveness (until Shipley required them to sell it) and completely ran the service and the patronage into the ground. The monopoly didn’t work.

                  AT’s managed but competitive model has been shown to work because bus patronage is going up strongly for the last seven years.”

                  That sounds like support for privatisation to me. The only way bus services can work is in a publicly owned monopoly, with smaller private operators providing niche services. This was the case in New Plymouth up to 1990-ish when NPCC’s green buses were everywhere. Now our bus service is shit.

                  • Ad

                    I have no idea about the New Plymouth bus service.

                    I’d like to blame the ARA for everything in Auckland, but it was mostly cheap fuel and cheap Jap imports and cheap parking. None of that exists now.

                    We have new buses, new trains, electronic ticketing, dedicated busways, more frequent everything. It’s made a difference.

                    • millsy

                      More due to increased investment in transport infrastructure and the bringing of services together under ARC/Auckland transport after a decade of leaving it all to the market.

                      Plus central government came to the party and put money in.

                      For AT to assume in-house operation of the buses would be the next step, but it will not happen until after 2020 at least.

    • The key thing to remember is that the new buses are not going to be fully electrified. They will be hybrid vehicles running on diesel when their batteries are run down. There is as of yet no fully electric solution for heavy vehicles, because battery size and charging speed are big constraints, especially on buses, which often have little downtime.

      • Ad 1.2.1

        That means for the rare moments where the batteries are low, the diesel engine kicks in. And even the diesel engine is Euro certified to the latest standard.

        With that technology, all those cumbersome and unsightly cables are gone, the public get a better service on a new fleet with more flexible routes, and buses that don’t break down.

        Looks like a pretty good deal.

        • Draco T Bastard 1.2.1.1

          And even the diesel engine is Euro certified to the latest standard.

          Considering the scams that have been happening about those standards that doesn’t fill me with utmost confidence.

          and buses that don’t break down.

          You wouldn’t happen to be living on Planet Key would you?

          Here in the real world buses are going to breakdown no matter what. New buses will breakdown less often of course but it is possible to buy new trolley buses.

        • Diesel buses break down too, they just don’t have issues with contact to the trolley line, and they’re less likely to have issues with sharp inclines like some of the newer trolley buses where they got underpowered motors for them. (There is a particular type of trolley bus and a particular stop on my route that is almost guaranteed to cause the bus to be unable to successfully start moving forward again, which was poor procurement on the part of Go Wellington, I would bet) But these renovated trolley buses will be new tech and there’s no guarantee they’ll be as reliable as diesel heavy vehicle engines that have, in one form or another, been in service for decades, so it’s absolutely possible that they will break down as much as or more than the trolley buses.

          I’m not sure how you can think that running out of charge is going to be rare given that these engines will need to work more to move these heavy vehicles than a small EV would, and that they will also have a lot of space taken up on the diesel engine so won’t have room for many redundant batteries. In short, every peak period is likely to involve buses running out of charge and operating on diesel, when the same proportion of the fleet is diesel-only, ie. we will definitely have a dirtier fleet. You can reliably switch buses to facilitate charging during off-peak times, but any vehicle in mid-run just before the peak is likely to end up using diesel.

          I get that there are advantages to running hybrid buses, and would normally be behind adding such vehicles to a bus fleet- but not to replace buses that are already powered entirely by renewable energy. We need to be moving forward to carbon-zero solutions, not backwards.

          • Ad 1.2.1.2.1

            Matthew you are doing that “make perfection be the enemy of the great” thing..

            We’re all going to have to get used to driving or riding hybrids – even Wellingtonians. I bet the thousands of commuters who have been delayed by the wires coming off will welcome them going straight to the scrapyard.

          • Draco T Bastard 1.2.1.2.2

            But these renovated trolley buses will be new tech and there’s no guarantee they’ll be as reliable as diesel heavy vehicle engines that have, in one form or another, been in service for decades, so it’s absolutely possible that they will break down as much as or more than the trolley buses.

            You do realise that trolley buses have been in constant use for decades as well right?

            • Matthew Whitehead 1.2.1.2.2.1

              I’m talking about the Wrightspeed hybrid electric-diesel engines there Draco, not the current Trolley buses. I agree with you that they are a mature technology and with proper investment, maintenance, and procurement, a trolley network is ideal.

        • Keith Flinders 1.2.1.3

          Ad: If you are referring to the Wrightspeed conversions of trolley buses, then you are obviously not aware that it is rather “the odd time the batteries kick in”.

          Over 70% of the time the Wrightspeed conversions will need the fossil fueled micro turbine to be operational to augment the 40 kW/hr battery fitted. Do the maths to determine how far an 18 tonne bus will run in hilly terrain, 150 metres elevation CDB to Karori, on a 40 kW/hr battery. Battery capacity not much more than a Nissan Leaf car. Buses will only be recharged from mains power at night when back in the bus barn, all other times recharging is by the on board fossil fueled generator. There will be some gain from regenerate braking when the bus goes down a hill, but this is only a fraction of the energy to get the bus up the hill in the first place.

          Thus far GWRC councilors have only witnessed a single Wrightspeed conversion operating over 30 metres and without the micro turbine being operational. A long way to go to have them run all day covering 150 kms or more.

          • Ad 1.2.1.3.1

            Keith, here’s the q and a from officials that details how they made the decision back in 2014:

            http://www.gw.govt.nz/assets/Transport/Regional-transport/RPTP/WellingtonbusfleetoptionsquestionsandanswersJune2014.PDF

            Complaining about the technology that exists now is just silly. You know it’s improving by the day. The only way we are going to transition modes is with the steps that look rational and achievable at the time we make the decision.

            • Keith Flinders 1.2.1.3.1.1

              Then there was the counter argument Ad.

              http://tinyurl.com/y95ma7rv

              This to extend the life of system to that of the 10 – 15 years left in the trolley buses, not to rebuild it completely as per the Jacobs’ report.

              If the trolleys were retained just for the east – west routes, which NZ Bus has the right to keep, then about another $8 – 9 million needs to be spent on the infrastructure. About $1 million per annum.

              I’m not complaining about modern technology, I embrace that which works. I referenced Wrightspeed, as being employed in Wellington buses, as I write this its a bus only, which isn’t proven technology and which the rest of the world isn’t buying.

              My hunch is that the Wellington bus conversions will be abandoned. Come October we will see a fleet of 60 old Auckland diesel buses polluting our streets and impacting our health. Some are already here and in service.

              Fulljames of NZ Bus is on record as saying his company will not ever purchase another diesel bus. An interesting comment.

  2. I hope a trolley bus system is retained. It makes sense to future proof using existing infrastructure as much as possible. Awesome the drivers have those benefits – like a glimpse into the past.

    Yes everything must bow to competition – that God is insatiable. Good luck with this battle I hope you win.

  3. Adrian 3

    While there is a romantic aspect to retaining the trolleys , technology, arriving far sooner than we can comprehend, will surpass the fixed track and overhead wires in favour of full electric buses.
    It’s probably easier to electrify a bus than the smaller constrictions of a car.
    Any new expensive trolley infrastructure will probably have a short lifespan.

    • Wainwright 3.1

      Wellignton already has the trolley infrastructure, doofus. And they council are replacing the trolleys with diesel, not electric. Pay attention.

      • dukeofurl 3.1.1

        The electric buses are on the way- werent they adding a modern battery- electric system to the existing trolley buses ? ( Trolleys have a short duration batteries now)

        • They are adding a modern hybrid heavy vehicle diesel engine to the existing trolley buses, yes. It is not a purely battery-driven solution. So the advantage is that they will be operable outside the trolley network, but any bus that isn’t simply being reserved for peak traffic will still likely run down its battery within normal daily operations and revert to burning diesel.

          • dukeofurl 3.1.1.1.1

            The technology comes from a firm called Wrightspeed founded by Kiwi Ian Wright.

            Wrightspeed’s the Route 500 range-extended powertrain is capable of powering vehicles weighing up to 36,000 pounds, in grades as steep as 40 percent. Vehicles with Wrightspeed’s powertrain maintain an efficient drive, with an estimated 11.1 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent. The 80kW, fuel agnostic Fulcrum™ Turbine Generator charges on-board batteries, which provide power to turn the wheels and give the buses unlimited range with refueling. The company’s patented Geared Traction Drive (GTD)™ digitally drives each wheel of the vehicle, providing the slip control needed to manage New Zealand streets.

            So not an on board diesel but a small turbine

            • Keith Flinders 3.1.1.1.1.1

              Still a fossil fuelled option, and when fitted to a trolley bus chassis with a 40 kW/hr battery the micro turbine will be in operation most of the time the bus isn’t going down a hill.

              If Wrightspeed is as good as Ian Wright claims then why isn’t the world flocking to his factory door ? A few rubbish trucks are running in California with Wrightspeed technology and apparently their operators are not going to order any more. No sign of the fleets of trucks employing Wrightspeed appearing in the USA or elsewhere.

              Ian Wright was in Wellington in April and declined to comment on why the trolley bus conversion, singular, wasn’t operational.

      • To be completely fair to the council, the issue is that the trolley system will require substantial investment to continue maintaining into the future, and the council and Go Wellington and central government haven’t been able to agree on a funding mix that will preserve the network. (some of that will probably be down to cost-cutting on the council’s part as the author suggests)

        While the network does constrain operations of the trolley buses, there is also enough demand on the key routes already that they can’t always be serviced entirely by trolley buses as-is, so it really seems like the key constraint is that nobody is willing to front up the money to keep the trolley network functioning and reducing Wellington’s transport emissions, which is quite frankly ludicrous when we’re one of the few developed economies with a growing emissions profile. Central government would save itself money on carbon penalties even if it funded the whole thing itself, most likely.

      • Adrian 3.1.3

        I probably know a lot more about this than you Wainwright but I won’t call you childish names.
        New technology batteries are only a few years away maybe even months that can charge almost as fast as a diesel bus and the range is going to double in the same amount of time.
        As for the usability in a likely big earthquake in Wgtn the trolleys would be useless because of their fixed infrastructure whereas the new techo buses will be able to be charged by solar at their base via battery walls etc.

        • Draco T Bastard 3.1.3.1

          New technology batteries are only a few years away maybe even months that can charge almost as fast as a diesel bus and the range is going to double in the same amount of time.

          [Citation Needed]

          As for the usability in a likely big earthquake in Wgtn the trolleys would be useless because of their fixed infrastructure whereas the new techo buses will be able to be charged by solar at their base via battery walls etc.

          Actually, they’d likely to still be useless. If an earthquake brought down the the overhead wires then it’s likely that the roads are too damaged for the buses to operate.

          • dukeofurl 3.1.3.1.1

            Thats not the case.
            Napier undergrounded all its electric power distribution decades ago as that was a weak point.
            It would be unusual to damage a road so much as to be unpassable- slips maybe. And of course very time intensive to repair the whole above ground infrastructure.

            • Draco T Bastard 3.1.3.1.1.1

              Napier undergrounded all its electric power distribution decades ago as that was a weak point.

              What’s underground power got to do with overhead power supply to trolley buses? Which Adrian said would be damaged beyond the ability to keep the buses going after a big earthquake.

              It would be unusual to damage a road so much as to be unpassable

              Are you on Planet Key as well?

              This is what big quakes do to roads.

              • dukeofurl

                POLES

                They didnt want to rely on poles to carry power along the streets

                Hmmmm. what could that have to do with trolley bus wires ???

                Eyes wide shut

  4. CLEANGREEN 4

    Of course we should retain the electric buses until we can get public transport back onto steel wheels which are more environmentally friendly than a tyred vehicle as tyre dust pollution is now found on ice caps in Antarctica and the arctic as black dust that are speeding up melting of our ice caps and sea level rise.

    http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2012/07/31/3554997.htm

    rail has no tyres and uses far less fuel to move passengers than any other mode.

  5. Liberal Realist 5

    While I hadn’t considered the monopoly benefits to drivers resulting from the wired mode, as others have stated, isn’t full electrification coming? If the diesel replacements aren’t short term, the move is disgraceful. The technology exists today for full electrification (w induction charging), so perhaps the move is completely fiscally driven? It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if GWT’s motivations were to cut costs by reducing conditions. GWRC does have a couple of sitting right wingers (Laidlaw and McKinnon spring to mind) after all, does anyone know where Swain sits on the political compass?

    The other key point in my mind that hasn’t been discussed is the fact that the trolleybuses breakdown every time it rains, causing terrible congestion. Wellington already has severe problems with congestion during peak times, and that is about to get a whole lot worse once transmission gully is finished. Add a couple of breakdowns to the mix and you’ve got total gridlock throughout the CBD. Wellington is so small that it only takes one event for the gridlock to spread throughout the CBD and sometimes into Newtown. Preventing buses from causing congestion needs to be part of the debate.

    In my opinion, more dedicated bus lanes are sorely needed, and these can be created on existing routes by removing roadside parking. It’s insane in the extreme that a few parking spaces are allowed to create so many problems (for buses and private vehicles alike). For example Adelaide Road, or at the top of The Terrace (by the lights).

    • Brendon Harre 5.1

      Liberal realist -what you are talking about is the economics of city space. All the different types of city spaces need to considered to make a city function -private spaces, public spaces, parking spaces, street spaces etc. See the link below for a full long form explanation.

    • If the diesel replacements aren’t short term, the move is disgraceful.

      A bus lasts about 20 years so expect to see those diesel replacements on the roads for about 20 years.

      When we have the infrastructure in place to not have them at all.

      The other key point in my mind that hasn’t been discussed is the fact that the trolleybuses breakdown every time it rains, causing terrible congestion.

      That’s most likely due to a lack of maintenance and probably not replacing the buses with new ones when needed in an effort to ‘save money’.

      • Keith Flinders 5.2.1

        Lack of maintenance on the infrastructure for the past 25 years has impacted on the reliability of the trolley bus system, the trolley buses themselves have to be maintained in order to get a Certificate of Fitness to stay on the road. Misinformation used by the 2014 GWRC to get rid of the trolley system was that the buses were old and clapped out. Most trolley buses are less than 5 years old and have another 10 years or more life left in them. A trolley bus has about double the life of a diesel bus.

        Trolley bus drivers inform me that since millions were spent on bring back the overhead lines to the standard they ought to have been kept at, the incidence of poles coming off is now a rare event. In the 40 years I have resided in Wellington I can only recall once not being able to complete a journey in a trolley bus due to bus or overhead line failure.

        Trolley buses are being replaced now by 9 year old buses from Auckland which have emission levels banned in some countries.

    • dukeofurl 5.3

      Trolley buses breakdown every time it rains.?

      Dont be ridiculous. I used to travel on them when they had them in Auckland, rain wasnt a particular issue.
      Rain produces traffic gridlock, but thats because of cars

  6. Brendon Harre 6

    If Wellington had a congestion charge, then this would encourage space efficient public transport and active transport modes. There is a discussion about the economics of city space here, which explains some of these issues.
    https://medium.com/land-buildings-identity-and-values/successful-cities-understand-spatial-economics-95c272ac04c9

  7. greywarshark 7

    What an interesting post.

    Liberal Realist
    Musing on parking. I have been thinking about my locality that there is far too much use of roadside parks in residential areas where they have provision on their property but utilise the road because it is easier. This narrows the driving lanes and creates problems for cyclists safety.

    Parking in parts of the the city will definitely have to go to make room for public transport and cyclists. We will just have to bite the bullet.

    And the Wellington bus breakdown problem. If Wellington can be brought to a halt as you say then that must be considered. Then there are road crashes that add to the woes of people trying to use the road network. This has to be planned around.

    The drivers have a good point, all should be getting the wages and conditions they receive. But that may have to be negotiated to provide a more flexible service.
    An the present system has good and bad points and the needs of the future seem to require a different, and better system.

    Adrian talks about fully electrified buses, charging and solar walls. Does that mean they won’t be just draining off the national grid, and paying one of our private providers good money and profit to buy back what once was ours?

    • Adrian 7.1

      The future of most charging is almost certainly solar and storage along with the system researched by Auckland Uni amongst others of static transfer fitted just below the road surface such as in bus stops, and traffic lights etc.
      There is a huge amount of exciting research going on at the moment, far, far to much to cite, just do some searching and reading, and that will only be oldish stuff
      the really cool stuff is still in development and as yet unpublished.
      I’m lucky, I know some of the researchers and it’s fascinating.
      I’m really going to miss V8’s though!.

      • greywarshark 7.1.1

        V8’s are Basil Brush vintage who might have said ‘Brooom, Brooom’. Now me I am just happy with my 1989 Toyota Corona with 16 valves.

      • There is a huge amount of exciting research going on at the moment, far, far to much to cite

        you don’t have to cite all of it – just some of it so as to back up what you’re saying.

        If you can’t cite then it’s obvious that you’re talking out your arse.

    • Liberal Realist 7.2

      Musing on parking. I have been thinking about my locality that there is far too much use of roadside parks in residential areas where they have provision on their property but utilise the road because it is easier. This narrows the driving lanes and creates problems for cyclists safety.

      The same issue exists in my suburb (Island Bay). Every person and their dog seems to feel entitled to on street parking, there’s even a few boats parked out on the road around the place in my area. The on road parking in my area is such that it’s a serious hazard for both cyclists and motorists (I’m both). We asked WCC to take a look at our area a few years back after some fool parked adjacent another car and blocked the entire road – their response was ‘no problem here’, so I hold little hope in the council doing anything about it.

      Parking in parts of the the city will definitely have to go to make room for public transport and cyclists. We will just have to bite the bullet.

      Yes indeed. IMO a lot of on street parking has to go. There are plenty of off road options (paid of course) and public transport / cycling should be made a priority (in a safe and sensible way). WCC has tried to do this in a few areas but have bungled it, for example upper Victoria St. They added parking in what should be a dedicated bus lane, at least there is a dedicated cycle lane!

      And the Wellington bus breakdown problem. If Wellington can be brought to a halt as you say then that must be considered. Then there are road crashes that add to the woes of people trying to use the road network. This has to be planned around.

      This is my observation but my memory might be harking back to the old trolley buses, however see comment from Keith above who obviously knows some drivers – seems maintenance has address that problem. I still see the odd trolley bus that’s come off the overhead cables but the drivers seem to be able to sort it out relatively quickly – hopefully at not too much risk to themselves. Yes re: crashes, it just takes one and you’ve got a mess in the CBD! Once transmission gully is finished, I suspect Wgtn CBD is going to struggle with the influx. Guess time will tell.

      The drivers have a good point, all should be getting the wages and conditions they receive. But that may have to be negotiated to provide a more flexible service.
      An the present system has good and bad points and the needs of the future seem to require a different, and better system

      Indeed and I agree. For the amount of crap that drivers have to deal with, and the responsibility they bare, in my opinion they should be paid a lot more than they are now. I’d happily pay a higher fare if I knew it was going to the drivers.

  8. Penal rates were once standard conditions for bus drivers in New Zealand

    Penal Rates used to be government legislation. The reason being that they encourage full employment and disabuse the long hours and low pay that has become the norm while we have ~12% under-employment.

    While in Auckland or Christchurch councils were able to break up the bus network and tender routes to different companies, in Wellington the trolley bus network prevented this.

    That’s what they do now but it’s not what they did to start with. To start with they went for full competition with the bus companies getting paid a subsidy and also getting to keep the fares. AT moved to the new system where the bus companies are paid a fixed amount for each route a few years ago.

    No, we should be questioning the efficiency of doing that as there’s far more bureaucracy and the dead-weight loss of profit involved as well. It would be far more efficient and cost less if AT just did the whole lot in-house.

    The goal of Greater Wellington in removing the Trolleys is to break this and save money by reducing drivers’ earnings.

    It won’t save any money. What Wellington will see is higher unemployment as the workforce decreases due to the decrease people employed on the buses and a decrease in spending filters out to the wider economy creating even more unemployment.

    Money is not there to be saved, it is there to be spent. Only in spending it does the economy work.

    • dukeofurl 8.1

      Regional councils have many projects to fund, public transport subsidys are only one.

      Environmental improvements would take up the money saved from passenger transport
      The public subsidy means fares can be lower and or low usage routes be maintained.
      If the public paid higher fares maybe they might spend less on mobile phones or other stuff.

      • Environmental improvements would take up the money saved from passenger transport

        Wouldn’t environmental improvements and public transport go hand in hand?

        The public subsidy means fares can be lower and or low usage routes be maintained.

        Yes, I’m aware of why we have a public subsidy.

        If the public paid higher fares maybe they might spend less on mobile phones or other stuff.

        Or, if they paid slightly higher rates, they could spend less on transport overall by using public transport and more on cell-phones and other stuff.

  9. her 9

    Driverless buses are already being tested overseas.
    From an environmental view I would love to keep the trolleys. They are so smooth and quiet.

  10. Ad 10

    Labour have just committed to passenger rail services between Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, and potentially Rotorua:

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1708/S00384/labour-to-invest-in-regional-road-rail.htm

  11. millsy 11

    In Russia and the ex-Soviet states, there are trucks, etc running off trolley wires. Perhaps we could do that on Wellington’s network?

    • That’s something we should most definitely be doing. Would require a major upgrade of the trolley wires and probably the full electrical grid to support it. Best way to do that would be the government stepping in and doing it with full renationalisation of the electricity grid.

      Would probably save us millions per year and prevent quite a few premature deaths.

      The gas stations would whinge quite loudly though.

      • Adrian 11.1.1

        The point I’ve been trying to make Draco is that I know that the technology will expand rapidly and make all of that trolley infrastructure redundant and it’s coming a lot faster than we can envisage.

        • dukeofurl 11.1.1.1

          Draco couldnt see the future unless it runs over him. He couldnt even see why trolley bus wires needed poles to carry them

        • Draco T Bastard 11.1.1.2

          [citation needed]

          BTW, if it’s coming that fast it will also make purchasing diesel buses now a rather stupid move.

        • greywarshark 11.1.1.3

          There has been a lot of talk about electricity being the answer to everything.
          The actual storage of energy in batteries. The battery components, are they very polluting to get them and make the batteries? Is there enough known supply of materials or are we going to be chopping down trees and stealing people’s traditional, common-held land and resources to make them. That is not acceptable as an ‘improvement’.

          If buses last 20 years, will there be the same replacements? These days businesses want to start something make a lump of money from it and then sell it to some other company to run which will probably run it down. Are the planners and councillors thinking about the nature of business direction to speed and drop, and the lowering of standards over time, and the refusal of support for repairs and maintenance when there isn’t a big enough dollar in it?

          The electricity cable laid in the ground with some tracker picking it up and driving the vehicle forward. What about the materials for that? What about maintenance? Can we do that ourselves or is some huge corporate going to come and do a ‘Springfield’ on us?

          • Keith Flinders 11.1.1.3.1

            Current favourite battery technology for buses is lithium ion, but it has its limitations.

            Lithium ion batteries have a finite number of times they can be recharged.

            Generally, from my reading of data
            300 – 400 times from dead flat.
            1000 – 1200 times from 50% discharged.

            A passenger bus the size of Wellington’s trolley buses needs at least 600 kW/hr of battery capacity to run all day between recharging, this on relatively flat terrain. If the batteries were run to approaching dead flat each day then to replace them every year to 15 months would cost $600,000 per time per bus. If discharged to only 50% then replacements would be every 3 years. That is the theory but in practice battery replacements are taking place in public transport vehicles every two years.

            Lithium ion batteries can be recycled but at a cost. On the other hand drawing power from renewable resources such wind and hydro, through copper lines, has to be the better option for all in the interim.

            • greywarshark 11.1.1.3.1.1

              Keith Flinders
              Are you saying that it costs $600,000 FOR EACH BUS just to fit it with new batteries? Then the cost of recharging them for 2 years, then another
              $600,000 for each bus.?

              That isn’t efficient, it isn’t green and it’s a constant drag on the public’s purse whether it’s Council or private. And if there are all these unknown expenses added to the expected ones which have to be charged for to return an after-tax dividend of say 8%, it sounds like a mistake in perception from people who haven’t done their scoping effectively.

              What say you and others?

      • paul bruce 11.1.2

        The overhead wiring has just been renewed. The substations need some work done on them, but not at the cost suggested in some reports.

  12. Daryl Cockburn 12

    In 1992 ‘we’ raised $43K in today’s $s from Wellington businesses to fund our pamphlet ‘super link LRT’. Their main driver was quiet and no exhausts like the trolleys. Who has heard of a similar endeavour for PT? I feel we should have been knighted for it

  13. We at Distrita have taken action also regarding this news. Trolleybuses is the next best thing to trams and it would hurt Wellington a lot removing them. The polution would go high if they got removed for sure and New Zealand is such a beautiful country that needs to take care of its nature. Actually all of the cities on New Zealand should have trolleybuses or trams! We write about these cases so we can help politicians understand what beauty they are going to demolish! Its enviromently friendly and should never ever been considered removed at all. http://distrita.com/wellington-on-new-zealand-wants-to-get-rid-of-the-healthy-trolleybuses/

  14. SandyPandy 14

    Like many others, I’m sad to see the trolley buses go however I am also realist and wires and earthquakes do not go together.
    Getting in or out of Karori in the event of a decent shake for example, would be incredibly difficult to manage with all that cabling covering the streets etc.

    • Wellington had a very sizeable earthquake 14 November last year, and how much of the trolley overhead wiring came down ? None that I am aware of.
      Much of the general power supply in areas outside the CBD is overhead and supported on poles, a greater risk, a lot more of it, but it all survived the same earthquake too. Come the “big one” Wellington will more than likely be without a water supply, without power, without natural gas, have impassable roads and will need to be evacuated.

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