Your health is being impacted by noxious gases, particulate matter (soot) and excessive noise if you cycle, walk, eat or drink outside in the CBD, or live along the diesel bus routes.
Wellington's bus network has recently undergone a complete overhaul in terms of routes, operators and buses. The trolley bus network that covered the majority of Wellington city has been torn down without a proper plan to replace the clean and green trolley buses with an equivalent.
The GWRC decision was made without considering the greater impact on the environment and well-being of the public, and seemingly without all other options being explored or costed.
"Introducing a fleet of modern diesel buses would be the cheapest option, but was the worst-performing option on carbon emissions and reduces harmful local emissions by a smaller amount than either the battery electric or diesel-hybrid options" - [Wellington Regional Public Transport plan 2014]
It is suggested that councillors made their decision based on inaccurate and unverified statements about the condition of the buses and infrastructure. The public has been told that the trolley buses were removed for the following reasons:
"Trolley buses wouldn't be compatible with the new routes" - Not so as the trolley buses could have remained in operation on most routes in the new network, notably the East-West route (Karori to Seatoun). For other routes, battery-equipped trolley buses could have been used. These are used in many cities around the world including San Francisco, Vancouver and Beijing.
"Trolley buses were falling apart" - Not so as most were less than 10 years old in 2017, they were deemed suitable to convert to the now abandoned Wrightspeed technology and are now likely to become battery electric buses. The first battery conversion, bus 361, is now on trial.
"Overhead wires need total replacement costing between $18 million and $52 million" - Not so as most of the overhead infrastructure was finally brought up to date in 2012 (Karori route) and 2015/16 most of the rest of the system. Little maintenance was done on the overhead wires for 25 years leading to trolley buses reliability issues. All the overhead wiring was destroyed 2017/18.
"Underground feeder cables all need replacing" - Not so, although the Hania St sub station feeder cables were damaged more than once by roading contractors and needed partial replacement.
"Sub station circuit breakers and rectifiers needed replacing due to their age" - This is correct, but what happened to the millions paid by the GWRC to the WCC-owned Wellington Cable Ltd for this purpose? Wellington Cable Car Ltd was paying the WCC very healthy dividends year after year, so we can deduce just where that money was coming from? The sub station equipment should have been progressively replaced from the early 1990s but wasn't. Now Wellington Cable Car Ltd is haemorrhaging money.
Are we to believe all we are told? If you dig a little deeper, you will find out that these aren't the only reasons...
The Public Transport Operating Model
In the early 1990’s changes in regulation saw most of the public bus companies in New Zealand privatised. Wellington City Transport, a public entity owned by the council was sold off and eventually became Go Wellington. We have gone from a council run public transport network which was operated very cheaply to a fully corporatised model that is returning a worse service. We are now paying more for less. Up until the trolley bus network was decommissioned, Go Wellington had an automatic monopoly on the routes in Wellington City because they were the ones that owned the trolley buses. Other parts of Wellington were serviced by several other bus operators.
The Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM) seems to be the root cause of the demise of Wellington's trolley buses.
Introduced in 2012 by then-transport minister Stephen Joyce, the PTOM was designed to force competition upon the public transport industry, which would in theory reduce costs to the tax payer. The PTOM dictates that bus companies must bid on individual bus routes within a region 'to grow the commerciality of public transport services' and to ensure 'access to public transport markets for competitors'.
The companies that put in the cheapest tenders get to operate the routes, which has created a race to the bottom. Bus drivers who are driving for Tranzit, the company that won contracts to operate the majority of the routes in Wellington, earn up to $200 less than they did when they drove for Go Wellington (NZ Bus). This has led Tranzit to claim a 'driver shortage' and ask the government to import workers from overseas when this all could be avoided by paying fair wages.
In 2012, the PTOM also stated that 'Regions need to consider the implications of PTOM now, and if necessary, change their strategic public transport planning and procurement approach in consultation with the NZTA'. It's clear that the NZTA and the Greater Wellington Regional Council saw the trolley bus network as incompatible with the PTOM.
Absolutely Positively False Promises
When the last of the electric trolley buses were removed in 2017 the people of Wellington were promised "a steady conversion of the region's buses to full electric", however the reality is that in 2018 Wellington has 420 standard diesel ones, one converted trolley bus and 10 battery powered double-decker buses (only 2 are in service currently, and at the time of writing this post, one of those is broken down and sitting in the bus yard). There will be no hybrid buses as originally indicated in 2014. To replace the 60 electric trolley buses an even larger number of old and polluting Euro 3 emission standard buses were bought down from Auckland. These will be staying until at least 2025 unless ratepayers put pressure on the Greater Wellington Regional Council to introduce electric battery buses promptly. There is NO commitment in the Greater Wellington Regional Council draft long term plan (LTP) to accelerate the replacement of polluting diesels with electric buses in the next 10 years, which means we are stuck with these diesel buses indefinitely.
All diesel vehicles emit cancer causing particulate matter and greenhouse gases. The old diesel buses from Auckland that only meet the 18 year old emissions standard Euro 3 (current is Euro 6) will remain in service until at least 2025. Prolonged exposure to Nitrous Oxides and other fine particulate matter in diesel exhaust can gradually cause health problems such as cardiovascular disease, cardiopulmonary disease, and lung cancer. This is a very real hazard to everyone living or working in Central Wellington where there are now 120 diesel bus services travelling up and down the golden mile per hour in peak times (from the train station, up Lambton Quay and along Manners Street and Courtenay Place). Pedestrians walking the streets, cyclists stuck choking behind buses, 9-to-5 office workers and even people in passenger vehicles will suffer from this increase of exposure.
Noise pollution from the increase of diesel buses has also degraded the environment in Wellington City. The amount of noise along ex-trolley bus routes has increased by 4 decibels. Noise is stressful and it's often hard to hear people speaking right beside you as a diesel bus roars past. It is estimated that the increase of noise from the removal of the trolley buses has decreased the value of properties along ex-trolley routes, with a conservative estimate being a 5% reduction.
Wellington is the only city in the world to replace non polluting public transport with old Euro 3 diesel buses, since New Zealand ratififed the Paris Climate Accord in 2016. Over 300 cities around the world use trolley buses and more are adopting them. The town of Piatra Neamt in Romania (pop 85,000) withdrew their trolley buses but after much public pressure put them back in service. Wellington City has a population of 212,000 (2018) and expected to be 250,000 by 2043.
One former trolley bus, #361, has been converted to battery only operation and from reports its trials are proceeding well. #361 is distinctive not only by its black/blue livery, but also by batteries on its roof. We want to see the rest of the trolley buses converted and operating on Wellington streets in the immediate future.
Converted trolley bus #361 with an array of batteries mounted on the roof