by Paul Bruce

Congestion Free Wellington held its first public meeting on 25th May with strong support for its Declaration. The meeting also showed strong support for the extension of our 100% clean and zero emission trolley buses on the east/west route at least until 2015, or when light rail should be commissioned.

The Sustainable Transport Committee on 21st March heard a request that a Business Case be carried out for Wellington’s trolley bus network, as the Council had at no time during the process, done this. The petition was supported by the Civic Trust, Sustainable Energy Forum, Living Streets Aotearoa, FIT, Save the Basin, OraTaiao and Dr Susan Krumdieck.

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.

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 reconverting failed battery buses to trolleys. Other cities such as Zurich and Istanbul, are building trolley buses with new technical developments to improve trolley bus performance.

Despite discussion and some Councillor support, the response through the Chief Executive was to reaffirm the decision to not renew the trolley contracts on 30 June, apart form short term extensions to aid transition to a new fleet.

We are deeply saddened by Council’s unwillingness to assess objectively the value of Trolley Buses, and also note the lack of transparency in confusing statements by the Chair maintaining progress towards a low emission fleet.

The proposed Wrightspeed hybrid replacement of the trolley buses by NZBus utilising a gas turbo (diesel) motor appears to be in trouble, with a wall of silence from all parties. Cr Daran Ponter said that it was unclear why the delays had occurred, and the patience of some councillors was wearing thin.

There are two aspects to emissions: air quality and greenhouse emissions (GHE), and the two should not be lumped together as higher air quality standards don’t always lead to lower GHE.

Scoop looked at what the new tender documents might mean:.

“When you look at last week’s announcements about new bus contracts, the Tranzit plan is described as building 228 new buses, all of them diesel though with Euro 6 certification, the highest global emission (air quality) standard…”  

Recent revelations relating to filters installed on vehicles, indicated that in the real world, performance was quite different to “in factory”.  Euro 5 and especially euro 6 filters are expensive to maintain on diesel buses, and the temptation will be to not renew so that their effectiveness will diminish over time. Euro 6 standards are still unable to remove the very small 2.5 micron particles which are responsible for cancers and respiratory disease leading to the WMO classifying diesel as a class one toxic carcinogenic equal to asbestos.

And we will never know how effective the filters are, as no testing is required in New Zealand – GWRC rejected my proposed amendment allowing for spot tests in future contracts.

There will be a jump in both greenhouse emissions and in particulates with more diesels on the golden mile, contrary to the claims of Chair Chris Laidlaw.  The Wrightspeed model will also lead to a decrease in air quality and an increase in greenhouse emissions. There is also serious concerns about their viability as no where else in the world have they been tested as part of an operational public transport fleet.

The public are asked to have faith that a profit driven operator will keep to set standards – a game of smoke and mirrors.

Meanwhile NZ Bus chief executive Zane Fulljames is saying his company hasn’t yet decided whether to buy Wrightspeed hybrids – it will decide during the testing process. Scoop reports Keith Flinders as saying:

Wrightspeed is hybrid technology and after 12 months since the first trolley bus conversion started it hasn’t been on trial yet. One might conclude that the GWRC is being misled on the suitability for this technology given Wellington’s terrain, and alas GWRC officers don’t have the engineering knowledge to decide either way.

The decommissioning of the Trolley Bus overhead electrical network is scheduled to commence in November 2017 with a planned completion date 12 months later.