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