Wellington's trolley buses to continue as uncertainty remains over replacements
Wellington's trolley buses have been given a stay of execution and will remain until at least October, with the regional council still in the dark over when, or if, new Wrightspeed hybrid buses will arrive.
NZ Bus announced in April last year it had signed a $43 million deal to fit a "significant number" of its 1100 buses in Auckland and Wellington - including the capital's trolleys - with Wrightspeed motors, which operate mostly on rechargeable electric batteries, topped up by a small conventionally-powered motor.
The city's trolley buses were set to be removed from service next month at the end of their current contract.
But Greater Wellington chairman Chris Laidlaw confirmed they will now continue until later this year with testing only just beginning on the Wrightspeed system.
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Testing of the buses against Wellington's steep streets and harsh weather conditions was scheduled to take place in October, but NZ Bus said recently it was only due to receive the first prototype from Wrightspeed in late April.
While Laidlaw described the delay as an expected development, regional councillor Sue Kedgley said the situation was frustrating and she had serious concerns about the project's progress.
"Last October we were supposed to have the trials, and we still haven't had confirmation that the trials have been successful," she said.
"I'm very worried, which is what I always feared, that we're going to go from trolley buses to diesel buses, and that would be a gigantic step backwards."
The council had been given no assurance on when, or if, the technology would be rolled out, and that created a worrying sense of uncertainty, she said.
Laidlaw said the extension of the trolley buses was a procedural decision made for "logical" reasons. It did not go before the council but was understood by staff and councillors.
Diesel buses were a likely solution in the interim period, and the extension would provide "a bit more breathing space", Laidlaw said.
"All of us are awaiting the outcome of the testing with some interest. I hope it's successful."
Greater Wellington public transport manager Wayne Hastie said the trolley bus conversions would be done gradually, if and when the Wrightspeed technology was rolled out.
"Some of the trolley buses could stop earlier, if that process if successful," he said. "How many are still running by October will depend on the rate at which the buses are converted."
Hastie was cautiously optimistic the Wrightspeed buses would be implemented.
NZ Bus chief executive Zane Fulljames could not be reached for comment, but said in April that testing of the prototype was expected to take about a month.
The company would decide during the testing process whether it would order the hybrid buses.
It hoped the buses would be up-and-running by the end of the year, should it go ahead with the order.