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October 9, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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Goodbye Faithful Friend

The removal of 82 kilometres of Wellington’s electric trolley bus wires will begin on October 10.

In April last year, New Zealand’s largest urban bus company, NZBus, announced a $43 million deal with the American firm Wrightspeed.

As a result, “a significant” number of buses, including the trolley buses in Wellington, are planned to be fitted with Wrightspeed motors — rechargeable electric batteries topped up by diesel-powered “range-extender” engines that can quickly recharge the batteries while the bus is travelling.

Trolley buses were initially set to retire from June 30, but the removal date was extended to October 31, due to delays in the testing of the new technology.

There is no set date for when Wrightspeed will be ready to operate, although it is hoped they will be in Wellington July next year.

In the meantime, diesel buses will run in the place of trolley buses for “at least” eight months. Bus services will run as usual and current bus timetables will be unaffected.

The Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) Environment Committee Chair, Sue Kedgley, said in a statement that she did not support the retirement of the trolley buses before hybrid replacements were ready, voicing concerns about “old polluting diesel” buses.

She said going from trolley buses to diesel buses would be a “gigantic step backwards.”

The dismantling of the trolley bus wires is an $11 million project, occurring as part of the GWRC controversial strategy to improve public transport, which includes “upgrading” the Wellington City bus fleet.

In 2014, the GWRC made the decision to stop funding the electric trolley buses and replace them with hybrid diesel-electric buses, and eventually a fully-electric bus fleet “once the technology is proven.”

Chris Laidlaw points to the cost of maintaining what he considers an inflexible system and “hopelessly outmoded” infrastructure as a main reason for scrapping the trolleybus network.

However, many point to the harmful environmental impacts of the GWRC’s decision.

VUWSA President Rory Lenihan-Ikin told Salient that it was “devastating to see the Council ripping out a fully electric system, before there is any plan” to replace them with electric models.

He said that “in a few weeks’ time, when we have dirty, second hand diesel buses from Auckland polluting the streets of Wellington, we will realise how much of a mistake it was to pull the trolleys out.”

GWRC Chief Executive, Greg Campbell, said that “a new fleet of low-emission diesel buses,” as well as ten electric buses, will be made available in 2018. New bus operator contracts with preferred tenders, Tranzit and Uzabus, and an overhauled Wellington City network, will also come into effect at this time.

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