Hybrids push trolley buses off road

PAUL EASTON
Last updated 06:55 13/06/2014
Wellington trolley bus

OUT ON A WIRE: Wellington's fleet of 60 trolley buses will be axed when their existing contract expires in 2017.

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Wellington

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Wellington's trolley buses will be axed in 2017 after the Greater Wellington Regional Council agreed to the goal of a fully electric future bus fleet.

It agreed yesterday to scrap the existing contract for trolley bus services when it expires in three years, and move to hybrid diesel buses during the transition to an electric fleet.

There are 60 trolley buses in the city's fleet, which was upgraded by NZ Bus at a cost of close to $40 million seven years ago.

The move came as the council wound up its deliberations on the hearing of public submissions on the regional public transport plan.

Councillor Sue Kedgley described the trolley bus move as "one of the most shockingly short- sighted decisions this council has ever made".

"It's the equivalent of pulling up the tram lines 50 years ago."

NZ Bus chief executive officer Zane Fulljames said it was disappointing. "It does not appear that all options to retain some or all of the trolley services have been adequately considered, particularly as the city moves towards implementation of the transport spine in 2022."

Fulljames said NZ Bus backed the move to a fully electric future, "provided there is an appropriate recognition that electric technologies are still immature and the timing of the implementation is critical".

Regional council chairwoman Fran Wilde said the the move was "visionary" and there was no point clinging to obsolete technology.

Submitters to the draft transport plan were split on the future of trolley buses, she said. "What came through was that the most important thing was for people to get where they wanted to go when they wanted to."

Paul Swain, the regional council's public transport portfolio leader, said its members backed cleaner public transport.

"We believe hybrids are the best technology for use during the transition to electric buses, which are still some way off. Hybrid buses will increase the reliability and flexibility of our bus network, while reducing emissions and improving the environment in places with high congestion, like Wellington's Golden Mile."

He acknowledged the "iconic" trolley buses were a feature of Wellington. "But there are new technologies that will come at a lower cost for the ratepayers, and be more environmentally friendly."

The 50-year-old trolley buses' power system will need upgrading soon, at a cost of millions. Maintaining the 160 kilometres of wires and 15 substations costs about $6m a year.

The draft transport plan will go to the full council on June 26 for adoption. It includes faster and more frequent train services, and integrated fares, where people use one card for all public transport.

NZ Transport Agency regional planning and investment manager Lyndon Hammond said the decision provided a significantly better opportunity to address emissions, noise and congestion in Wellington.

Councillors also approved a recommendation to freeze public transport fares at current levels in this year's annual plan, rather than raise them by about 2 per cent as they normally do.

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Tweaks to the plan since public feedback was requested have seen the council's proposed rates increase of 6.1 per cent pegged back to 5.7 per cent.

CHEAPER STUDENT FARES LIKELY

After a long fight, Wellington tertiary students have welcomed a move towards discounted bus and train fares.

Greater Wellington Regional Council yesterday recommended a 25 per cent discount for students' on-peak public transport fares.

Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association (VUWSA) president Sonya Clark said the move was "a huge step forward" that would make the capital a more student-friendly city.

VUWSA has led the Fairer Fares campaign since 2011, and brought 2500 signed postcards to a hearing last month.

"Public transport takes up a significant part of students' weekly budgets, and the reality is many simply can't afford to get to class due to the cost," Clark said last night.

"We're delighted that the Wellington City Council and Victoria University are aware of this and have signalled that they're happy to continue the discussion to make Fairer Fares a reality for students."

The proposal came as the council completed its deliberations on public submissions on the regional public transport plan. It will go to the full council on June 26 for adoption.

The proposal will rely on "substantial" financial support from the Wellington City Council and tertiary institutions.

Victoria University vice- chancellor Grant Guilford said it welcomed the discounted fares.

"I do note, however, that the regional council itself considers transport one of its core functions. The university's job is to invest its resources in the education of its students, not to invest in the transport network."

Councillor Ken Laban said the latest move would get students out of their cars and on to public transport. "This is a tremendous opportunity for greater patronage."

An estimated 67 per cent of Victoria University students travel at off-peak times.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade- Brown said she backed fairer fares for students.

"We're open to an approach from the regional council. If there is a partnership model, we're certainly open to considering that, but in the first instance it's the responsibility of the regional council to fund public transport."

Fran Wilde, chairwoman of the regional council, said tertiary students were important to Wellington.

"They contribute significantly to the city's economy and they help create the unique vibrancy of Wellington."

- The Dominion Post

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