Trolley bus jumps wires, gets electric revamp to get a new lease on life
Trolley bus 362 has been liberated.
NZ Bus has unhooked its first Wellington trolley bus from the overhead wires and given it a New Zealand-first refit with electric power.
The company runs the trolley network that ends mid-2017, and will convert its 57 trolley buses to a hybrid system by Wrightspeed - the company started by Tesla co-founder Ian Wright.
Wright, himself a Kiwi, personally headhunted one of New Zealand's backyard electric-tech stars to do the work.
NZ Bus ripped off the roof components and stripped down bus 362, took out its old rear motor and started adding its new power source. The prototype should be running by mid-October.
It will be the first in a $43 million refit of the trolleys and several hundred diesel buses. It will also future-proof them because Wrightspeed can go fully electric as battery technology improves.
NZ Bus chief executive officer Zane Fulljames said as trolleys came off the road, Wrightspeed or diesel buses would be introduced.
The company was in discussions with Greater Wellington Regional Council over the transition for the trolley routes once they stopped next year, Fulljames said.
The Wrightspeed buses could run permanently on the old trolley bus routes if the company kept the route in a re-tender of the entire region's bus services this year.
Or they could go anywhere around the country, he said.
Without the refit the trolley buses would have headed for the scrapheap.
Project manager for Wrightspeed in the Newlands workshop was Sytse Tacoma, who got the job after he built his own electric motorbike in his garage.
In December the machine featured in national media, then out of the blue Tacoma got a call from the US.
"I got a phone call from Ian Wright saying 'hey, we like your bike and we've got a job for you'."
Tacoma said Wright was his idol, with a vast knowledge of electric vehicles.
"I thought, 'yes, I got a call, I'm off to build electric vehicles'. It's my life dream, so it had to be done."
Tacoma left his job as a mechanical engineer building wineries in Blenheim and headed north to Wellington, with his electric bike.
Once the trolleys end their run in mid-2017, Wellington will have to take down about 80kms of wires, and the poles not required to support other critical infrastructure. The bill is expected to hit about $11m.
NEW FROM OLD
The Wrightspeed has an electric motor that runs off rechargeable batteries at the back of the buses, where the trolley engine used to go.
It will have a diesel-powered "range-extender" engine that can deliver a quick-charge to the batteries while the bus is on the road.
The buses are expected to run fully electric for about 10 of the 12 hours on the road. Eventually the range extender can be removed as batteries improve.