What price trolleys?

May 5th, 2014 at 8:59 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Sad as it will be to see them go, Wellington should get rid of its trolley buses. The case is sound.

To work properly, systems need to be fast, reliable and affordable. Wellington has fine , with unusually high passenger numbers, but trolley buses are hampering it on all of these fronts.

To keep the trolleys running, a major $52 million electricity infrastructure upgrade looms. Beyond that, simply maintaining their overhead wires costs $6m per year.

And money spent on the trolleys is money that could be spent on providing more or faster public transport.

Critics say dropping trolley buses is environmentally daft, because of their low carbon emissions. (They’re responsible only for what’s produced by generating their electricity).

In fact, the bus fleet will get cleaner from 2018 regardless of which replacement option is chosen, because of the significant fuel-efficiency improvements in new diesel buses.

On a deeper level, it’s clear the best way to reduce transport-related carbon emissions is to get people out of their cars. That’s not easy – as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott once put it, ”even the humblest person is king in his own car”.

Maybe they could invest some of the money used on trolleys into safer cycleways, which is near zero carbon emissions for use!

The best counter to this is an excellent, reliable public transport system. Every measure that makes buses faster and cheaper encourages more people to take them. Green MPs of all people should recognise this, and drop their Save the Trolleys talk.The other argument for holding on to the buses is nostalgia; they’ve been a recognisable feature in Wellington’s urban landscape since 1924. 
This is fair up to a point, but the buses are working vehicles that people rely on, not municipal decorations.

No one should get too misty-eyed over this. Only 20 per cent of the city’s current fleet are trolleys. They don’t operate at weekends at all, and they’re frequently hauled off entire routes when roadworks or other problems arise.

So the city should say goodbye to the buses. 

I like the trolleys, but I don’t think sentiment should stand in the way of doing what’s right.

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25 Responses to “What price trolleys?”

  1. Chris2 (766 comments) says:

    I don’t live in Wellington now, but I did for five years in Glenmore Street.

    The silent trolley bus was great during the day but in the evening or weekends they were replaced by diesel and as the diesel buses roared up Tinakori and Glenmore Streets to Karori you could not even hear your TV from inside your own home.

    Of course this type of impact on peoples’ lives would never be considered by the bureaucrats. Wellington will becomes a noisy fumed-filled city like all the rest, losing a part of its charm.

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  2. dave_c_ (219 comments) says:

    In the light of the Auckland public transport initiatives, their associated implementations, and corresponding failures, I hold little credence of even the Wellington council’s credentials to make such a change successfully. (and affordably)

    Until they can show me that the cost of use for these new buses will not escalate into an unaffordable public transport option for the user, I wont be voting for any counsellor who currently advocates such a large project !

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  3. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    Maybe they could invest some of the money used on trolleys into safer cycleways, which is near zero carbon emissions for use!

    Or maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe DPF should start voting for the Green party.

    In my opinion the best option for Wellington is to make it lower density, and begin moving government departments out of the CBD to Porirua and the Hutt. Or NZ could build a capital on flat land somewhere else, forcing public servants to live in a new Canberra. Maybe they could use Palmerston North. It’s what they deserve.

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  4. Peter (1,713 comments) says:

    All the buses in Wellington are a nightmare. Loud. Obnoxious. Ever present. They should be sent around the outside.

    As for trolleys, the business case isn’t there and they are unreliable. I support getting rid of them.

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  5. dave53 (91 comments) says:

    The ComPost has swallowed the anti-trolley propaganda of Labour regional councillors Paul Swain and Fran Wilde without scrutiny.

    They want to scrap quiet, pollution-free electric buses that are just five years old. What a waste of this very recent investment. They propose to replace them with polluting diesel buses that will be owned by the regional council (which now owns the trains) rather than the listed company which made the huge investment in modern trolley buses. The aim is to remove Infratil as a bus operator, letting the routes to a multitude of bus operators paid as little as possible to run the council-owned buses.

    The wires do not cost $6 million a year to maintain. That is the figure for upgrading them — most routes have received upgraded overhead wires in the past seven years which means only small parts of the network (mainly the Karori route) still require renewal. It would be a bizarre waste of this recent investment to rip out wires that have decades of life left in them. The cost of maintaining the wires (ie tower wagon crews on standby to fix problems) is $2 million a year.

    It is not the fault of the trolleys that they are only used on weekdays. They should be used seven days a week from first bus to last, which would make them more economical on a per-km run basis.

    Trolley buses run in more than 300 cities around the world — for example, Rome, Athens, San Francisco, Vancouver, Salzburg, Mexico City, Boston, Naples. Lyon, Arnhem, Philadelphia, Beijing, Sao Paulo, Mendoza, Milan, Bergen, Moscow, Shanghai, Dayton, Seattle, St Petersburg, and hundreds more. They are being introduced in such places as Leeds. Trolley buses are not some blast from the past, they are used in so many cities because of their quiteness and lack of pollution.

    Just one of the West Wind turbines powers the entire Wellington trolley bus system.

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  6. somewhatthoughtful (466 comments) says:

    Maybe the dom post could stop helping NZBus in their campaign to kill it and instead encourage NZBus to do the job they’re paid very handsomely to do.

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  7. 2boyz (262 comments) says:

    In the long run it’s a mistake (Personal thoughts) . One thing we can be sure of is the ever increasing cost of diesel, hopefully not so much for electricity.

    As for being affordable, I thought numbers were going down on the buses due to Regional Councils obsession with putting the fares up (because patronage was going down, figure that one out).

    I have very little faith in Fran & co, but apparently they were democratically voted in!

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  8. seanmaitland (501 comments) says:

    “Maybe they could invest some of the money used on trolleys into safer cycleways, which is near zero carbon emissions for use!”

    If someone’s riding a bike up to Kelburn from town, they’ll be expending ten times the amount of CO2 that they would’ve by sitting on the bus with a normal heartrate.

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  9. RRM (9,933 comments) says:

    My Dad was a boy in Wellington in the 1950s and he gets all teary-eyed about the trolley busses. Every time he comes to visit us he goes for a ride on one.

    I’ve lived and worked in Wellington since 2006, (first for 3 years in Kelburn and then 2 years in Karori) and I came to LOATHE the bloody trolley buses.

    Grinding up Glenmore street and Chaytor St at 20km/h.
    Stopping in the middle of the fricken road to let people on and off, because the way someone’s parked prevents them swinging into the bus stop.
    The poles coming off the wires with monotonous regularity at the horseshoe bend under the viaduct.
    The slow and steady pace with which the drivers get out and plod around to the rear to re-mount the poles on the wires when they come off.

    The trolley buses probably seemed pretty clever in 1955 when they were half the size of the present ones, and the roads had a quarter of the traffic. But they are just a pain in the arse now!

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  10. dave53 (91 comments) says:

    LOATHE the bloody trolley buses.

    Well I have lived in Karori for 10 years and catch them to and from work regularly.

    In my experience, they are fine when they have a confident driver who just goes at full normal traffic speed without fear of losing the poles, which rarely happens with such a driver. My driver this morning for example just went flat out between stops and the poles stayed on.

    Unconfident drivers who creep along at the 20kmh you rightly complain of in my experience will lose their poles up to half a dozen times on a trip, almost always on a straight stretch of road. Their fear of losing their poles is what causes the poles to come off.

    I have been on trolley buses in many cities overseas and found them to be fast, quiet and comfortable and their poles have not once come off in any city except Wellington.

    The lack of confident drivers is because the drivers are paid only cents above the minimum wage and leave to drive trucks etc once they have got enough HT experience, and so many have little experience of driving a trolley.

    One thing a trolley does not do is grind. They glide. It is not their fault if some arse is parked in a bus stop. Diesel buses can’t get in either.

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  11. RRM (9,933 comments) says:

    dave53

    Someone told me the other problem is that the little carbon contacts at the tops of the poles are not always replaced as often as they should be, and nice new contacts glide along the wires happily but old flogged out ones do not.

    I’ve often thought I’d be a bus driver in retirement if I could, because I like driving and I like looking after customers, two traits that many bus drivers seem to lack…

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  12. SPC (5,643 comments) says:

    Oh please ignore the pollies, complete the system maintenance/upgrade and use them for the full life cycle of the existing equipment, and if the case for change still stacks up, then make the change.

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  13. Yogibear (366 comments) says:

    SPC – the problem with your comment, if I read the GW information correctly, is you invest in a network with a 60 year life to (and associated costs) in order to get another 10 years out of a motor body upgrade.

    Thats just batty. Its the equivalent of building a new set of stables for horse-drawn trams in the 1920s.

    Critical to note that the trolleys are still on 1980s chassis’ and motors. Its only the coach that was upgraded. Its an out-moded technology that will be obsolete in 10 years.

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  14. rouppe (971 comments) says:

    I’m in San Francisco at the moment, and they have retained their overhead write trolley buses, making them as ‘zero emissions vehicles’. Not only that, but they retain their cable cars, on which they have to replace the wooden brake pads every the days, and completely replace the underground cable every few years.

    I think it’s a mistake to remove them

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  15. Yogibear (366 comments) says:

    Rouppe – As with all electric vehicles that run on renewables – they are only zero emission if you ignore the manufacturing and disposal process.

    What the EV/zero emmissions zealots always forget to tell you is once you factor in the manufacturing process, including batteries (incredibly carbon intensive), overhead wires, the concrete (incredibly carbon intensive) poured for the substations etc, the modern internal combustion engine compares bloody favourably by any environmental measure.

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  16. Tony Randle (10 comments) says:

    I think the key point in the DomPost Editorial is “Only 20 per cent of the city’s current fleet are trolleys. They don’t operate at weekends at all, and they’re frequently hauled off entire routes when roadworks or other problems arise.” They also don’t mention they cannot operate to many areas of Wellington including anywhere north of the Railway Station.

    Seriously, what is the benefit of investing $52 Million on a new power system when there are only 60 trolley buses ? We could spend these 10s of millions but most Wellington PT users will still ride to work on diesel buses and the golden mile will still be full of diesel buses.

    Even worse. Keeping the trolley’s is the main reason why our bus fares are so high and this is driving people back to cars. This year the One Zone cash fare will go to $2.50 (child fare to $2.00) to fund the $5M cost blowout fixing the trolley overhead wire. “Green supporters” seem to think the choice we face is between keeping the trolley buses and switching to diesel buses. In fact the real choice is between:
    * keeping the trolley buses leading to higher and higher fares to pay for them and so have more people drive to work or
    * switching to improved diesel (or hybrid electric) buses that enable cheaper fares so more people can get out of their cars and take public transport to work.

    IMO Wellington can have a public transport system that is “fast, reliable and affordable” or we can keep the trolley buses.

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  17. mandk (998 comments) says:

    @ dave53

    Do you happen to know why the trolley buses don’t run at weekends? I’ve often wondered.

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  18. Left Right and Centre (2,986 comments) says:

    In response to chris2 – I drove a diesel bus up and down Glenmore St one and a half times a week day on my permanent shift.

    There are plenty of weekday services that are diesels that use Glenmore St.

    And even then – factor in these points – trucks would also be fucking loud as would be idiots who like their cars drawing attention. I know from an ex g/f living on the road to the tip how loud traffic is – don’t worry about that. You’d have to live right near a bus stop or something to hear a bus roaring as it takes off. And that’s if you floor it. That’s going uphill. You’ll never hear anything coasting downhill. A diesel circa 1996 onwards cruising uphill – how loud is that exactly ? Pulling out of a stop maybe – but between stops passing houses – um – not so sure about that. The newer diesels at 40-50km/h constant speed give off a smooth quiet whine. The problem as a driver was holding your concentration in the fuckers – they were too good and too easy to drive.

    I wonder if people who actually take the bus mind being so near to a stop or route ? And also – don’t live on a bus route. It’s not compulsory. Price should reflect desirability of the location. Obviously you’re not going to spend zillions to work out how to cater to a small minority affected by traffic noise. And anyway – you’d still have trucks. A lot of big trucks make a lot more noise than than a new bus. I loved the smooth auto change into top gear on the new buses. It was imperceptibly subtle if you coaxed the change with the gas pedal. The engine whine would make a beautiful sounding decent but zero change in the ride. You couldn’t feel it change at all – just hear it. And it would hold top gear down to maybe around 40km/h and pick up speed no trouble ‘in the wrong gear’ if you wanted which was just wonderful. On those rare occasions I got to drive the 700 series MAN – hahaha.

    MANSL202 and Leyland Leopards ? Sure – they could wake the dead. Gone now though.

    And that was 12-15 years ago. You can’t read anything anywhere and just swallow it. People are full of shit.

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  19. dave53 (91 comments) says:

    Do you happen to know why the trolley buses don’t run at weekends? I’ve often wondered.

    It is because of Greater Wellington Regional Council. They will not allow weekend operation, even though the 2007 contract requires itl They don’t even want to know about weekday evening trolley use, also required by the contract, but Infratil does run weeknight trolleys maybe one night in ten.

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  20. Kea (12,841 comments) says:

    Maybe they could invest some of the money used on trolleys into safer cycleways

    Or maybe not !

    Wellington is a busy working city and hundreds of Road Lice demanding ever increasing special “rights” (as they always do) will hamper traffic flow and cost a fortune.

    With the geography of the region bikes will remain play things and an indulgence of white middle class pricks with silly jobs that do not really need doing.

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  21. dave53 (91 comments) says:

    IMO Wellington can have a public transport system that is “fast, reliable and affordable” or we can keep the trolley buses.

    Oh hello Mr Diesel

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  22. dave53 (91 comments) says:

    IMO Wellington can have a public transport system that is “fast, reliable and affordable” or we can keep the trolley buses.

    Oh hello Mr Diesel Bus man, you even want to convert the trains to diesel buses. Even the Auckland ones. So sad.

    Like rust, you never sleep. Do they pay you?

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  23. Left Right and Centre (2,986 comments) says:

    Do you happen to know why the trolley buses don’t run at weekends? I’ve often wondered.

    Here’s another reason – back in my day no bastard wanted to know about the fuckers on weekends. They couldn’t keep up with the timetable. Shift times were just stupid – drivers knew they were up against it and that makes it harder to get weekend shifts covered when you’ve got half your staff on ‘part-time’ contracts who weren’t obligated to do weekend work. Who wants to work a sixth day on the weekend and spend it in a stinking trolley bus getting hammered by heavy passenger loads heavy traffic and non-stop turnarounds ? Exactly. All diesel weekend was just a shitload easier for all concerned.

    Also a pain in the arse with the breakdown and recovery rate and needing to have overhead crews on to deal with wires coming down. Also power cuts on weekends – not fun. Also weekend traffic is hell which didn’t help trying to keep to timetable.

    I did drive a trolley on a weekend shift once or twice. Fucking hell. Karori Park-Lyall Bay 10am-4pm on a Sat in a trolley ? Fake a heart attack and get a standby sent out before you have a real one – hahahahaha

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  24. Left Right and Centre (2,986 comments) says:

    I was indoctrinated by union bigwigs about the story of the trolleys and how they survived various attempts to get rid of them.

    With all the climate change crap you’d think they’d have a very good fighting chance now much more so than in the 70’s-90s.

    dave53 – you know they can’t go at normal traffic speed. It doesn’t matter who’s driving one. There’s some corners that are only guaranteed at 15km/h !! Far out. I was taught that most corners are safe enough at 25km/h. Some are 20 and you soon learn the speeds for each bit of wire. I used to have one trolley route every day so I got to know it well but still. You can’t lose your poles in a diesel and it can do the legal speed limit anywhere.

    Their fear of losing their poles is what causes the poles to come off.

    That is just pure bullshit !! Going over the speed for a bit of wire is why the poles come off. Or the pole heads are fucked and the bus needs fixing. The yeehaa in a hurry drivers lost their poles – living on the limit. They had all the confidence in the world. If you want to play spot the beginner – yep – they’re excruciatingly slow and staring up at the wire tentatively all the time.

    Every curve in the overhead has the potential to throw a pole. Every single one. Some you can hit at 40-45 . . . and it varies right down from say 30-35 down to 15, but 20-25 should be safe enough for any corner.

    And they got slower in the wet. Because drivers don’t want to get out in the rain and wind to put the poles back up so they ease off another 5-10km/h to really make sure of it – hahahaha. And then some old farts and others were just painfully slow. Not me – I would push the pieces of shit as much as I could. Lost the poles a lot too.

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  25. Left Right and Centre (2,986 comments) says:

    I can relate well to RRM’s post. I’m nodding in agreement with most of that.

    Horseshoe bend – I’m guessing especially coming downhill – natural tendency to be rolling fast coming into it – drop the speed too late and bang !!

    It’s the kind of job that suited the patient old farts who took all day to do anything – and took all day to get out to put the poles back up. Being young I would run to the back and do it as fast as I could. This is how the pros do it if you’re near a red light in the CBD and you know roughly how long it’s going to be red for – you lose a pole – look in mirror that it’s dropped and not tangling in overhead – and then coast up to red light. And then do it – get back in – you lost nothing !! Light is still red or for an A+ you catch it turning green-yellow – hahahahaha. One issue was getting out – and some lowlife would take a driver’s cashbox. I learnt to take cashbox with me too – didn’t happen to me but fuck you’ve got to think of everything. Cost more time to do that too.

    In horrendous weather the poles came off at the Airport roundabout once – at fuckin 10-15km/h. They got blown away literally. And try to get them back on – can’t even see anything. Don’t drive near trees either being a smart prick hugging the left shoulder for ‘style’.

    I had one prick at the start of the Main Rd in Karori from his ute complain that the speed limit is 50km/h – too funny. Having followed me up the very painful bendy hill at an average zero km/h. Hard to explain ‘trolleys101′ in a two second interaction.

    And they were actually noisy. If I knew I had a long time on the phase turning left into Dixon St – I’d turn the fucking thing off and my peak load and I sat in dead silence waiting for a green. And you’d turn it off as soon as you could. The new ones are quiet when idling and in general. Not the old ones – horrible.

    They only good thing about them was they had good doors without a handbrake lock – and if you held your foot down with the hand brake on and then let it go with good timing – which is easy – a fast trolley would slingshot out of the blocks. Did it out of a Lambton Quay stop and resulting steering wheel turns lock to lock to keep up was interesting. Busier than a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad. Is that enough trolley memories ? Probably.

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