Ratepayers fork out almost $90,000 to switch Wellington's trolley wires on and off

MONIQUE FORD / FAIRFAX NZ

First Go Wellington trolley bus is freed from the wires, stripped back and prepared for its new electric engine.

Flicking the switch that turns Wellington's trolley bus wires on and off cost ratepayers almost $90,000 this past financial year.

Figures provided by Wellington City Council show that between July 2015 and June 2016, 71 requests were made to de-energise sections of the overhead wire network that powers the capital's 60 trolleys, for city road maintenance to be carried out.

Wellington Cable Car Limited - a subsidiary of the city council - charges the Wellington City Council more than $1000 every time the switch is turned off and on again, meaning city ratepayers have paid a bill of $87,645  during that time.

It costs ratepayers $1000 every time the power to Wellington's trolley bus wires is switched on and off.
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ

It costs ratepayers $1000 every time the power to Wellington's trolley bus wires is switched on and off.

The 12 months prior saw 56 de-energising requests made, costing ratepayers $66,113.

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That is on top of the $4m to $6m in costs each year to maintain the 80 kilometres of trolley wires. 

A Wellington trolley bus turns at that Aotea Quay terminal in 1950.
ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY

A Wellington trolley bus turns at that Aotea Quay terminal in 1950.

Paul Swain, the regional council's transport portfolio leader, said the expense was just another reason why Wellington needed to move away from the trolley bus system.

"Public transport has to be funded and ratepayers subsidise this ... so in our view it's not right for them to be invested in outdated technology," he said.

Wellington Cable Car Ltd. is under contract to operate the trolley wire network until June 2017, which is when the capital's trolley buses will cease operation.

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The bill for taking down the wires, and the 3500 poles and brackets holding them in place, is expected to be almost $11 million.

Swain said spending that money, rather than upgrading and maintaining the current system, was the right financial decision for the ratepayer. 

The wires were connected to electricity by substations throughout the city, which would cost more than $50m to upgrade it to a reliable standard, he said.

"Our advice comes from Wellington Electricity who are the very ones who get paid for supplying the energy," he said.

"They've said, to further invest in this technology would be spending good money after bad."

The situation is further complicated by the fact 90 per cent of the poles are used for other critical infrastructure, such as communications and electricity supply, and many of the inner-city brackets are attached to heritage buildings.

If the wires are not being used, they become a hazard for fire and emergency services, or in an earthquake, so they need to come down, Swain said.

"We don't own [the wires] so technically we don't need to fund bringing them down, but we will be making a contribution to their decommission." 

NZ Bus recently announced it will fit the trolley buses - along with a significant portion of its diesel bus fleet - with Wrightspeed electric drivetrains, which will convert them into fully-mobile electric buses, at a cost of $43m.

 - Stuff

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