The Eye of the Fish

August 9, 2018

Off the buses

It is becoming increasingly clear that the new Wellington bus network is a bit of a disaster. Initially thought to be just teething problems on the introduction week, it is now fairly obvious that the Regional Council have made a massive cock-up of the transport re-plan. Which is a pity, as they have spent the last several years planning and preparing for it.

Some of the points from a recent Greater Auckland post are just as valid here, proving that the issues are not just confined to the capital. Do these comments sound familiar?

“The design of buses can help speed up or slow down boarding and alighting. Wide doors and numerous tag posts are critical to ensure people don’t get stuck behind those paying with cash or don’t end up in long queues to tag off.”

“Double Deckers have been critical in increasing capacity as demand has grown but they can be painfully slow to unload at busy stops.”

“Allowing all door boarding, which has been proven in many cities to help get people on to buses faster.”

The problem is clearly deeper than just a surface cleanse can fix. The issue is that a few years ago, back when Celia Wade-Brown was Mayor, Wellington undertook a $million dollar study into the public transport system, but the report was unbelievably shonky, barely worth the paper it was written on, full of mis-information and lies, but none the less, the city adopted its findings. Wellington was offered three choices for a possible future public transport spine. One was to stay as we were, with no change. Another was to introduce Light Rail, which was down voted because the Dominion Post swallowed the lie about the costs. And the last option was the one that WCC and GWRC decided to put into practice: Bus Rapid Transit.
thanks Frank
We here at the Fish said at the time that this would not work, and sadly we are being proved completely right. Some of the issues:
• Buses cannot and will not be a viable system of Rapid Transit unless they have a completely separate route to run on.
• The introduction of double-decker buses has, instead of speeding up traffic flow, actually slowed it down considerably. Yes, they hold more people, but this is not taking volume of buses off the road.
• Traffic Jams along Willis St used to consist of a couple of buses – now they consist of up to ten buses, waiting for the double-decker in front load or unload.
• The trolley buses were idiotically removed before a replacement system was in place. And the wires have been hurriedly removed, making it harder for a Light Rail to be installed without extra cost.
• I’ve not yet seen an electric battery bus, so can’t say if they are working out OK, but the influx of new buses, powered by diesel, means that we are going to be a diesel-powered city for decades to come.

I could go on, but it is depressing. The only bright point I could find is this great photo. Thanks Frank!

9 - 08 - 18

One potential win in the sea of despair is that it is becoming clearer that the Trolleys will be reborn as battery buses,(by early 2019) which in the grand scheme is probably a better outcome that being shackled to the old network….and will hopefully allow much wider use off peak,

see item 3.

I have not yet seen an electric DDer, although there are apparently only 3 here (and various sources have said some are currently out of service)- it also appears the charger in island bay is yet to be finished,,,

The Council has better hope that the current fine days continue also, as the “bus hubs” are still few and far between

9 - 08 - 18

Greenwelly – yes, I noticed that article too, and agree that thsi is a rare moment of good news. On the other hand, even the GWRC councilors now agree that their plan is shit:

9 - 08 - 18

Im not sure removing the trolley bus wures has made it harder for light rail given most light rail runs at 750v dc compared to the trolleys’ 600v. It might make it easier as its one less obstruction.

9 - 08 - 18

Thanks Luke – yes, I should have been clearer on that point. It’s the total infrastructure that I was referring to – the wires themselves, the support wires off nearby buildings and poles, the poles themselves, and the electrical substations that supplied the power to the wires. All the infrastructure of the “Cable Company” as it was, before it got bought out by Cheung Kong Infrastructure and Power Assets Holdings, and all of which, it seems to me, could be most useful if you were to decide to set up a Light Rail system one day.

Ostensibly, the GWRC decided to draw an end to the Trolley Buses, as the network of wires that they ran off, had reached the end of its life and was run down. In actual fact, little maintenance had been done on the lines, as the GWRC would not give the company a contract for more than a couple of years at a time, so it was no wonder that the system was run down. I had this conversation with the Cable Company over 15 years ago, and it was having troubles with the GWRC then. Since then it has had the ownership changed multiple times:

“The ownership of Wellington Electricity has changed significantly: Wellington City Council Municipal Electricity Department (MED) and the Hutt Valley Electric Power Board (HVEPB) merged their electricity assets. In 1992… two new companies were formed, Capital Power and Energy Direct respectively. In 1996, the Canadian owned power company TransAlta acquired both companies… 1 April 1999. Ownership of the lines network was passed to United Networks in 1998, which Vector acquired in 2003. In July 2008, the network was purchased by Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings Limited and Hong Kong Electric Holdings Limited to create Wellington Electricity. Hong Kong Electric Holdings Limited changed its name on 16 February 2011 to Power Assets Holdings Limited.” (shortened version of info from Wikipedia).

It’s no wonder that we have no control over our bus network, when even the owners have little interest in the outcome. It’s an abortion. Renationalise it pronto, put the ownership back in the hands of the people of Wellington, so we have control over our own destiny and the power to do something about it.

10 - 08 - 18

The actual ownership was split,

The Trolley Bus “wires” ie the things you say in the air, were owned by WCCL i.e Wellington council right to the and

Its the feeders from the Power network that we owned by Hong Kong, and to be honest they were stuffed, there were continual cases of it tripping with too much load,

Any light rail would have been build with a totally new power supply system, which would have involved new overheads along with new and more feeder substations (just like what happened around the rail network to allow the Matangi fleet)

10 - 08 - 18

In terms of electric buses, the Sustainable Transport Committee voted on the 8th (iirc) on this resolution:

Indicative cost, staff resources and timing of report on transition to an electric bus fleet:
Officers have undertaken a preliminary assessment of the likely staff and cost implications of undertaking the work in resolution 6. Additiona l budget would be required to undert ake this work. While it is difficult to assess the true costs of the work with out a scoping study, officers envisage the work will require specialist external res ource (estimated at around $60,000 plus GST) to cover the technical aspects asso ciated with moving to an all-electric fleet a nd allocation to certain route s. Additional staff resources (possibly 0.25 to 0.50 FTE) will also be required to scope and manage the work stream, and to p rovide an analysis of the costs associated with fleet replacement, operational impacts and staging. If requested, we could proceed with this work now, with a view to providing advice before December 2018. Such advice would, however, need t o fit within the broader policy context for public transport, including our vision for the future of the Metlink fleet and the development of bus priority and rapid transit on core corridors. Officers’ preference therefore, would be to work with Committee members to clarify the scope of a policy on electric buses (and other stra tegic issues) via the planned workshops, before committing to a detailed work pro gramme. If this approach is considered acceptable, officers would look to do some preliminary work on this issue to inform discussion at the firs t PT Plan review workshop on 5 September 2018.


The mentioned Resolution 6 was the one that I think got picked up by the newspaper a few weeks ago (converting Karori/Seatoun to electric over the next year and all new buses fully electric, the full details are in the previous minutes section of the order paper) and it looks like the council thinks that a lot of the heat is being taken off them regarding electrification and that they can afford to drag their feet. Central govt should really be putting a bit more pressure on them, to be honest.

I am pleased to see that most complaints are focusing on the implementation of the network, because that’s obviously been rushed given that the hubs and so forth haven’t been implemented, and because I think the network design itself is solid: the problem is that the spines were implemented with buses and not LRT! (The frequent routes themselves are the spines that will be converted to mass-transit when the councils decide to pay for that:- north-south (#1), east-west (#2) and newtown/airport (#3), and hubbing should become much more reliable once the hubs themselves are open and NZBus gets their larger buses for the Karori/Seatoun route in (allegedly) six months).

There does need to be a lot more openness in the way that Metlink is engaging the public.

BTW, I have seen some electric double deckers on the road on the #1 route (so they are out there), but obviously three out of a couple of hundred buses is not much at all.

10 - 08 - 18

Dropping trolleys actually seems a no brainer when you look at what the regional councillors were presented with. $50+ mill to upgrade substations plus $4-8 mill a year to maintain the overhead wires for just 60 trolley buses out of a fleet of around 500 buses.

Instead a plan to make all buses electric across the whole region starting with 32 double deck electric buses, and NZBus planning to convert the 60 former trolleys to some form of battery operation (was to be Wrightspeed… now??). NZBus didn’t deliver on the Wrightspeed converted trolleys as intended so a whole lot of temporary diesel buses.

But big picture is still moving to having the whole fleet electric without the cost of substations and overhead wires.

10 - 08 - 18

I have spotted electric deckers in the city on routes 1 and 7 and even got a ride on one the other day from the station heading towards Kingston. Seems to be doing runs in the morning. With the charging station in Island Bay not finished I guess they can only do a few runs in the morning peak before having to go back to depot to charge.

Great seeing it quietly glide by in the city and a nice ride. Only downside is it doesn’t seem to have aircon so windows can fog up. Otherwise electric buses, bring em on!

Seamonkey Madness
13 - 08 - 18

I’m pretty sure I was nearly electric bus-fodder when I was biking home of a Friday night.

Was going along the Old Hutt Road and about to cross the bus depot driveway, when a bus turned across the southbound lane into the depot. It had plenty of exterior signage pointing to it being electric, along with the silent running and what looked like an array of batteries on it’s roof (although that may have been an air-con unit, but it was the wrong size and location for that).

13 - 08 - 18

Thanks all for the interesting feedback.

I had a long-lost cousin from overseas come visit the other day, and it was interesting to observe his reaction to Wellington removing its trolley buses, and proposing to replace them, one day, when they eventually get round to replacing the diesels with electric units. His comment, quite simply, was: “But that’s stupid – it is so much more efficient to serve the electricity on the go, rather than to try and store it up in batteries. That is so inefficient and so stupid!”

And that’s my belief too. Batteries for cars ie the Tesla – are very heavy – and a bit unstable (ie Samsung phones and the odd Tesla overheating and catching on fire) – and batteries for buses would be massively heavy, and need charging frequently. Much more efficient to supply power to a bus on the go.

But so here is an alternative for Alex. Instead of looking at it like he / she does, as “$50+ mill to upgrade substations plus $4-8 mill a year to maintain the overhead wires for just 60 trolley buses out of a fleet of around 500 buses.” – why not look at it as “$50 mill to upgrade substations, ready to permit Light Rail when it eventually, inevitably arrives here” – and no need to buy another 200-300 diesel buses as GWRC have stupidly decided to do. Let’s say, by some miracle, that a LR system is installed within the next 5-10 years. What are they going to do with the 300 new buses they have bought? They’re a massive, retrograde step IMHO.

Seamonkey Madness
14 - 08 - 18

To clarify, it was a single-decker electric (I think).

14 - 08 - 18

Seamonkey: if it was black, it was NZ Bus’s prototype electric bus, converted from trolley 361, which generally seems to operate on the airport-CBD short workings of the Airport Flyer. (And no, it’s not the Wrightspeed one, ex trolley 362, described by Cr Daran Ponter on RNZ’s Nine to Noon as “a dud”.)

And BTW, it’s plain ordinary Hutt Rd – there’s no “Old” in the name.

Let’s talk about buses. – M28 A31
17 - 08 - 18

[…] but as everything is now branded Metlink I’m including it here. Some people have also been complaining (citing Eye of the Fish here because I can’t find the stuff article now) that double decker […]