News from Wellington that the trolley bus network is going to end in 2017 and replaced with something else. The Dominion Post reports.

The plug has been pulled on Wellington’s trolley buses, after 90 years of plying the capital’s streets.

The wires that have criss-crossed the central city since 1924 will come down in 2017, and the trolley buses will be replaced, under a plan being put forward by Greater Wellington Regional Council.

There are 60 trolley buses in the city’s fleet, which was upgraded at a cost of $27 million only seven years ago. They would go under the plan, as would the city’s 218 other buses – all to be replaced by more modern vehicles, which have not been chosen yet.

The plan to stop trolley buses has certainly sparked a lot of comment as there is quite a bit of attachment to the buses in Wellington. But why change them? The article continues:

Paul Swain, the council’s public transport portfolio leader, said axing the trolleys was “a big call, but the correct one”.

The extra costs associated with the wire network, coupled with the difficulty of changing the buses’ routes, were the main factors in the decision, he said.

They also caused backlogs when they broke down, and they could not overtake.

The 50-year-old power system would need upgrading soon at a cost of “tens of millions of dollars”, Mr Swain said, and maintaining the 160 kilometres of wires and 15 substations cost $6m a year. The one-off cost of dismantling the network would be cheaper.

The council’s new public transport plan will change bus routes around the city, focusing services on north-south and east-west spines. There will be more frequent all-day services, but also the need for more passengers to change buses.

The draft of the new Regional Public Transport Plan can be seen here. The background to the issues with the trolley buses is set out on page 27 and shows that another big driver for this decision, other than the ones mentioned above, is the bus rapid transit spine that was finally decided on a few weeks back.

While working to implement BRT on the PT Spine we anticipate progressively introducing new vehicles into the Metlink bus fleet as older vehicles are retired, and are exploring options for the types of vehicles that would best meet Wellington’s needs. A low emission vehicle solution is essential for the health of people living, working and visiting the city, and is better for our natural environment. The proposed timing of BRT and the consideration of the type of higher capacity bus we need is an opportunity to access the options for improving the bus fleet as a whole to deliver the best public transport services for the region.

I think the comment about improving the bus fleet as a whole is an important one. It’s one thing to have a pile of electric trolley buses but if the rest of the fleet is made up of clapped out old diesels then emissions can still be bad (I’m not saying that the diesels are clapped out).聽As NZ Bus CEO Zane Fulljames says in the article, it’s聽pointless deciding to get rid of the trolleys without deciding what would replace them. It’s something that the GRWC haven’t decided yet, they only know they don’t want the trolley buses. The RPTP says that all up there were four options (including the trolleys) that they considered for the future of the Wellington bus fleet. They were assessed over a 40 year period on a number of different criteria. The options are:

  1. Maintaining the current mix of diesel and trolley buses, with new trolley buses
  2. Modern (EuroV/VI) diesel buses. Diesel buses use traditional diesel engines and are currently the most popular form of bus used for public transport internationally. In line with stricter European guidelines, modern engines are significantly cleaner burning than older engines.
  3. Hybrid buses. Hybrid buses typically use an electric engine in conjunction with a diesel based combustion engine. The diesel engine is used to charge an internal battery pack which drives the motor. Regenerative braking is also typically used, transforming kinetic energy from braking into electrical energy.
  4. Opportunity electric buses. Electric buses are powered by an electric battery that drives the motor. These batteries must be recharged regularly. Opportunity buses recharge at stopping points en鈥恟oute allowing them to carry a lightweight battery (increasing passenger capacity).

A table in the report (page 30-34) provides more detailed comparisons between the options. One of the things that surprises about them is the cost difference in purchase price.

  • Diesel Bus – $300,000-$450000 per bus
  • Trolley Bus – roughly $700,000 per bus + investment needed to bring the overhead network up to scratch.
  • Hybrid – roughly $600,000 per bus.
  • Electric – $900,000-$1.1 million per bus

I suspect some of the anger/disappointment that the trolleys are going is that people suspect they will just be replaced with the cheapest solution.

The infrastructure itself is also interesting. One thing that infrastructure does do is create a sense of permanence, signalising that the route will most likely continue to be there in the future. 聽Of course this goes against one of the big benefits people like to tout about buses, being that they have the flexibility to change routes when needed.

Overall it’s an interesting decision by the regional council but what do you think of it?

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  1. I am so sad to see this happen. From a customer standpoint the trolleys are so nice to ride on. They whisp past – without the sound of a large diesel engine spewing diesel into the atmosphere. If they were to be replaced it would need to be a hybrid – not an efficient diesel. I could see a entirely diesel fleet could make central Wellington not nice to be in.

    1. Nice to ride on maybe, but the 15-20 minute wait for the bus to turn up is not so nice! Trolleys (at least on the Miramar route) are very slow and unreliable.

      1. First time I’ve seen this post, wow unbelievable looks like oil companies fully on the scene. Do not ditch green propulsion. Most of the complaints seem to be about lack of frequency etc. I firmly believe public transport should stay public and run by a council team or council controlled organization focused on maximizing service, results not profit. This team looking at constant improvements to network, plant and fares to gain patronage and just make it better. If it is just contracted out you are just milking what is already there and may not be fully working in the interests of the best public transport and have no say in things like this. In the meantime shouldn’t the focus go on improving the frequency or making this better without scraping it.

        1. Look at the damage removing the trams and privatisation of public transport has done in Auckland. AT even looking at bringing back in 60 years later.Even now supposedly 1000 buses yet zero control on routes or frequency or upgrading fleet. New contracts supposedly improve things but still loss of knowledge, control, flexibility and a no profit bias. So in effect who is running the system, accountants? and looking at short term fleet with no regard to passenger satisfaction or care to the environment. When a focussed council controlled organization would do the opposite and always looking at improvements not waiting for contracts to expire etc.

  2. “If they were replaced it would need to be a hybrid” – not so there are a number of examples of battery electric buses that recharge at ends of runs – either with contractors from the roof springing up to contact an overhead structure or by parking over an inductive charging mat. All very possible for a lot less infrastructure than the trollies. You’ve got the battery maintenance and replace costs, but then you don’t have the overhead wire costs. And you don’t have issues with the poles coming off the wires, not being able to overtake, not being able to have some flexibility with routes.

    1. My main question is – Is that tech ready to replace an entire fleet. If so, can it also be applied to the BRT vehicles?

      Don’t get me wrong, I like the Trolleys. They have character, just got refurbed 7 years ago, and its nice to be in an all electric vehicle. But if the Battery tech can be relied upon, that’s a good alternative. Having ridden hybrid buses in many cities, they aren’t that much different from full diesels in terms of noise. Fumes are better.

  3. The bottom of page 25 says this:

    “[The BRT] Relies on prior construction of the Basin Reserve Bridge project and requires integration with the Mt Victoria tunnel duplication project.[/quote]”


  4. This is partly the case of people overrating the idea of route flexibility on PT systems, in other words imagining that the more a PT service is capable of random direction changes like a car the better it is. This is a classic mistake. The reverse is true; the more certainty and permanence a PT service has then the higher the chance that it can be relied on and therefore will be used. Clearly a BRT system with its permanent and fixed route is actually a sitter for this technology. Do these decision makers actually use Transit?

    Secondly, the argument that a system needs a capex upgrade so it’s cheaper to just pull it out is exactly how Auckland lost its trams. This is to argue that is better to suffer higher future opex in order to save near term capex. Shortsighted as ever. And of course is the result of how our institutions are underfunded for PT capex.

    How can they conclude that some other system is better without naming and evaluating that system?

    Poor Wellington seems to be going backwards in its transport decisions.

    1. Spoken like someone who’s never had to rely on these things to get them from A to B. I lost count of the number of times I’ve been stuck on a trolley bus because the one in front broke down in Wellington – needless to say, it was a lot. Or on Lambton when I’m in a regular diesel and the trolley bus in front has gone bung, but the street has narrowed to a single lane, leaving us stuck along with the growing line of buses behind us.

      But of course you bleat. No one seemed to even notice/care when they removed trolley buses from weekend services across all of Welly. At least it meant we didn’t have the “trolley” bits crashing down overhead in high winds while the driver tried to reattach them… on Saturdays and Sundays. Any fuel savings were a total false-economy given the huge equipment and workforce required to maintain the lines.

      So really Patrick, it’s a step forward based on logic and sound reasoning. But bleat on, as ever

  5. What I find funny is they have decided to rip out by 2017 yet NZBus, the operator of the fleet doesn’t appear to have had a say in it, saying its buses could run till 2022. NO doubt this is just posturing to get WCC to pay for their fleet upgrade but still, it seems weird they aren’t intimately involved.

    For those requesting anything but the diesels, are you happy for your rates to be higher to offset the cost? and are you a WCC rate payer?

    1. We have non-Auckland ratepayers (Brownlee) making decisions for Auckland and Wellingtonians (Tony Randall) pitching in on Auckland’s issues.

  6. I am a Wellington ratepayer and I submitted asking for light rail. But then my rental is in Newtown and having the rest of Wellington pay to improve my property is just good business.

  7. Patrick, Firstly route flexibility and 16 August 2013 go hand in hand.

    Secondly, this argument turns into a real can of worms once economists get involved with their dartboard selection of discount rates. In my somewhat simplistic view a straight forward comparison of whole-of-life costs is the best starting point for these sorts of situations. Then the relative merits of high or low capex investments can be undertaken, eg if we want lots of miles of all weather road ASAP then we go the cheapbuild/high maintenance chipseal route, or we can build a few miles of concrete road every year for 50 years, concentrating economic growth into the few areas accessible to the concrete highways. Same choice with PT – small amount of high quality versus large amount of medium quality, depending on the time frame..

  8. Where did they get $700,000 per trolley bus. It should be cheaper than a diesel! The entire thing can be made in NZ too, nothing exotic or new there! Smells like a deliberate mistake!

    1. I was surprised at that too. The only difference would be engine and gearbox and associated electrics. I would have thought costs were comparable. Battery storage is normally the expensive part of an electric and that isn’t a factor here.

      Not sure we can make it ‘all’ in NZ but that is no different to a diesel which comes in as a bare chassis.

    2. If I’m not mistaken wellington is the only market for small sized left hand drive trolley buses in the world. There is zero economy of scale. Yes you could hand build a small custom order of them in NZ, which is probably why they cost $700k.

      1. Most coach building is done in NZ by Designline or Kiwi so it really is only the chassis that gets imported. I wouldn’t expect the driver sider would be that hard to change when in chassis format.

  9. The new Trollys actually have some batteries in them, to allow short distance running off the grid (as was the case with work over Manners Mall).

    The long term picture is being lost in the short term race to the (capex) bottom line sadly.

    Surely the basin issue needs to be sorted (why the heck are we building urban flyovers when other cities are ripping them out?) then come up with a network and then pick the right technology to make that network go.

  10. Wellington is not ready yet to make a sensible decision on its transport system. The current tussle over the basin flyover, light rail vs BRT, and now this knee-jerk reaction to continuing with trolleybuses, all point towards a confused and directionless city. Better that we continue to dither and delay, rather than commit irrevocably to the wrong thing.
    Until Wellington learns to factor-into any decision-process the immense value of its existing heavy-rail system and the 50-years-overdue need to prioritise its extension along a major un-served corridor, then the city will not be wise enough to make any major decision. If by bickering and stalling and flip-flopping now, we can stave off the misguided RoNS, BRT and dubious LRT schemes until clarity of thinking comes, then we will have achieved something positive 馃檪

    1. Designline re-used the traction motors, front axle+steering components, rear-axle+diff and HV line filter. Everything else was new. And the aforementioned components generally have long lifespans, so effectively the trolleybuses were new vehicles when introduced.

  11. “maintaining the 160 kilometres of wires and 15 substations cost $6m a year”

    Does that include the cost of the electricity? Is NZBus paying an “electricity access fee” at the moment for the overhead wires? Who actually pays for the electricity.

    Presumably if diesel buses are substituted, then NZBus picks up the cost of fuel?

        1. dont mind me I wouldnt know an accusative from a gerund. It just sounds like it if you use the words. Like economics really

  12. This reminds me of when they ‘upgraded’ tram networks by removing them in favour of ‘more modern’ buses – I imagine they used the same arguments about maintenace, route flexability and having one system to maintain then too. Removing an entire system like this is a big decision and one (which as we are seeing in Auckland) is not easy to go back on if it turns out to be a bad idea

  13. The more you can make a BRT line feel like a train line, the better it will be. If you have long bendy trolley buses with double doors on the side running on continuous 24 hour bus lanes with infrequent stops, no cash sales, and traffic light priority, you almost have something as good as a train. This seems like a slight step backwards from that.

    1. -Exactly; AND A FIXED ROUTE, or rather a network of fixed routes. The possibility that a vehicle might turn off the route is in fact a threat to success of the service. And yes the more ‘train-like’ a bus service can be the better.

      1. Yes – and a fixed route gives the certainty to allow land use to respond to the transport system.

        Putting aside any flaws there may be with the trolley buses, they do have value in that they clearly signal to the public and the market where the bus routes go and they indicate a sense of permanence in a way that a timetable attached to a pole can not.

  14. Has no one in the council been to the US, Canada or Brisbane, where Natural gas powered buses are the norm? Natural Gas costs less than half as much as diesel, doesn’t produce any smoke emissions and reduces CO2 emissions by about 35% compared to diesel. Its sad to see the trolley buses going but Natural Gas could be a good interim measure until full electric buses are available?

    1. Fully electric buses are available. They’re running in Wellington right now. It’s those fully electric buses that are being removed.

    2. Its sad to see the trolley buses going but Natural Gas could be a good interim measure until full electric buses are available?

      Trolley buses are about the “fullest” electric bus you are going to find, but I know what you mean, an electric free of overhead wires. Why an interim measure to begin with? Keep the trolleys until the ideal electric replacement vehicle becomes available, and at such time as the trolleys are fully depreciated then switch over to a new class of bus.
      Personally I believe the overhead wires are attractive in their own right as “industrial” art no different than a bridge or stainless steel framed office building.

      Wellington would do well to fight to retain its trolley buses as a capital city that believes in intelligent, efficient, environmentally friendly electric transport.

  15. Radio NZ yesterday reported that they may not be able to pull down Trolley Bus wiring as the poles are also used by utilities companies such as CityLink for telecommunications/etc around the city.

    I’m not sure how accurate the report was, or how much of the Wellington Trolley Bus network is dual-use like this, but surely that pushes costs exponentially up in general? (Under-grounding of fibre, compensation(?), etc)

      1. No idea, I did some further digging, the Radio NZ article (not sure if the audio from one of the on-the-hour bulletins is still available) can be found at quoting “He says a number of problems are likely to come out of the woodwork, including the fact that the trolley bus wires carry services including cables owned by the telecommunications company CityLink.”

        Computer World has on old article from 2001 ( which seems to confirm this as well.

        Citylink Ltd has some interesting origins related to the Trolley Buses, from their Wikipedia article: “The company was formed as an initiative of the Wellington City Council in 1995, and started with a fibre-optic network in the Wellington CBD in 1996, run along the overhead network used for the city trolley buses (although the main power and telephone lines in the CBD were underground).”

        In other words, it seems that it was the council that went and put joint-services up those poles. I’d imagine though that now Citylink isn’t part of the council, that they contribute some maintenance costs towards the infrastructure (council reports should confirm/deny this though).

        1. I assume they only use the pools, not eh actual electric cables the buses use. So while they could take down the electric wires, they would have to retain the poles and the fibre cables so it wont completely remove the overhead visual eye sore (for want of a better word).

  16. it was only a year or so ago that WCC were proposing to put high speed internet cables on the trolley bus pole network… i guess thats scraped now

    1. Citylink was founded on string fibre onto the trolly wires. Though Citylink goes further than the trolly bus network, it would cause them a massive headache if removed

  17. So environmental benefits, smoother/quieter ride, lower bus maintanence requirements (no diesel engine) and fuel savings count for nothing. Presumably the same cost savings would be achieved by dieselising the rail network, if the same thinking was applied.

    Amazing what happens when Wellingtonion’s vote in a Green mayor. She votes down light rail despite campaigning as pro-light rail, then scraps the trolley bus network! Proves my point that Labour/Greens will not solve NZ’s transport issues. They flip flop as soon as you give them the ability to make a difference.

    1. It’s the regional council that’s scrapping the trolleys, not the city council. City councils don’t provide public transport services.

      Not that Wade-Brown isn’t a disappointment, though.

    2. Maintenance and fuel costs are absolutely counted, there is no way anyone would do an economic assessment without factoring in two of the three core opex costs.

    3. Are trolleys really quieter than diesels? They make a high-pitched whining sound which my phone app registers as 90dB. The main function of a bus is to get a person from A to B – and the trolleys are hopeless. Slow, unreliable, adding to congestion by holding up traffic stuck behind them. I will be glad to see them gone. The only good thing about trolleys is that the seats and seat layout are better designed than in the newer diesels.

      1. Slow, unreliable, adding to congestion by holding up traffic stuck behind them. I will be glad to see them gone. The only good thing about trolleys is that the seats and seat layout are better designed than in the newer diesels.

        Pam , I find it incredible that you say the trolleys are slow, if that’s due to narrow or busy crowded streets how would any other bus do any better? Internationally trolley buses have been remarkable in their excelleration, decelration, quietness and general nimbleness.

        1. No it’s not narrow roads that make them slow. Suburban roads in Miramar are actually very wide, and even in Hataitai/Mt Victoria there is not a lot of other traffic to hold up the buses. They just trundle along. I always try to catch a 14 because they are always diesels and I can reasonably expect the bus to arrive on time. The 2 is often a trolley and will frequently arrive up to 10 minutes late. the other day I waited for a bus going towards Miramar. I waited 30 minutes for a bus that should turn up every 15 minutes. Eventually two trolleys came together (because they can’t pass each other). One was 25 minutes late, the other was 10 minutes late. Hopeless.
          Then there was the trolley bus city-bound last week. We were overtaken by a trolley ‘not in service’ using batteries (no poles). Just down the road the NIS bus stopped in the middle of the road. the driver got out and put his poles on. Got down to the corner and his poles came off. We had to wait for him. Then our poles came off. By this time there were about 15 cars stacked up behind us. For those of us dependent on buses, trolleys are dreadful.

        2. Pam , I’m sure if trolley buses were as dreadful and had been as bad over the years as you declare them to be, they would have already been abandoned years ago. Methinks perhaps you are a spokeswomen for the trolley bus abolishionists the number of whom one can count on two hands

          Unless you have poorly performing vehicles and shoddy system maintenance in NZ which I cannot believe for a moment, my experiences with trackless trolleys in North America have been all good, the vehicles are fast, nimble and comfortable with clean and ample electric heat in chilly, damp and cold weather (I’m sure you get some of that too).

          You ‘Wellingtonians’ would do well to fight for retention of your trackless trolleys because as the saying goes you don’t know what you have until you lose it. Once they are gone you will regret it, I wish we had them back in the many places they used to run in North America.

        3. As I see it, many of the fans of trolleys in Wellington like them because they are ‘iconic’ or ‘green’ but often these are not people who actually need to travel by public transport, or they live in the CBD where they can hop on and off any bus. One example is former Green MP Sue Kedgley who lived in Oriental Bay ( a non- trolley area near the CBD). How often does she travel to the suburbs by bus? How often has she stood in a southerly at Lyall Bay waiting for a late bus? For me, the main priority of a public transport system (apart from safety) is that it is reliable. Trolleys aren’t reliable. I routinely add 10 minutes to expected arrival time at destination because I know that if the bus is a trolley, it won’t keep to the timetable.

        4. Pam saying trolleys are not reliable does not make sense. To say a class of bus service is not reliable suggests they are not maintained properly, not scheduled properly, not routed properly in other words its not the fault of the trolley bus. Perhaps your trolley buses are not being maintaned and operated efficiently, although I tend doubt that. Something with your position doesn’t stand up to the facts on successful trolley bus operations elsewhrere in the world.

  18. We should not be replacing trolley buses with expensive, oil-based, polluting diesel buses. Until such time as there is a realistic, zero emission , sustainable alternative, we should ditch this proposal…

    The draft Regional Public Transport Plan will be voted on tomorrow (Wednesday), and will go out for public consultation on 4th April 2014 and both myself and Sue Kedgely will be supporting an amendment to the Greater Wellington Regional Council Public Transport Plan with a motion along the lines of the above.

  19. A lot of people complain about the “unsightly” tangle of the trolleywires. But they need to remember that the new wires along Manners and Willis looks far better than the others.

    1. You could say the same thing about the new Basin Reserve Flyover . . . it “looks far better than the others” 馃槈

    2. Rethink how the wires look, think of them as enabling clean, fast, well heated in chilly weather intelligent transit. So, do you want to trade off the wires for unmarred views of the skies until the next noisy, lumbering snail slow diesel bus comes along?

      You could regard the wires as abstract industrial street art, same as looking at a steel bridge or metal trim on an office building.

  20. Governments and property developers who actually don’t care about public transport love the ‘flexibility’ of buses because it means:

    – they don’t have to provide special infrastructure that might compete with the budget for roads for cars;
    – they don’t have to worry about public transport when planning the location of major developments – they can always promise to serve the new greenfields mall/ university/ business park/ hospital etc by diverting a nearby bus route. The fact that this usually provides a poor service and messes up the efficiency of the whole PT network is of no concern to them.

    Inflexible PT routes are good *providing* the city plan, and major development approval decisions, respect that appropriately.

  21. This is a shocking idea. Wellington seem to determined on doing everything possible to wreck their city. NZTA building a hideous unnecessary flyover and GWRC continually ramping up fares and doing nothing to improve the PT network. Now they propose ditching the iconic and efficient trolley buses? How bad can it get?

  22. In a country where fossil fuels are rapidly becoming very expensive, and electricity can be produced from renewable sources, moving to a fully fossil-fueled fleet seems counter-intuitive.

    The apparently partisan report on light rail, and now this highly counter-intuitive decision, makes one wonder where on earth the policy makers, WCC and GWC are getting their technical, professional and policy advice from.

    Does this reignite the light rail debate, or are we facing a well-planned series of (time separated) decisions commiting us to an unsustainable future public transport network?

  23. NZ Bus is curious about what the future holds for Wellington public transport and its inhabitants. We have called for the decision-making process to be fast-tracked to provide more certainty for all.

    If the Draft Wellington Regional Public Transport Plan 2014 is implemented well, it has the potential to improve the efficiency of Wellington鈥檚 bus networks, reduce travel times and enable better access for the public.

    We want to see transport work for Wellingtonians, not the other way around.

    We have all put up with a system that has suffered from poor connectivity, weak infrastructure, infrequent trips and expensive fares, especially in the central city. Wellington is held up as an exemplar in some quarters as having the highest number of trips per capita, this is little to be proud of when you consider this is less than half the number of trips per capita of the leading cities in the world.

    As an operator, having $40 million ( not the $27million reported) in assets retired halfway through their expected life span (15-20 years) provides little incentive to invest in new fleet especially when it is unclear what that new fleet requirement will be, nor the term.

    GWRC does have options. But in our minds, the simplest thing to do is extend the trolley contract through to 2022 when the new services proposed under the Spine Study are to be implemented.

    We welcome the draft plan鈥檚 proposed simplification of the bus network by consolidating 43 routes down to 34 will make it more user-friendly. But the plan appears stops short of putting the case forward for a favoured option.

    What we currently have are quiet, environmentally-sound, iconic trolley buses. What’s next is anyone’s guess.

    1. Thanks Zane. I agree with your statement that Wellington is held in high regard in NZ but compared to other cities it actually performs quite badly. If Auckland can meet it’s PT growth targets over the next decade it will pass Wellington on a per capita basis. Perhaps that’s what’s needed to wake Wellingtonians up that they’ve rested on their laurels too much and in fact in many cases actually gone backwards.

    2. Thanks Zane. Your statement that ‘having $40 million ( not the $27million reported) in assets retired halfway through their expected life span (15-20 years) provides little incentive to invest in new fleet especially when it is unclear what that new fleet requirement will be, nor the term’ carries resonance to me.

      Unless the investment is to come from GWRC direct, it seems that there will be little incentive for a commercial bus operator to invest in any new buses that may be of a specialised and non-transferable nature. The report suggested hybrid or other new technologies, or different sized buses – double deckers or articulated vehicles. Your company will be very well aware of the commercial risks of new technology as per the Hybrid electric buses with gas turbine generators used for a while in Auckland central service. So, if it is to now be GWRC that buys hybrid, or battery or other “new-tech” buses and the accompanying commercial and maintenance risk, where are the savings for the region? Or is the real replacement for the trolleys to be another fleet of ADL Enviro 200s?

      The GW report seems to me to have been written by consultants with little technical knowledge of the “nuts and bolts” of bus technology.

    3. Nice try Zane, but NZ Bus has about as much credibility on public transport as an Auckland mayor from the 1990s. Does the city suffer on weekends when no trolley buses are used? Does it feel “less Wellington”? If a particular technology proves sub-optimal and increasingly costly, should it simply be tolerated to satisfy your desire for a greater ROI? Nah, not really. But then, infratil has generally been on the losing side of a lot lately – Wellington Airport runway extension, Snapper, lousy offshore investments. I guess there’s pressure on NZ Bus to continue to milk Auckland tax payers and squeeze more out of Wellington. Sympathy = none.

  24. I don’t think anyone has mentioned it, so I will.
    The reason hilly cities went for trolley buses in the first place was because of the superior torque the electric motors provide compared to a diesel powered bus. That is why you tend to see such systems in hilly cities.
    Now somebody mentioned gas powered buses as a possibility, but these are even more gutless on hills than diesel. So anti-PT people cheering better be careful they aren’t stuck behind a slow diesel winding its way around Wellington streets.

    Sure you could try battery powered buess, but they must run down pretty quick given the Wellington terrain. That leaves a diesel-electic hybrid as an option, but efficiency-wise the electric motors are still carting around a diesel engine.
    Hydrogen fuel cell is also an option and these are quite powerful, however the buses are expensive and you need a fuel network.
    The fact they haven’t a clue what the replacement option is is shameful, another NZ PT disaster waiting to happen.

  25. Cycling behind a trolley bus is much nicer than cycling behind a diesel bus. it feels like you’re getting fit and cancer at the same time..

  26. A rather late reply. But may give more perspective to those looking back at the issue.

    Malcolm McCulloch, the Head of Energy and Power Group, Begbroke Science Park, Oxford (, spoke to a small audience of 15, drawn from a range of groups and interests, about electric bus technology on 26th March. 聽Malcolm was in NZ to speak at聽The Energy Conference 聽( last week, where I approached him to give this talk.聽

    He also was interviewed on Radio NZ聽

    The following are summaries from two participants of key messages from his presentation and the answers he gave to questions. I hope聽
    to get the power point presentation in due course.聽聽The one from the Energy conference will be up early next week.聽

    Paula Warren

    1.聽聽聽聽聽聽 聽Technology is changing rapidly
    Electric vehicle technology has advanced very rapidly in recent years.聽 It will continue to evolve rapidly. Costs are going down and performance going up.聽 Some of the current limitations are disappearing.

    2.聽聽聽聽聽聽 There are a range of electric bus options
    路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 electric and hybrid
    路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 battery and trolley
    路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 battery recharged frequently during service (e.g. at stops)

    Not all electric buses are equal in terms of costs and what they deliver. 聽

    Charging during service has major benefits in terms of battery life.聽 Adding batteries to a trolley bus system has the potential to greatly reduce the strain on the trolley electricity system by levelling out demand on the wires. It may even be possible to make Wellington鈥檚 system last longer without a full upgrade if batteries were added to the mix. There has been an ongoing rapid increase in efficiency of battery performance. That is worth exploring further. 聽

    3.聽聽聽聽聽聽 Electric has benefits
    He agreed that noise, fumes, health effects of emissions, vibration, and the smoothness of the ride are all affected by a shift from diesel to electric (or vice versa).聽 Passengers clearly benefit from electric for these reasons.聽 He also noted that other technology being developed can improve the smoothness of the ride.

    He noted that even Euro 6 does not solve the PM10 problem with diesel buses, and that PM10 and PM5 are now known to be significant health problems.

    4.聽聽聽聽聽聽 Technology and culture need to co-evolve
    Revolutions are not a great idea. It is better to take small steps, see what effect they have, then take the next step.

    The effects of technology change can be surprising.聽 In Oxford, hybrid buses were introduced as an experiment.聽 The bus company wanted fuel savings. The council wanted reduced emissions (PM10 local pollution problems).聽 But the companies then found significant passenger preference for the services delivered with those buses, because of noise, comfort, and other factors not considered.聽 And also driver preference.聽 So they are now 41% of the fleet.

    So we need to actively learn from the changes made.聽 The data needs to be collected and analysed, and used to drive the next set of changes.

    5.聽聽聽聽聽聽 What might be appropriate for Wellington
    He wasn鈥檛 making firm recommendations, but based on what he had seen, he suggested the following as a broad approach that should be considered:
    路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Keep the trolley bus wires in the meantime, even if not being used.聽 Putting back that sort of infrastructure if it is needed in future is difficult and expensive.聽 The wires may be valuable for providing in-service charging of buses running largely on battery, or may be able to be retained as a power source for parts of a bus鈥檚 journey.
    路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Put in one bus of each type 鈥 Euro 5 diesel, battery, trolley and battery 鈥 and collect detailed data on their performance, passenger responses, etc.聽 He is very happy to make a student available to analyse data if it is provided to him.
    路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Treat the experiment as a NZ Inc experiment.聽 So multiple councils and multiple stakeholders (e.g. power companies). acting together
    路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽Draw on the expertise that is in NZ (e.g. recent work on rapid charging)

    路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 Make small changes and learn where the synergies are.

    Jos Kunnen 聽

    Malcolm is a plain-speaking engineer, with a vast knowledge on EV transport.聽 His team works about half time on electric transport and half time on general energy. (He supports a team in the Shell Eco Challenge 鈥 worth looking at this聽

    He started by asking the audience 鈥 How fast can an EV go?, how far can they go in 24 hours?, and what鈥檚 the best EV鈥檚 equivalent mpg?
    聽 (As most of the group were political rather than technical, they seemed pretty far off the mark. )
    路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽300kph 鈥 Nissan ZEOD 聽/ Shanghai Maglev 430 kph
    路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽2048Km in 24 hours聽
    路聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽18,000 mpg !

    Discussed internal combustion engine efficiencies and how to improve them with hybrid technology etc. 聽Said the Ford Model T did 25 mpg which is the same consumption as the current US private vehicle fleet 鈥 progress?聽 Euro 5 & 6 still producing too many particulates and respiratory illnesses on the rise, so Oxford will ban diesels from city centre, unless 聽Euro 7 compliant.聽

    Discussed the kind of developments his team is working on 鈥 Drayson Racing Technologies聽聽 & Drayson racing Formula E聽聽 (Almost as fast and pretty as an Astara Technologies bike!)聽 Developed a 100kW motor, under 25kg and better than 95% efficiency.

    Exploring hybrid technologies 鈥 Hydrogen Fuel Cells (for range, but expensive $1000 per kW) / Li Ion battery / Ultra-capacitor combinations (for peak power).聽 Expects Lithium Air batteries commercial in 5 鈥 10 years with 10 times Lithium Ion power density.聽 Enough Lithium on the planet for 5 x global demand in 2020.聽 End of life battery recycling costs and impacts dropping dramatically.

    Big opportunity for EVs is the charging process and Battery Management System!聽 His team has researched optimum charging processes and found it makes a huge difference to battery life and Total Cost of Ownership.聽 Best practice is frequent small charging (rather than deep discharge) and Oxford now has bus stops with in ground inductive loop charging.

    Several years ago, Oxford Stagecoach Bus company bought a single hybrid bus as a trial and planned to sell it after the trial.聽 Found that commuters preferred it and would wait for it rather than take an earlier bus, drivers preferred it and drove it better, and it was cheaper to run.聽 Now have 40% hybrid in the fleet.

    Suggested Wellington had an opportunity to explore electric buses with hybrid overhead line / battery or ultra-cap power systems.聽 Using batteries for peak load and drive power and the overhead lines just for charging seems a cost-effective option.

    It is important to understand the technology / social / human inter-relationships.聽 Explore real reasons why people don鈥檛 use public transport and think laterally how it can be solved. 聽Some examples 鈥 patrons don鈥檛 want to carry their bulky shopping on the bus 鈥 provide delivery services; buses too full at times 鈥 leverage empty cabs on the bus network.聽 Oxford plans to implement dynamic bus routing and predictive capacity management.

    Malcolm鈥檚 recommendations:
    –聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽Take small learnings steps
    –聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽Pilot various options and record lots of data
    –聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽Analyse the data (let the data do the talking, not the politicians!)
    –聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽Think broader and use systems thinking
    –聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽Engage all the stakeholder groups
    –聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽Look for synergies (health benefits, etc)

    David Lewis, Engineering Manager (Dandenong)
    [email protected]

    I believe reverse installing Primove into trolleys would possibly be relatively simple.
    We could replace present batteries with modern lithium ion packs instead.
    We could replace the DC motor (carry over from older generation buses) with a three phase induction unit or permanent magnet unit.
    Similarly we could replace the Brazilian chopper unit with a three phase drive.
    Would definitely work a treat on the flatter routes (Aro, Seatoun, Island Bay, etc) but may be a bit trickier for you up in Brooklyn.
    As we only equip stops may be a cheaper retrofit and get around the cost arguments.
    May also leave open a future door for a Primove powered tram through Wellington (shared infrastructure).

    1. Yes, many thanks Paul. At last there is the potential to have a more educated discussion of the options. Options which, as hinted at in your comments, may be applicable to other cities in NZ.

      And I absolutely agree, small steps toward what may become a far superior solution as technology evolves is great.

      Revolution and bridge burning is bad. As we know from Auckland’s destruction of its popular tram network in the 1950s, once its gone, it is very difficult to put back if a future generation says “oops”, we made a bit of a mistake.

  27. Hi Ian (Strathmorepark),

    You should be careful how you read the DomPost. They will never cover a complete media statement, and generally take the more sensationalist comment without any backing statements. Scoop on the other hand, does reproduce releases. Hence Scoop also gets
    more intelligent feedback and comments. You will note that we are calling for more local data that has not been collected.

    There is an enormous amount of technical information out there, and we got a lot from Malcolm McCulloch the head of the Oxford energy centre, with an offer to do modeling data from any trials that we might conduct, knowing that no data has been collected to support the scapping of the trolley fleet. The fleet has been run down to the point so that it only does 12% of the runs. This of course makes the overhead line network and transformers expensive per passenger vehicle.

    In Europe 27 new trolleybus systems have emerged since 1990 (worldwide 45 systems). Leeds (United Kingdom) and Montreal (Canada) have published plans recently. Up to 14 lines are to be electrified in the Canadian metropolis in the next few years.

    100 trolleybuses will be installed between 2016 and 2017 and, in part, take advantage of any knowledge acquired in the battery trials. Trolleybuses are seen by Soci茅t茅 de Transport de Montreal as a new/old technology that is greenhouse gas free, comfortable and reliable, and can use hydro and wind generation from within the province. Overhead is seen as necessary, as battery technology is not capable of replacing a direct power supply that can provide for 500km a day per vehicle, although depots need not be wired and the overhead can provide opportunity charging for battery APUs and some off-wire operation. Trams are regarded as too expensive. The power supply sub system is seen as necessary anyway, should battery technology improve beyond the 2020s.聽


    “With respect to the total cost of operation over its entire service life, it is far more economical to run than CNG-powered buses, hybrids or purely diesel-engined buses. The electric drivetrain is a compelling solution first and foremost due to its excellent energy balance: a recent comparison from the USA has revealed that the electric buses selected consume about $9,000 worth of energy in a year, whereas a comparable diesel bus burns fuel worth some $50,000. The acquisition costs of an electric bus, which are still higher at present, pay off by the fourth year of operation at the latest. In China this insight is no longer being called into question, but instead is being put into practice on a large scale 鈥 for example in rapidly growing cities such as Shenzhen鈥︹

    Pleased to discuss more…. it is also a learning curve for me, and happy to be educated with superior data!

  28. A further little follow up, not so much technology oriented. Wellington’s trolley buses generally follow old tram corridors. There are bus stops every km or so which have been there for generations. Those bus also happen to be near clusters of suburban shops which to me seem to have survived quite well through the supermarket and shopping mall era. I would argue that a culture of catching the bus, and walking has certainly helped in the vibrancy of those shopping clusters. There are also the hills themselves which encourage development clustered around the main arterial (generally trolley bus operated) roads, whether in the valleys, or winding their way along a ridge-line. All these factors help to make up Wellington’s DNA – things things that make it special in the world. It also encourages a higher than average Australasian mode share for buses, and walking. And, these things also help Wellington to compete for economic opportunities and growth in the global market – for movies, for IT, and potentially for other industry clusters. Yes, they are “charming” and a bunch of other adjectives that cannot be easily put onto a spread-sheet, and they are part of Wellington’s appeal.

    Wellington is about to have a massive motorway development that will fundamentally shake up the character of Wellington. Removal of the trolley bus network, and the sense of permanence the network creates for the community, will also potentially fundamentally change the character of the city and its suburbs. We don’t how much, and won’t know until years after the decision has been implemented. We do however, have Auckland as a pretty good case study of a city that canned its pre-eminent PT mode in the 1950s (with subsequent catastrophic decline in patronage). It also of course massively invested in motorways at the same time….the parallels with the position that Wellington now finds itself in some 60 years later are somewhat interesting.

    I think that what is needed is some breathing space, and time. The present fleet is fairly new and very under utilised. While elements of the overhead network may be “on its last legs”, I think we can ration where necessary, and perhaps do some interim upgrade work especially around the core network.

    This will buy time while a proper assessment of Wellington’s long term needs for its bus network can be carried out, with some decent research on technologies for bus options, and with time and space for trials of bus technologies to take place. There are emerging technologies out there that may enable a better solution than the current trolley bus fleet or proposed replacement diesels. But they also carry a level of technological risk and financial risk. Careful and considered decision-making has to be the order of the day. 2020 or 2022 looks to be the right time to draw the line in the sand for the trolley bus fleet, not 2017. And in the meantime, decent R and D budget needs to be allocated toward developing that replacement fleet.

  29. We are being treated like simpletons, by a bunch of charlatans. What is the rush? How dishonest can Paul Swain be when he claims that hybrid and electric buses are going to be considered by 2017 . This cannot possibly true, it is spin, it is a cynical, sop, no way in the world is the time frame of three years sufficient to make such an important and technically difficult decision. It can only mean that diesel buses will be bought, but that they’re not honest enough, for the moment, to say so. What sort of leadership is Paul Swain providing when he reportedly says that in regard to the motive power, he is neutral?. For heaven’s sake, this is leadership taking us back to the 1960’s, of course he shouldn’t be neutral, he should be fighting for electric powered buses using renewable energy for a sustainable future, and making a start in mitigating global warming and ocean acidification. We have to start somewhere, public transport is the obvious place to do so. It makes me despair, this wilful blinkered thinking. It took NZ ten years to decide whether or not to electrify the Auckland rail system, when it was a no-brainer to do so, eventually the correct decision was taken, but it should have needed ten minutes, not ten years.

    There have been some brilliant responses in this thread, thanks so much.

    1) There is no rush, we are being corralled and whipped to make a quick decision; this is patently wrong, the decisions we make now will constrain our future options for at least 25 years and we need more time. What we have now is not perfect, but can be improved, for instance wider use of flexible working hours and work from home plus detailed changes at the margin in the network – our present system could easily be usefully continued without major change for then next ten years or so.
    2) In 25 years, it is be no means certain that our economy will be robust enough to take on the sort of investment that will be needed to electrify our fleet, there is no guarantee of growth. We might not get another chance. If it’s expensive now, it is likely to be twice as expensive in the future, and we may be twice as poor.
    3) Global warming and ocean acidification are real and urgent and revolutionary. We have to start now to deal with this.
    4) We have mountain ranges of environmental and economic difficulties to surmount in the coming 50 years. It’s time to start the ascent with the right equipment
    5) What happened to Wellingtons’ carbon neutral city?
    6) We now import $8 billion dollars of oil or oil products, mostly for transport. This figure will inexorably rise. Reducing our vulnerability to imported oil will be a major benefit to our independent sovereignty – look at the threats to Europe from Russia in regard to gas.
    7) Every transport planner and regional and local councillor should be given a bicycle and required to follow a diesel bus in town for at least 100 kms without wearing a mask.
    8) In regard to the trolley bus, dismantling the infrastructure is crazy, it may well have a future use in an electrified public transport network

    Talk about a city and a country going backwards – is this just NZ or is this a wider phenomenon in the world at large? Perhaps our general contentedness in NZ with things as they are (in this case, as they used to be) is the biggest impediment to progress?

    1. I think that this is a phenomenon used largely in world, you have only the benefit of high developed society so you can not see it clearly.

  30. This appears to be a quite stupid decision made by second raters. It compares with the decision made by Lord Mayor Jones and his cronies to abolish the Brisbane tramway and trolley buses in 1969.

  31. Here you have article about the “fight” between preserving trolleybuses (you know, citizen + city means some kind of relation where the public transport especially “electrotransport” is representing something actually friendly for people & nature) and in this case private transport bussiness, presented by Diesel powered cars, commonly with lower efficiency of transport quality.
    It麓s in russian language… and from rebel city of Slavians, but it麓s a good article.
    And I would like to say, this. I麓m interested in Welington trolleybuses and always I see some references to other countries/troleybus systems. They only the systems from west europe and north america are mentioned. But it麓s contraproductive, because in these countries the trolleybuses and trams have been replaced for diesel buses (and now, the new mode is electro/hybrid-buses) in large scale. In this case, please look first into east europe (especially czech republic, Poland, Hungary, Baltic republics, Belarus, Italy) & Russia. The more is preserved and even extended, with less of megalomania.
    Here you have alot of interesting stuff too:

  32. DON’T LET THEM TOUCH THE OVERHEAD WIRES UNLESS THEY’RE PUTTING MORE UP, OR UNLESS THEY GUARANTEE THAT THEY’RE MOVING THEM FOR A RE-ROUTE. Once the OH wires (and the rectifier substations) are gone, replacing them will most likely be prohibitively expensive. Seattle dieselized its 7-Ranier line in the 1960’s, only to RE-ELECTRIFY IT in the 1980’s, surely at great expense. San Francisco electrified its 24-Divisadero and 55-Sacramento lines in the 1980’s, and the 31-Balboa in the 1990’s. Belly-aching about the overhead wire system is common, but in reality, the wires themselves needs little attention, except that switches & frogs (special work – places where wires cross each other) need to be inspected routinely and maintained. Rectifier substation transformers last indefinitely, as do rectifier diodes, so be suspicious when they say they need to replace them. Here in San Francisco, the OH wires for the 33-Ashbury on 18th St. between Mission & Castro Sts. have been in place since it was put up in 1936. It is the old-style ungrooved trolley wire suspended with clinch ears. We actually were using rotary converter substations until the 1980’s.

    Only a fool would propose removing Wellington’s trolleybus system, what with most of NZ’s electric power coming from hydroelectric & geothermal sources. Batteries are not a panacea because they’re expensive, and also because of the electrical-to-chemical-to-electrical energy conversion losses. Trolleybuses with batteries are good for getting around line blockages, or for limited service past a point where the OH wires don’t go, but the best thing is a diesel-electric hybrid bus with trolley booms on it; such a bus can be dispatched to serve trolley or motor bus lines. Electric traction is the best way to go for city transit systems and their passengers. It must be remembered that Wellington’s bus operator is a private company that will concern itself with maximizing its profits. It is not concerned with the preferences of its passengers or the public. Beware!

    1. The funny thing here is it is the private operator that is a little pissed at the plan to remove the trolley wires – the Wellington trolleybus fleet was renewed only a few years ago and represents quite an investment from them.

      It’s the city council proposing removal.

  33. Glad they are going it will make working on the streets easier for all contractors no wires, no restricted hours of work which were impossible and costly to comply with.

  34. While some in Wellington wish to eliminate elxcellent electric bus service, Montreal, Canada which once operated trolley buses and abondoned them years ago is talking about bringing them back.

    Wellington, don’t make a mistake which you will regret, and trust me , you will regret it.

    Montreal to Electrify Busiest Bus Routes
    Introduction of Trolleybuses to Modernize Transit System
    Montreal鈥檚 transit operator STM is studying the conversion of up to fourteen of the city鈥檚 major bus routes from diesel to electric trolleybuses according to a November 5th report in the Montreal Gazette. The route 105, which operates on Sherbrooke Street to Notre Dame de Grace tops the list as a candidate for electrification with 17,000 riders per day, according to a preliminary analysis.

    The STM has said it will only buy electric buses by 2025 as it strives to cut pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions and match its transit operations to the 21st century. Battery-electric buses are still in their infancy, but trolleybuses rely on proven technology and are used around the world. Trolleybuses are non-polluting, quieter, warm in winter and more comfortable than the diesel buses currently in use, says the Gazette, and adds that while they may be more expensive than diesel buses to buy, they last longer, require less maintenance and can be cheaper to operate.

  35. The advantages of electric vehicles are as follows:

    more energy efficient
    electric motors are typically 90% efficient, as compared to internal combustion engines which are at most 30% efficient (see the article on energy efficiency for a more detailed discussion of the issues)

    electric motors can be used as generators to slow the vehicle – this power can be used by other vehicles (called “regenerative” braking) or simply dissipated as heat through resistors (called “dynamic” braking). In either case the use of friction brakes is reduced – brake linings tend to last at least twice as long.

    less polluting
    no direct emissions – this also means there is no possibility of fumes inside the vehicle
    uses a renewable energy resource – in British Columbia this is especially true, since most electricity is generated by hydroelectric stations
    better at accelerating and climbing hills
    electric motors can provide maximum torque at zero speed – in fact, they can provide significantly more than normal maximum rated torque for a limited time (e.g. twice as much for 10 seconds)
    by comparison, internal combustion engines do not develop full rated torque until they are at a higher speed, and they require mechanical slippage in order to start

    no mechanical transmission
    there is no noise when the vehicle is stopped (aside from the possible operation of an air compressor on some vehicles) – internal combustion engines must idle
    electric motors themselves do not make as much noise as internal combustion engines of equivalent power
    The trolleybus

  36. Paul Swain, the council鈥檚 public transport portfolio leader, said axing the trolleys was 鈥渁 big call, but the correct one鈥.

    From differing pro trolley-bus perspectives, it is anything but a 鈥渃orrect one鈥. Do you ride the these buses Mr. Swain?

    The extra costs associated with the wire network, coupled with the difficulty of changing the buses鈥 routes, were the main factors in the decision, he said.

    The costs of the overhead wire network would seem to be more than adequately offset by the low cost of electric vehicle maintenance as compared to diesel vehicles. New grooved trolley wire on straight away sections (lengthly straight wire runs) will last wear-wise for 20 to 30 years on average. the overhead special-work ( wire crossings and turn outs [switches]) is generally trouble free requiring routine scheduled visual inspections, adjustments and with occasional replacements of fittings.

    On the difficulty of changing the buses routes seems a specious argument at best, as though, willy-nilly the routings have to be capriciously changed every five years or so whenever a new manager has to make his mark, are these the kinds of changes?

    They also caused backlogs when they broke down, and they could not overtake.

    Break downs seem not to be a viable reason for scrapping this class of bus service, the question should be why are an inordinate number of break-downs occurring to begin with? They shouldn鈥檛 be!. I鈥檝e worked with trolley buses in North America for years and trolley buses built and installed in the mid 1930s ran relatively trouble free into the late 1960s with all of their superior advantages and operating characteristics as when new, over even new diesel and petrol buses.

    The 50-year-old power system would need upgrading soon at a cost of 鈥渢ens of millions of dollars鈥, Mr Swain said, and maintaining the 160 kilometres of wires and 15 substations cost $6m a year. The one-off cost of dismantling the network would be cheaper.

    Much of an electrical supply system for trackless trolleys is static with no moving parts to wear out. The overhead wires can last up to 30 years with sections of wire and fittings being replaced on a pro-active renewal schedule for route sections over the years. 160km (99 miles) of overhead and substations cost 6 million per year to maintain, I am sorry but I find that number very difficult to believe!.

    1. Hi sderailway – just wondering if you live in Wellington? The bus routes aren’t changed often at all. the problem is that every time the Council decides to hold a civic event such as a parade or running race the buses have to be rerouted. The CBD streets are very narrow, so if there is an accident, a fire truck blocking the road, a burst water pipe or whatever the bus routes are blocked and trolleys can’t move. Diesels can be diverted however.
      Trolleys can’t overtake each other and this is a huge drag on the whole traffic system. At peak times, if you get a slow person boarding the first bus then up to 8 buses behind it are stuck waiting. In addition, the Council narrowed several main roads in the CBD so that even diesels cannot overtake. James Smiths Corner was a big busy stop that still flowed freely, but now buses have to wait in one lo-o-ong queue in Manners St.
      I don’t know about maintenance problems on the lines, but I was told that in my suburb trolleys have to go up the hill to the tunnel at about 5kph because there is not enough current in the wires.
      Trolley buses are just really slow, they trundle along at about 30-40kph with no regard for the timetables.

      1. the problem is that every time the Council decides to hold a civic event such as a parade or running race the buses have to be rerouted. The CBD streets are very narrow, so if there is an accident, a fire truck blocking the road, a burst water pipe or whatever the bus routes are blocked and trolleys can鈥檛 move. Diesels can be diverted however.

        And this happens what? three four times a year? Usually in CBDs in many cities there are trolley wires over adjacent streets every block or so because often multiple routes enter a CBD. Switching onto these adjacent lines the trolleys can be temporarily re-routed as needed – if necessary a turn-out (switch) may have to be installed first.

        You have battery equipped trolleys question is how long these buses can operate on fully charged batteries but I would think they can detour several blocks “off-wire”. Operating time on batteries would depend on weight of a bus loaded with passengers, length of the route and hills to be climbed along the route.

        (Also I watched a 17 minute youtube video which at 13 minutes in shows a couple of trolleys with their poles hooked down making short-turns or short working on battery power.(short-turn aka short-working.)

        [ ]

        Trolleys can鈥檛 overtake each other and this is a huge drag on the whole traffic system. At peak times, if you get a slow person boarding the first bus then up to 8 buses behind it are stuck waiting. In addition, the Council narrowed several main roads in the CBD so that even diesels cannot overtake.

        Why do trolleys need to overtake each other? Even if you have 2 or 3 routes over a section of street they should be scheduled such that they are not literally on each others bumper. Also parallel passing wires can be strung in certain places of bus density. Last resort a bus ahead could take his poles down to allow the other to pass. If I ran things down there I鈥檇 put a Kiwi and a trolley bus on a new Wellington city seal.

        1. You have no idea. Along Lambton Quay/Willis St there is the 1, 2, 3, 6 (peak hours), 7, 8, 11. All trolleys runnning supposedly every 10-15 minutes (except that they are unreliable and come in bunches). Also 14, 43, 44, 91, Mana buses (diesel), They are on each others bumpers because they can’t pass each other. The roads have been narrowed, some made one way and extra traffic lights put in for “traffic calming” which has the effect of slowing all buses down. Diversion trolley lines in the CBD do not exist. When one stops, they all pile up behind. It’s quicker to get from KIlbirnie to Courtenay Place than from Courtenay Place to the Station. At peak hours it can take half an hour to traverse the CBD. And if every other trolley bus stopped to take its poles down and then stopped again to put them back on, what kind of time saving is that? The biggest mistake the WCC made was narrowing the roads, but trolleys certainly don’t help the congestion problem, because even where the streets are wider they can’t pass each other. Diesels can. If you don’t live here you really have no idea of our particular situation.

        2. “…..When one stops, they all pile up behind. It鈥檚 quicker to get from KIlbirnie to Courtenay Place than from Courtenay Place to the Station. At peak hours it can take half an hour to traverse the CBD….” And there are only small sections in the golden mile where a diesel bus of a trolley bus could overtake other buses.

          Yes, there is severe bus congestion along the Golden Mile, and this has resulted from adding too many new services and taking them all to the railway station. Any bus that originates in the golden mile during peak hours will not be reliable. The trolley buses are not the cause of the delays….it is the lack of a network approach.

          Transport planners all agree that the problem as the lack of a network. A network utilises a high capacity vehicle such as modern tram (light rail) along a spine route along with feeder buses. The trick then, is to match the shuttle bus frequency with the spine services, and ensure that priority lanes allow the average speed to more than match that of private vehicles.
          The principle hubs in Wellington could be in Newtown, Kilbirnie, Johnsonville, and smaller ones in Miramar.

          Hutt Valley already has a network approach with most bus services feeding into the trains.

          The revised bus review that is part of the Public Transport Plan has backed away from a complete network approach because of public kick back, which means that there will still be inefficiencies, with some parallel services such as the Johnsonville railway line and services from Churton Park, both subsidised, effectively competing against each other, and still too many buses in the golden mile.

        3. I believe that congestion in the CBD got a lot worse when the Council narrowed the roads, lowered the speed limit and increased the number of traffic lights. I’ve been catching peak-hour buses since 1988 and they never seemed to be as bad as they are now, though the routes are similar – frequency of buses has increased slightly outside of peak hours but at busy times are there really more buses than there used to be? At least at James Smiths corner buses could overtake, but that’s gone now. The problem with hubs is that based on current perfomance buses are extremely unlikely to connect with each other. We will have less frequent buses, a wait at a hub and then another bus. total journey time will be no faster than now, plus we will have the inconvenience of hanging round a cold grotty hub. And why is Seatoun (a wealthy area with I’m guessing not massive patronage) proposed to get a through bus when Strathmore, a poorer area with probable high patronage, has to transfer at Kilbirnie? Yesterday I travelled at 3pm from Hataitai to Courtenay Place on the 14 round Roseneath in only 15 minutes. Fabulous. A 2 trolley takes at least the same amount of time to travel a shorter distance through the bus tunnel, with the added guesswork of how late it will arrive at my bus stop.

        4. Sounds like a human problem to me: scheduling and timing of routes as well as a routing problem. Once again you have some off-wire capability. Perhaps the expense of routing some of the T. buses on alternative parallel streets would yield relief as well as being money well spent.

          San Francisco, California has a large trolley-bus network with about eight trolley-bus routes concentrated on Market St. in the CBD and all using the same overhead which is also shared by trams! They don’t normally have the bunching up problem as you describe either. The answer is not condemnation and removal of a class of bus service that is excellent in so many ways.

  37. Hi Pam, Most of what you say is incorrect.
    The trolleys have lead acid batteries and are easily diverted for short distances of several hundred metres and do this regularly. If the batteries were upgraded to lithium ion, then they would be able to potentially travel 20 or 30km offline.
    The relatively narrow roads in the CBD mean that trolleys and diesel buses cant overtake each other. There are up to 14 buses stacked behind each other. This is what the spine report was meant to address, with higher capacity modern tram, which would have replaced 3 to 5 buses.

    Trolleys perform better than diesels with faster acceleration. A report confirmed this, with an occasional slower run due to inexperienced drivers (according to the Tramways Union).

    Over 50% of the overhead wiring has been renewed, and performance is now regarded as very reliable with very few dewiring of polls.
    Routes have not been changed for over a decade. However, the Bus Review planned for implementation with new contracts in 2017/18, will result in big changes, most of them positive.

    However, a change to a long north/south route from Churton Park to Island Bay is irrational, as anything passing through the CBD, especially at peak, will become unreliable. This was also used as an excuse to remove the Trolleys, as there is no wiring north of Wellington railway station.

    1. An occasional slower run???? You have got to be joking. Trolleys are much slower than diesels on the Miramar route. Which is why I always try to catch a 14 rather than a 2. Even if the route itself is longer, the bus arrives on time and I’d rather spend the extra 10 minutes on a bus than standing in wind and rain at my bus stop wondering if/when the 2 will turn up.

      2009: “Bus operations through the Wellington CBD and along the Golden Mile are currently unreliable with significant delays for a large number of bus services during both peak and inter peak periods.
      The recently approved Ngauranga to Airport (N2A) Strategy Study strengthened the need to enhance a PT corridor through the CBD with the ability to safeguard for enhanced PT in the future.”

      2013: “The project has assembled recent reliability data provided by the three regional authorities from RTI/ETM data sources to show the proportions of scheduled services operating within various reliability/punctuality thresholds. This evidence confirms that the reliability problem is indeed very significant, and that the extent of early/late running reported by operators understates the true extent by an order-of-magnitude. We thus consider it as highly desirable that Auckland and Wellington move to monitoring performance through electronic-based systems as soon as any remaining technical difficulties can be overcome.”
      and ” An additional aspect which affects reliability (punctuality) from the passenger perspective, but not day-today variability in performance, relates to scheduled running times. Recent analyses of RTI/ETM data (in Auckland and Wellington) indicate that the current scheduled running times are often not consistent with the 鈥榯ypical鈥 running time performance achieved, and hence the services concerned run either early or late on the majority of occasions. This problem could be ameliorated relatively easily, and should be addressed with priority (and is being addressed in all three centres).”

      2013: Only 51.5% of people think Wellington’s buses and trains are reliable

  38. Hi Pam, Real Time Information has confirmed how inaccurate the present scheduled timetables are, and RTI is now being used to update routes times. Removal of conflicting private vehicles to slip lanes so that PT doesnt pass through any traffic lights on Lambton Quay would also help, as would better use of lanes in the vicinity of Basin Reserve as recommended by Richard Reid. However, we would still have up to 140 buses in a peak hour in a single lane within the golden mile. Shifting some PT to other roads is not a good answer, as they will have to mix it with private vehicles. Instead move to modern high capacity tram for a spine route!

    1. Paul – are you now admitting that the buses are unreliable? More than “an occasional slower run”? The RTI itself is inaccurate. A bus can show as ‘due’ for three minutes and then disappear off the screen as it is late. Or it shows as 2mins away for about four minutes. I once jumped out of a car because the 2 was ‘due’ at Kilbirnie and I thought I’d catch the bus rather than inconvenience the person giving me a lift. Then after a minute or two the due disappeared and I ended up waiting about 20 minutes for a bus. Hopeless. As I understand it, the move to high-capacity buses will mean less frequent services. If that’s the case, there is no benefit for the passenger. Travel time from home to city will be shorter, but the wait between buses will be longer.

      1. Hi Pam, At the moment, there are up to 140 buses per hour. The use of high capacity light rail on the core route would reduce that to 40 to 60 an hour, still only a minute wait between vehicles. A network approach would then use frequent (5 to 10 minute) smaller shuttle buses on the feeder routes, so that there would be effectively less wait between services at peak hour than at present.

        1. There might be 140 buses per hour, reducing to 40 to 60 an hour, “still only a minute wait between vehicles”, but they are not all going to the same suburb!. Fine if you only want to go to Courtenay Place though. The network proposal with smaller shuttle buses on the feeder routes, “so that there would be effectively less wait between services at peak hour than at present” won’t work unless drivers are trained to be on time. At present the buses are so unreliable that trying to connect between two buses or a bus and train is hit and miss – it’s always safer to take an earlier bus than the timetable would indicate, because they are liable to be up to 10 minutes late arriving at the station. Example: No 2 to the city, supposed to run every 15 minutes but sometimes there is a 20 minute wait, then it arrives up to 10 minutes late at the station. Try connecting from there to a 43 or 44 which only run every half hour. It’s a long trip if you miss the connection. I foresee that the feeder buses will not connect properly with the buses to the city and passengers will end up spending time hanging around at grotty hubs – no overall saving in time and the inconvenience of having to change buses as well. And while I think of it, why is Seatoun proposed to get a through bus but Strathmore isn’t? I would guess that poor Strathmore has a lot more bus users than rich Seatoun?

        2. The Bus Review, to be implemented with the new tenders in 2016/17, is meant to tidy up poor scheduling, and we have an ongoing discussion with officers of the very points that you are bringing up. However, we need to invest in high quality vehicles as well as a well designed network to really get reliability… are you trying to tell us that that is not possible in Wellington? I blame the system not the drivers.

          The train/bus network in the Hutt Valley performs reasonably well. It also helps if there is better communication between services when there are delays.

  39. Wellington needs to keep its trackless trolleys, they are an asset which should preserved. At some future time when electric traction technologies advance to produce an electric bus without need of an overhead infrastructure, while still keeping all of the operational advantages that trolley buses demonstrate, then perhaps the trolley overhead can be eliminated.

    Speaking of the overhead, perhaps those who call it an eyesore need to rethink of the overhead as urban industrial art just as they would a graceful steel bridge or metal streetlamp fixtures or even a bronze statue of an historically notable person.

    The overhead in itself is interesting, the trolley wire (never say cable) is of copper or phospher-bronze and is grooved which in cross-section looks not round but like an 8.

    The grooved wire is designed to be clamped onto by hangers which support the wires when hung overhead. The actual electrical contact is made by the trolley shoe which is a graphite insert clamped into a housing at the end trolley-pole where it is designed to swivel, which is what allows the bus to pass vehicles and pull up to the curb. (the graphite slider or skid slides along the underside of the overhead wire(s) much as if you took a sharped lead pencil (which is graphite) and run it along a taut copper wire. Engineering wise this stuff is clever intelligently designed and interesting, I hope you weren’t bored.

  40. Lunacy aside, may common-sense prevail and save a great mode of public transport, the trolley bus. You will regret it once you make the mistake – so don’t give in to poor decisions of local politicians who I know are acting on bad information from biased sources – these politicians usually have no “skin” in the game themselves..

  41. Pam, you condemn a superior class of bus service, trolley buses if used and routed intelligently are far superior than any diesel or petrol bus. San Francisco, California USA has actually upgraded several diesel bus lines to trackless trolley operation. Under a similar set of right of way constraint conditions explain how any other class of bus service is going to do any better than your electric buses?

    If the city creates road ‘bottlenecks’, it’s usual done to slow through traffic to make that area more pedestrian friendly. Any class of bus service routed through such an area is going to be subjected to the same delays.

    1. CERA, the Central Electric Railfans Association was founded in 1938 in Chicago, Illinois. The electric railfans take a keen interest in all forms electric traction worldwide.

      CERA Goes “Down Under”


      December is sure to bring with it much in the way of cold weather and the possibility of snow and ice. However, in Australia and New Zealand, in the Land Down Under, December is the height of Summer. Long, warm days with lots of sunshine await us Down Under.

      December 26th, Boxing Day in both Australia and New Zealand, promises to bring you exciting videos of the electric trams and cable trams of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, and time permitting, recent videos of the current trolley bus operation in Wellington, New Zealand which is slated for abandonment on June 30, 2017.

      Melbourne has the third largest streetcar (tram) system in the World, and Wellington has the only left hand trolley buses on the face of the Earth.

    2. Diesels are faster, and can overtake other buses if necessary. It’s not all about the CBD either. Kilbirnie is a suburban shopping centre where several bus routes arrive at the same stop. Trolleys have to wait for the trolley in front. A diesel can load up and leave the stop without waiting for the bus in front. Maybe it’s just the drivers, or lack of maintenance on the poles or wires, but trolleys travel slower than diesels. They are dreadful.

      1. Diesel buses are not faster and do not have the characteristic high acceleration/deceleration rates of electric traction. As to trolley buses over taking each other, that is a moot point that is not even a factor worth arguing. If a trolley bus must overtake another, the driver of the bus to be overtaken gets out and pulls his poles from the overhead so the one behind can proceed.

        1. Don’t be daft.The driver of the bus to be overtaken is busy collecting fares from passengers – otherwise he/she would be leaving the stop. Imagine 40 people on a bus waiting while the driver gets out at every second stop to fiddle around with the poles. Good grief. In Wellington trolleys are very often slower than diesels – you can see the speedo if you are standing or sitting near the driver.

        2. It is not the technological fault of the electric vehicle unless you have some shoddy rebuilds in service. World wide the trolley bus has proven itself and most people like the swift quiet ride of trackless trolleys except for the unfortunate experiences of one woman in Wellington, NZ.

        3. You’re still not addressing the issue: trolleys can’t overtake each other, and therefore form a queue that holds up every bus coming behind them. This is a problem on parts of the route used by more than one service eg. the CBD, Kilbirnie, Newtown. Suggesting a driver in service jump out every now and then to de-pole to let other buses past is just silly. Trolleys in Wellington are anything but *swift” lol.

  42. So, today’s rubbish trolleybus service: Tried to catch a Miramar 2 bus that is supposed to leave Kilbirnie at 1:18. Should take about five minutes to get to my stop. at 1:18 the RTI said it was 10 minutes away, and at 1:26 it was still 7 minutes away. What a joke. At 1:26 a 14 DIESEL turned up so we caught that – a longer trip, but at least we were moving and not baking in the sun. Lo and behold, we arrived at Courtenay Place at the same time as two Miramar buses (the one we wanted plus the next one). What a joke.
    Tonight, daughter needed to get to the Railway Station before 6pm. Tried to catch a 2 that was supposed to leave Kilbirnie at 4:47. Still waiting at our bus stop at 4.55, she ran home to get me to call a taxi. We went back out to the bus stop just as the bus turned up, at 4:59. It only takes 15 minutes to WALK from Kilbirnie – how can it take a trolley 12 minutes? Oh I know, it was probably late arriving at Kilbirnie. Twice in one day is getting ridiculous. Maybe the drivers need more training on how to use the accelerator (do trolleys even have one?), maybe the wires are stuffed, who cares, they aren’t fit for purpose.Sooner they go the better.

    1. Pam, I use the 2 and 11 trolleys and/or the 43 and 44 diesels most days, and my experiences are entirely different from yours. I find most services reliable (though bus congestion in the CBD is a real problem for both trolleys and diesels), the least reliable being the outbound 43/44 diesels because of their very long route and complex route; RTI is accurate, except when it’s not working on that particular bus and the scheduled time is shown (which for some reason seems to happen much more often with the diesel 43/44 – where it’s most needed).

      So as a regular user I’m in complete disagreement with you about those issues – and saying “trolleys must go” because the RTI display was inaccurate makes absolutely no sense! And getting to Courtenay Place on a diesel 14 at the same time as two trolley 2s, the earlier of which left several minutes after your bus, means the trolleys must have been quite a bit faster!

      But I have to agree with you about the general slowness of the 2 (whether it’s a diesel or a trolley makes no difference in my experience). The fastest buses between Kilbirnie and the CBD are the 43/44 via Newtown, and this is a route that GWRC intends to cancel, which as you say will make services to Strathmore much worse than they are now – only a handful of through buses; frequency reduced by 50% on Sundays; the last bus up to 2.5 hours earlier than now. Instead, what GWRC says is “improved frequency” means that the number of buses per hour through Kilbirnie to Miramar will be reduced by half off-peak Monday-Friday (by two-thirds in the evenings), with no through buses to the hospital, Massey, the Basin or VUW.

      Your response above to another poster was “Try living and commuting in Wellington before you call trolleys a great mode of transport”. I do both of the former, and I (and many others) do call them that – though I wish someone would sort out the ear-splitting noise of air releasing when they stop.

      1. Don’t be disingenuous, MIke – Read the post properly! I’m not saying trolleys must go because the RTI is inaccurate. I say they must go because they are unreliable, plain and simple.Technically, the 2 I referred to made a faster trip from my bus stop to the CBD, but you are missing the point. It was extremely late running. If I had wanted to get to an appointment in C Place at a certain time the bus would have failed in its purpose. Waiting at a bus stop in all sorts of weather with no idea when a bus will turn up is not fun. In my experience RTI is not accurate. Sometimes a bus is DUE and then disappears from the board – I have realised that this means the bus is late, and there is no way of telling how late. Sometimes one can arrive full of hope at a bus stop with a bus showing due. Then it disappears. Has it just left the stop, or is it late? There is no way to tell. The RTI just emphasises how late they are. It’s a waste of money.
        Step 1. Check metlink timetable. Step 2. Proceed to bus stop. Step 3. Check RTI at stop and find bus ETA bears no relationship to timetable. Step 4. Wait up to 15 minutes at bus stop, fretting that I will be late for my connection/appointment. Step 5. Get on bus or give up and go home to ring a taxi.

        1. Thanks, Pam, but I did read your posts properly (I suggest you read what you wrote, too); I’m not being disingenuous (not sure why you feel the need to get personal and throw insults); and I’m not missing the point – you berate trolleys for being slow, then berate them because they beat your diesel. You can’t have it both ways, I’m afraid.

          Anyway, clearly either I (and my fellow users) are very lucky or you’re very unlucky with both RTI (in our experience pretty accurate except for missing (SCHED) buses, which is a major irritant), and with route 2 (in our experience pretty reliable), and with trolleys (in our experience good to travel on, except for the ear-splitting air release). We appear to inhabit different worlds…

          I hope you’re reporting to Metlink all the many service failures you appear to suffer, so that they can do something about it. And as for your steps 1 and 3, why not check the RTI for your stop before you leave home, easily done on the Metlink website? And if you’re so anti-trolley, why not catch the 14? It’s not so frequent, but it takes only 3 minutes longer than the 2 to get to Courtenay Place – and, being a diesel, it must be sooo much more reliable!

        2. The trolley I wanted to catch was very late. If I had been on another part of the 2 route serviced only by this bus and needed to be somewhere on time, I would have missed my appointment. The fact that a later scheduled 14 bus on a longer route still got to C Place at the same time as the 2 and the following 2 that was scheduled 15 minutes later, shows how slow/late this 2 bus was. There’s no point checking the RTI at home, because it’s not accurate.

          I do report service failures but Metlink or Go Wellington rarely bother to respond unless I send multiple emails. I did get reparation for the time when my daughter had to take a taxi to Wilton after the 14 was 20 minutes late – yes a diesel late, shock horror. With trolleys lateness seems to just be accepted by Go Wellington. Perhaps if Go Wellington published data from the Snapper system we would see how “on-time” buses are. I haven’t yet seen such data being published.

  43. Trolley bus du jour: Arrive bus stop at 10:01am. RTI says bus 7 minutes away (i.e. 10.08). Printed timetable at bus stop says bus due at *approx* 10.08. Bus arrives 10.17. SIGH. This is why trolleys must go. Unreliable.

    1. Pam, I completely agree that the RTI displays are so inaccurate as to be pointless. But that has nothing to do with whether your bus is diesel or electric. For me, I prefer the trolley buses, because they are less savage at accelerating, and therefore more comfortable. They’re also much quieter, which means more enjoyable to me, and less polluting, which is a great thing to me. In fact, I will often avoid taking a diesel bus, and wait for a trolley, just because I enjoy them more. No noted delay in time taken due to trolley.

      1. Each to their own. I find the high-pitched whining noise of trolleys annoying. I think the comfort of acceleration depends on the driver – have been on plenty of jerky awful trolley bus rides. My experience is that trolleys are less likely to arrive on time, and tend to go much more slowly than diesels between Courtenay Place and Kilbirnie (according to their speedos, they seem to average about 30-35 km/h). In the CBD they are all slow because WCC narrowed the roads. I have started to record the timings of buses I take – so we’ll see in a month or two if I am exaggerating…RTI displays just give an idea of how late each bus is running. Perhaps instead of the little wheelchair symbol they could put in a symbol for trolley – then we’d know the bus will be even later than indicated by the RTI?

    2. Trolley bus du jour: Arrive bus stop at 10:01am. RTI says bus 7 minutes away (i.e. 10.08). Printed timetable at bus stop says bus due at *approx* 10.08. Bus arrives 10.17. SIGH. This is why trolleys must go. Unreliable.

      This is incredible! A bus is running late and that is grounds to condemn a whole class of bus service? If a diesel bus was 9 minutes late would that be grounds for why diesel buses must go.

      1. Yes, but this was third trolley bus in two days that was very late. Symptomatic of a very widespread problem, on the routes I travel anyway. Diesels are rarely nine minutes late – trolleys frequently are, in my opinion. I have no experience of the 1, 7 or 8. Anyway, I’m going to keep a chart which I will share in due course. Perhaps things are not as bleak as I perceive them to be.

      1. It seems you need some urban-transit consultants from outside of Wellington or even outside of NZ to come in and examine your scheduling methods. It would seem that practical scheduling and adherence to these schedules more diligently could resolve many of your issues as well as your trolley buses “bunching up” wherein there would be no need for the buses to “overtake” another bus. If the “BU” problem is occuring at a terminal in the CBD, multiple routes should not be laying over* in the congested CBD. Their end of route points could be just outside the CBD. It’s convenient to have all the routes meeting in the CBD for transfer convenience but not necessary when i clogs-up the system in those congested areas.

        *Laying over is the break a driver takes at the end of his/her scheduled run.

  44. Don’t be stupid, people of NZ! in the UK first we replaced our trams with trolleybuses, then we replaced them with buses and now we have next to nothing left! Don’t be foolish!

  45. Citisens of Wellington, you still have time, petition your misguided politicians such as Paul Swain and the others. Swamp them with mail and emails in protest of the proposed elimination of your trackless trolley service.

    You still have time.

  46. As a UK resident I was surprised at the Jacobs report about about the continued use of Wellington’s trolleybuses. Nowhere did I read that as I understand it 80% of NZ electricity is from sustainable sources and with the right investment you could be 100% self sufficient.
    Why go hybrid, with batteries made often of hazardous materials, as well as the cost and emission aspect of the diesel component, when the trolleybus is so Eco friendly and silent. I couldn’t believe how quickly the debate has gone towards hybrids when NZ has so much self-generated electricity with no emission impications.

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