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). As NZ Bus CEO Zane Fulljames says in the article, it’s 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:
- Maintaining the current mix of diesel and trolley buses, with new trolley buses
- 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.
- 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.
- 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‐route 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. 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?