The Eye of the Fish

May 8, 2014


Following on from the post on Trains, and some discussion there, Wellington also needs to be discussing its buses right now. You have until 4pm on Friday – ie tomorrow! to put in a submission to Greater Wellington Regional Council – – about the future of Wellington.

They’re consulting on the Wellington Public Transport plan – so that means routes, and that means what goes on those routes. Personally, I don’t know whether the route changes proposed are a good thing or a silly thing, or a bad thing. I just don’t venture into the suburbs enough to know whether these have been planned out well, or if it is a disaster. On paper, it seems ok to me. Am I wrong?

But also, and crucially they are consulting on what sort of traffic system they are proposing for the future. Followers of the news – and this blog – will know that it has been reported that they have ruled out Light Rail (if you ask me, because of some really faulty financial diagnostics), and they are planning on ruling out Trolley buses too. We are facing an all Diesel bus future, which to me is a huge step backwards.

Wellington IS the last place in Australasia to have a trolley-bus system, and it breaks down often because it is run down, in anticipation of this. If we had a well maintained system, it wouldn’t break down as much. A classic case of Catch 22 in all of Joseph Heller’s hellish logic.

But so, one thing is certain – you should go to the GW website, and fill out their dinky little form, and put it in to them ASAP, before 4pm tomorrow, because that’s the last chance we will ever have to have a say on the future of transport in this city…

8 - 05 - 14

On a (somewhat) related topic today, and with a headline that is scary in its stupidity, is that the Basin Bridfe Board of Inquiry, has got to the stage of having the “economists” in to talk about costings. That’s going to be interesting. In the mean time, have a read of the DomPost article:

The flyover will, according to this bloke, save the city from economic ruin. Balderdash, I say.

What the Board of Inquiry seems to have shown, without any doubt, is that there are almost no economic advantages (at least until the second tunnel goes ahead). I certainly don’t term 90 seconds decrease in traffic times as much of an economic advantage…

8 - 05 - 14

What I find truely bizarre about the regional council’s transport consulation is the timeframes,

They have been banging on about reorganising the wellignton bus routes for Year and they have asked for submissions on it a number of times, as far back as 2012.

But regarding the type of buses that will be with us for 20+ years, oh here is the report published 4 April and you get until 10 May to submit,

Well frankly with consulation timelines like that,they can take their consulation and stick it, I’ll just keep walking everywhere,

8 - 05 - 14

Max – on paper the plan does look good, and a lot of it is. But read the detail, and some of the gloss comes off.

For instance, it proudly talks about increased frequencies, later services, etc, which for many suburbs is true, but doesn’t tell you upfront that the last bus to Oriental Parade/Roseneath will be an hour earlier than now, or the evening service to Miramar will be reduced by two-thirds, or that peak-only services will finish at 6pm instead of the current 6.30-7.30, or that you will need to change to get from many suburbs to VUW or the hospital where there are currently through services.

None of these things necessarily mean that the proposals are not good overall, but it’s concerning that improvements are emphasised, while reductions in service are mentioned in passing, or not at all (except by digging into the detail).

9 - 05 - 14

Mike – I’m sure you’re right, although I haven’t been into it in that much detail. I’m just hoping that there are lots of people, like yourself, who do take the time to go through the proposal in detail, and can make those pertinent comments. Unlike Greenwelly, I believe that despite their stupid timeframes, we still have a responsibility to provide feedback. Otherwise, things are implemented without our knowledge, and when people complain, we just hear those magical words come back “well, you WERE consulted…”
If something is wrong, we need to tell them that it is wrong.

On the other hand, it is quite possible that Greater Wellington council will be gone and all their hideous unknown Councilors will be gone (go on – name who are GW Councilors without googling the answer – bet you can’t ) and we will probably have a chance to start again. Possibly with some choices no longer available on the menu.

9 - 05 - 14

I’ve given up trying to understand what’s going on.

About two weeks after announcing that trolley buses were going to be phased out, signs have gone up all the way up to Karori announcing overhead trolley bus wire replacement.

Mind you, given their communication style this could actually mean ‘replacing the wires with fresh air’ and they are going to come down. Who knows?

9 - 05 - 14

Brett – no decisions have yet been made on the trolley network, and there’s still an asset to maintained until at least 2017. It would be foolish to just stop maintaining the overhead network, and there are contracts in place to ensure that it is fit for purpose until the last trolley runs (whenever that may be).

The position is complicated, of course, that the power for Go Wellington’s trolleybuses is supplied through Wellington Electricity’s network under contract from Wellington Cable Car, owned by Wellington City Council, which has a contract with Greater Wellington Regional Council, which also has a contract with Go Wellington, which says that its trolleys still have eight years’ life left in them.

Tony Randle
12 - 05 - 14

What the GWRC has kept secret is the fact that much of the Trolley Overhead can no longer be maintained. It has been patched to the point of not being able to patched any more.

This is why the Trolley Overhad Costs have jumped so much. The GWRC is systematically undertakening a total replacement of the trolley wires. The Karori Overhead, for example, is being totally replaced in two stages (Stage One is underway) for a cost of over $4M !

By the time the GWRC gets to “decide” whether to retain the trolley buses, the overhead will be largely new.

The other aspect of the trolley overhead costing $6-9M/year instead of the original budget of $1.5M is these higher costs are driving the fare increases that are killing bus patronage across the region. Keeping the trolley’s comes at the cost of making the bus service more expensive than driving . . . how ironic eh ?

13 - 05 - 14

DomPost: Electric buses without wires are not in the future – they’re here now – by GREG SKELTON 12 May 2014

OPINION: The city of Geneva has recently introduced the TOSA. This is a futuristic-looking electric bus which operates without overhead wires in the central city. Sleek, quiet and contemporary, the TOSA has passed its first trials and is about to go into more active service.

Powered by electricity, it is charged before the start of a shift and between routes at the terminus, and is then topped up with a “flash charge” lasting just 15 seconds at each bus stop. It charges while passengers are boarding and alighting with no delays. The connection to an overhead docking station is automatic, meaning that the driver is not distracted from the core tasks of passenger service and safety.

There are no overhead wires required, diminishing visual pollution and the TOSA is light, without the heavy batteries characteristic of some types of electric buses, making it more roomy for passengers and less cumbersome in the street. The TOSA is just one of many and varied prototypes of new generation electric buses that are coming into service around the world.

The public case seems to be building against trolley buses in the city. That’s because they use much of the same supply infrastructure as the trams which left our streets in the 1960s and which is now at the end of its life. They also suffer from the perception of being slow, heavy, prone to breakdown causing traffic jams and expensive to buy and maintain.

What continues to attract us is their electric propulsion. First and foremost electricity is clean and renewable. It is almost silent in an era when people want less noise pollution in city streets. Electric-powered vehicles can accelerate quickly making them effective where they stop often. It would be unthinkable to not have electric trains in Wellington.

It is generally true that electric systems are currently more expensive to introduce and run than fossil fuel. A refurbished trolley bus system would be particularly expensive, but there are other, new and cost-effective electric technologies currently being proven around the world. The development of low emission public transport systems is well advanced in the EU. Both electric and hydrogen options are being considered. It is generally accepted that these options and their diesel equivalents will be cost comparable within 10-15 years (if not before).

We would agree with the public comments of Zane Fulljames of NZ Bus, the local bus operators, (Public transport needs better customer experience first, 6 May) that the real goal is to get more Wellingtonians onto public transport. To achieve this we need the right routes (and road design), timetables, fare and ticketing systems, but what people ride in – the actual bus – is also a vital part of the package.

New modern eco-friendly TOSA-like vehicles would attract Wellingtonians onto public transport. It happened with the trains, both here and Auckland, but if they fail the reliability test they can lose patronage very quickly.

Public transport infrastructure provision requires us to look 30 or 40 years into the future. The relatively lower cost of fossil fuelled buses is true now, but how long will that remain the situation in the future? New Zealand already generates 75 per cent of its current electricity requirements from renewable energy and will push renewable sources to 90 per cent levels by 2025. This is a unique situation and differentiates us from the rest of the world. We are clearly well placed to take advantage of new electric technology.

The TOSA is the product of customised design by four organisations taking into account local circumstances and requirements. Extra money spent on good design is saved many times over through the life of the asset, and the TOSA is cost competitive with diesel, claim the promoters, even in today’s conditions. Like any modern city, our needs are complex. It is likely a mix of bus types will be required. The TOSA does not operate in isolation. The most judicious approach would be to have a mixed fleet as we have at present and gradually adjust it as technology, renewable energy sources and economics evolve.

New generation electricity- powered vehicles, while not new, are still in a relatively early stage of development. The technology will rapidly mature as cities like Geneva and Wellington take them on. Having part of our fleet on new generation electric buses would get us onto the new technology escalator.

There will be compatibilities with related technologies such as private electric vehicles and light rail as they become more affordable in decades to come. Our business is electricity which puts us in the position of being able to use our international connections to contribute to finding Wellington’s best solution. The run down of the trolley bus infrastructure has placed us in the position where, ironically, we have choices.

Let’s take a leaf out of the book of Geneva’s city leaders and work collaboratively on the factors that will get more Wellingtonians into public transport. A diesel-only solution will not provide all the answers.

Greg Skelton is the chief executive of Wellington Electricity Lines Ltd which supplies the electricity and feeder systems for the trolley buses but not the overhead wire network.