Guest Post – Cr Paul Bruce – Don’t Scrap the Trolleys

Cr Paul Bruce sent through this fascinating guest blog about Wellington’s trolley buses. These buses are part of Wellington’s historic and cultural landscape, and we can’t let short-term thinking scrap them!


Councillors and MPs tell GWRC "Don't Scrap the Trolleys!"
Councillors and MPs tell GWRC “Don’t Scrap the Trolleys!”

Motion passed at Public meeting on 22nd June 2014

GWRC’s due diligence on the trolley bus system is fundamentally flawed, and the meeting requested a
complete full review, encompassing all aspects of the system before any decision is made to scrap them.

Paul Bruce’s speech at Newtown Community Centre public meeting 22nd June 2014

Many thanks to everyone who wrote submissions on the Regional Public Transport Plan.
The quality of submissions was exceptionally high, and in spite of leading and misleading statements,
78% of submitters indicated that carbon emissions were important or most important to them,
69% of submitters said they were willing to pay more for a lower emission option, and the
retention of trolley buses was favoured by 61%.

However, the hearings committee voted for the scrapping of trolley buses at the end of the contract in 2017, which we think is an appalling decision.

Forty million dollars has been spent recently modernising the trolley bus fleet, which is only 6 years old and has a further 15-20 years of life left.

And yet this Council is proposing to send 60 modern trolley buses to the scrapheap
— lunacy as fellow Councillor Sue Kedgley said!

Ex Regional Councillor Darran Ponter and myself attended some 80 public meetings around Wellington over 2012 and 2013, and these resulted in many changes to the Wellington Bus Review. Over New Year, the Regional Public Transport Plan was put together over-riding much of the consultation on routes, and including a completely new proposal to scrap the trolley buses. Councillors received the draft Plan two days before it was put out for one month public consultation.

Forty million dollars has been spent recently modernising the trolley bus fleet, which is only 6 years old and has a further 15-20 years of life left

Lets be clear about this – the scrapping of the trolley buses is nothing to do with age of the fleet and power supply.

1) It has nothing to do with the standard of the overhead wiring
– almost 50% has been renewed and reliability has improved dramatically

2) It has nothing to do with the performance of the power stations or under powered trolleys
– the substations and underground cabling are not worn out or overloaded as has been held out. Greater
Wellington can have a long term power contract with Wellington Electricity, and they will do the upgrades of
the power substations with a long term plan in mind.

3) It has nothing to do with the age of the chassis – they were new 7 years ago.

A Pricewaterhouse report commissioned by GWRC was not a detailed engineering report, just a review of options and issues. A Jacob’s presentation to Councillors following the conclusion of the hearing, was a rehash of the PWH report, with no significant new information. It didn’t answer the questions brought up by expert submitters and required for an informed decision on the state of the trolley bus system.

The decision to scrap the trolley fleet is based on prejudice and the false belief that new tenders with multiple bus companies can not include trolley bus routes. The opportunity value of overhead wiring, together with modern lithium ion batteries for shaving loads and as an extender was ignored.

Trolleybuses are used to provide core public transport facilities, as in many Swiss cities such as Biel, Lausanne, Luzern, St Gallen and Winterthur, as well as in Arnhem (The Netherlands), Athens (Greece), Bologna (Italy), Salzburg (Austria) and Solingen (Germany).

Furthermore, the key supporting role of trolleybuses in cities with tramway networks (eg: Brno, Geneva, Kiev, Minsk, Moscow, Riga, St-Petersburg and Zürich) is of relevance to Wellington where, in the long term, a light rail system is likely to be needed.

The stated purpose of the Public Transport Plan is for a fully electric fleet, and this is indeed progress.
However, the Plan then makes the preferred option diesel-electric hybrids – squandering the advantage
we already have with our trolley fleet.

Today, new environmentally friendly technologies based on electric propulsion are giving the trolley bus a renaissance throughout the world.

San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dayton, Seattel and Vancouver have decided to expand or introduce trolley buses to reduce emissions and noise.

Places like Athens, Arnhem and Sarajevo, have expanded and upgraded traditional trolley bus networks.

In France and Italy, they are introducing new concepts for trolleys, with new systems made by companies such as Bombardier (GLT) with experience from rail systems.

The trolley bus is once again a full scale alternative for cities. It is a renaissance, but GWRC’s PT Plan is to scrap the trolleys.

The Public Transport Operating Model that is being used to accept new tenders, can run any level of infrastructure within contracts, with contracts bundled into core services, peak top ups or regions.

Chair Fran Wilde and Cr Paul Swain have chosen to use the red herrings of power infrastructure, vehicle age and route compatibility, using misleading statements and factual errors.

The cost of retaining the trolley fleet has been overblown, and this prejudiced public submissions, any surveys done, and has made unsafe any decision made by Regional Councillors.

The present trolley fleet performance will further improve this month with the completion of work on tripping issues.

Meanwhile, diesel-electric hybrids emissions will be only a partial reduction of emissions on existing diesels.
Euro5 and Euro6 standard filters for diesels do not remove fine particulates and do not have lower greenhouse emissions than earlier versions.

There is no safe level of particulates. For every increase of 10 μg/m3 in PM10, the lung cancer rate rose 22%. The smaller PM2.5 are particularly deadly, with a 36% increase in lung cancer per 10 μg/m3 as it can penetrate deeper into the lungs.

This public transport plan has no health assessment and there is no air quality monitoring of Pm2.5 diesel emissions on the Golden Mile.

The public transport plan does not include any early comparative assessments of standard buses in different configurations, such as duo electric, duo diesel and existing diesel. This could provide the technical information needed to make a proper decision on the ideal mode for Wellington in its challenging hilly environment.

The second half of last century saw the scrapping of trams and trolley buses, and massive amounts of new roading infrastructure. This century has seen a dramatic shift back to public transport and most recently the renascence of modern tram or light rail, and now trolley buses. This is happening in United States, Canada and Europe, but not in Wellington if Ms Wilde and Swain have their way.

Wellington is one of the few places in the southern hemisphere to keep our overhead lines and trolley buses.
We have a huge opportunity with the groundwork already in place for an extended electrical network with duo buses.

Greater Wellington will approve the Regional Public Transport Plan at the full GWRC council meeting
9.30am this Thursday.

A survey question asking what submitters would prioritise got a big tick for
Where, how and when people want to travel

The majority of people surveyed want to keep on traveling on emission free trolley buses.
New investment must now go towards moving the diesels to fully electric battery or duo trolley buses.


2 Comments Posted

  1. Fran Wilde displayed her ignorance and bullying tactics on Nine to Noon this morning, talking all over Wellington City Councillor Young hardly allowing her to finish a sentence. Young remained polite and insistent but her message was not heard over Wilde’s ranting.

    Wilde’s billowing generalisations and spin had to be heard to be believed.

    The motivation for Wilde’s attack on Young is hard to fathom apart from the obvious tactic of causing confusion and riding rough shod over any opposition obfuscating without addressing the issues raised. Familiar?

    Young was pointing out inaccuracies in Wilde’s assertions and the lack of partnership consultation between Greater Wellington who are making decisions before consulting with Wellington City Council.

    What is Wilde’s agenda

  2. There is something behind this Greater Wgtn leadership that smells. Clear questions asked about the previous data collection and arguments presented for the options selected. have not been answered or even addressed.

    Scoping of the three long term options has major flaws as yet not addressed.

    Why are we virtually ignoring well researched initiatives supporting rail in many major cities overseas.

    Light rail has not been fairly compared with the other two options, and loaded with costings not applied to the others.

    This whole scenario smells and reminds me of when Trams were condemned in Wgtn.

    The head of he WCC transport committee was from the motor vehicle trade, being an owner of a major vehicle sales outlet.

    Bus and tram operations were amalgamated into one set of accounts in such a way that costing of ether were not able to be analysed. A campaign of propaganda was launched against the trams cherry picking points of comparison and propagating gross generalisations that had little foundation.

    So we moved from a locally sustainable transport system to one that relied on imported parts, tyres and fuel with a much shorter running life, operation that held up traffic, polluted the environment, consumed non renewables but was good for the motor vehicle industry.

    Trams were built in NZ, all replacement parts were made here except the two motor armatures and controllers, which were under English patent but both were serviced here. All servicing done in WCC Kilbirne workshops by local people. The steel rail lasted for many decades and some are still there today. Steel on steel has a much more efficient rolling moment than rubber tyres on asphalt. The trams generated current on downhill runs are fed that back into the overhead wire. No air pollution in the street, very short stops to pick up and drop passengers.

    When Rugby test matched were on at Athletic Park trams would clear crowd of tens of thousands in less than 15 minutes. Buses were kept clear as they created traffic jambs.

    Some of those trams are still running at Paekakariki.

    Good on you Paul and Sue

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