Business Case for retention of Wellington’s trolley bus network

A coalition of Wellington organisations called for a professional business case study to maintain Wellington’s trolley bus network at the first meeting of Greater Wellington Regional Council’s Sustainable Transport Committee meeting of this year on 14th February. “Wellington’s zero emission trolley fleet is a strategic asset in a city already committed to phase out it’s dirty fossil fuel buses” says Paul Bruce, former three term regional councillor.

IMG_4934Mr Bruce spoke on behalf of the Civic Trust, Sustainable Energy Forum (SEF), Living Streets, FIT, Save the Basin, OraTaiao, Dr. Susan Krumdieck, requesting that a business case be carried out. The Architectural Centre sent in a separate petition supporting retention of the Wellington’s trolley bus fleet.

“Council ambitions to design and build a new type of natural gas powered bus would increase greenhouse emissions and is an experiment too risky for rate payers” says Mr Bruce. Its historic decision to destroy the trolley system is an unsafe and based on incorrect information and high-end costs. It also contradicts the Council’s own Electric Vehicle officer report encouraging low emission bus fleets. “It is another example of the Council’s left hand not knowing what its right hand is doing” says Mr Bruce.

Mr Bruce added, “existing trolleys have higher passenger capacity than battery buses and they can be used with the planned bus route network and tender process.

More than 300 cities around world are operating and expanding trolley bus networks. They are more popular because they are clean, quiet and quick. Lyon, France has new trolley buses, San Francisco and Seattle have large trolley systems and Beijing and Shanghai Beijing are recoverting failed battery buses to trolleys. “Other cities are building trolley buses with new technical developments to improve trolley bus performance” says Mr Bruce.

“GWRC publicly stated goal is an all-electric bus fleet. It follows that the council make an objective assessment of the trolley buses contribution to city transport needs and environmental impact,” Paul Bruce concluded.



“Civitas” has information on trolleybus installations as the core of networks utilising in-motion charging as in Arnhem, Eberswalde, Esslingen, Gdynia, Landskrona, Linz, Lublin, Riga and Solingen.

Key factors in favour of trolley bus retention include:

  1. The case for trolley buses and their supporting infrastructure to be decommissioned appears short-sighted and does not adequately consider the opportunity provided by the network to support GWRC’s public transport spine strategy. Removal of the overhead distribution network would mean there is no possibility of its being reinstated in the future, due to cost and consent constraints.
  2. Current thinking does not view the distribution network as an asset, seeing it instead as an eyesore and maintenance liability. The cost of removal, estimated at $10.5 M, seems to be an expensive exercise in preventing future opportunities being considered.
  3. World-wide sentiment towards building new trolley bus networks, and retaining and upgrading existing networks means that over 300 cities currently use trolley buses for all or part of their public transport services. Reasons for their increasing popularity include zero emissions, quietness, efficiency and capacity to adapt to new power distribution and battery storage technologies.
  4. Negative perceptions about the quality and reliability of the service provided by the trolley bus fleet should be tested in the public arena. This included perceptions that the buses are slow, prone to breakdown, disruptive when poles are lost and project an outdated, obsolete image of the city and its services. Many of the service quality perceptions can be tested, such as whether trolley buses are in fact slower or less reliable than other transport systems. The effect of effective training on driver retention and capability can also be examined, to provide fact rather than conjecture about supposed skill shortages and drivers’ preferences to operate diesel buses.
  5. The analysis used to provide an estimate of the costs required to maintain the power distribution network is high-level and takes a “total replacement” approach to rectifier equipment and underground distribution cabling. It appears that a detailed review of the underground reticulation system has not been carried out, and its overall condition has not been assessed. A more objective approach to establishing the state of the network should be undertaken.
  6. Bus tender documents specify an east/west trolley bus route to be awarded to the incumbent which contains overhead wiring apart from a short section through the Miramar Gap.
  7. A prototype hybrid vehicle utilising an electric “Wrightspeed” drivetrain on a trolley bus chassis will lead to increased greenhouse emissions, the exact amount unknown until trials have been completed.

One thought on “Business Case for retention of Wellington’s trolley bus network

  1. Hi Paul.

    I’m from Melbourne and am a big fan of the trolleys when ever I’ve been to Wellington. I view them as something which should be embraced as an icon in the same way my home city views it’s trams.

    I was wondering if there is an update on the progress of this business study and if there is any chance of the trolley’s bring retained as a result of it?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *