31 Oct 2017

New govt won't intervene on Wellington's trolley buses

11:36 am on 31 October 2017

Transport Minister Phil Twyford has ruled out intervening to save Wellington's trolley buses because the cost would be too great.

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Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The trolley buses are set to be withdrawn today, but drivers threatened with redundancy, public transport campaigners, health advocates and some Wellington City councillors had pinned their hopes on the new government to save the network.

Mr Twyford said he spoke to officials yesterday and concluded it would cost too much to reverse the decision.

Tens of millions of dollars would have to be spent on cancelling contracts with companies which had hired staff and equipment to decommission the wires, and restoring decommissioned buses.

But Mr Twyford said he wanted issues like this dealt with better in future and promised a government policy statement requiring passenger transport systems to be developed with climate change to the fore.

Trolley buses have rattled around Wellington since the 1920s, antennae clinging on and sometimes falling off overhead electricity cables.

Wellington's regional council decided three years ago to kill them off, due to the $6 million higher cost per year than the same number of diesel buses and extra investment needed to bring the electrical distribution system up to standard.

They were supposed to be phased out four months ago and converted into hybrid diesel-electric buses, but had a temporary stay of execution as a working prototype had yet to hit the road.

The council has signed a contract with Masterton-based company Tranzit - which will take over some routes next year - to introduce 10 double-decker electric buses next July, followed by another 10 in 2020 and a further 12 in July 2021. Congestion Free Wellington - an umbrella group of transport and health advocacy groups - said 32 electric buses out of a total fleet of 400 was "unambitious".

Mr Twyford said it would have been ideal if there had been a full fleet of electric buses to take over.

"But that is not the case, that is not going to happen, and it is going to take some time I think to transition to a low carbon option for Wellington public transport.

"But in the meantime the costs would be prohibitive to reverse the decommissioning process that is already underway and we do not thank that is justified."

Mr Twyford said the future of the capital's public transport was low carbon and Wellington and other centres would be getting that message from the government.