Pressure put on NZ Bus to deliver capital Wrightspeed buses as removal of trolley buses looms
The heat has been put on NZ Bus to deliver Wellington its promised Wrightspeed hybrid fleet before trolley buses are retired from service at the end of October.
The trolley buses were set to be removed when their contract finished at the end of this month, but have been retained until October 31 as Greater Wellington Regional Council remains in the dark as to when, or if, the hybrid buses will arrive.
Sustainable transport committee deputy chairman Daran Ponter said the council continued to face a "wall of silence" from NZ Bus on the project's progress, and councillors wanted answers.
"We're concerned to know where the project is at, and we're being met with a wall of silence, and we don't know what that silence is about.
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"It just would be nice to know where NZ Bus is at."
NZ Bus announced in April last year it had signed a $43 million deal to fit a large number of its 1100 buses in Wellington and Auckland – including the capital's trolleys – with Wrightspeed motors, which operate mostly on rechargeable electric batteries, topped up by a small conventionally powered motor.
Testing of the buses in Wellington had been scheduled to take place last October.
Ponter said it was unclear why the delays had occurred, and the patience of some councillors was wearing thin.
"There's just a frustration among councillors that we are often being labelled as the organisation that isn't doing things when in fact, in many cases, we're hamstrung by a range of other circumstances out of our control.
"We're still expectant, but each day it's getting harder and harder to remain positive about it."
NZ Bus chief executive Zane Fulljames said on Thursday that Wrightspeed recently conducted the first round of acceptance testing on its first prototype at the Manfeild Autocourse.
Wrightspeed would be doing final testing of the prototype next week, and it will eventually be handed over to NZ Bus for the company to do its own acceptance testing.
The company had a continuity of service agreement with the council should the Wrightspeeds not be operating by October 31, and diesel buses could be an option.
"Things are going as fast as they can when you're doing something this innovative".
Fulljames met council chief executive Greg Campbell on Thursday morning as part of their regular correspondence.
Committee chairwoman Barbara Donaldson said most councillors understood testing new technology was a fraught process, which took time to get right.
"Because it's not our process and we're not totally over it or in touch with it, that's where the councillors are feeling, 'Do they understand that we really want to see this happen and succeeding?'
"So I think that's where [the request] came from."
The council did not receive any formal updates from NZ Bus on the project's development, and it was up to the company to contact council staff to pass on any updates, Donaldson said.
"Their job is to provide the service and how they're going to do it is up to them."