Auckland diesel buses set to replace Wellington's electric trolleys
Wellington's electric trolley buses are set to be replaced by "old polluting" diesels for eight months or more, with confirmation the city's new hybrid fleet will not arrive until after the trolleys are decommissioned.
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 60 trolleys – with Wrightspeed motors, which operate mostly on rechargeable electric batteries.
Greater Wellington Regional Council hoped the Wrightspeeds would arrive before the trolley buses were retired on October 31, having already extended the removal date from June 30.
But it now looks as though the motors won't be in place until the middle of next year – and council sustainable transport committee chairwoman Barbara Donaldson said another extension for the trolleys was not possible.
* Trolley buses to continue amid uncertainty over replacements
* Pressure put on NZ Bus to deliver Wrightspeed buses
* Wellington's trolley buses saved by $43m deal
* Beginning of the end for capital's trolleys
"We just can't," Donaldson said. "We had to make a date where everybody had some certainty, and it was final.
"The timing's unfortunate, but that's fine. We're just there to make sure there are buses available for the passengers to catch, and there will be."
The replacements will be surplus Euro diesel buses from Auckland, which NZ Bus said were no more than 10 years old.
Regional council environment committee chairwoman Sue Kedgley said in a statement she did not support retiring the trolley buses before the hybrid replacements were ready.
"I am very concerned that the delay in converting trolley buses to Wrightspeed buses means we will end up with old polluting diesel buses in the meantime, and think it would be far more sensible to delay taking the trolley buses out of service until the Wrightspeed conversion has been completed in July next year."
Councillors and staff were shown the first Wrightspeed prototype by NZ Bus at its Newlands depot last week, after pushing the company for more information on how the technology was progressing.
Councillor Roger Blakeley said it was encouraging to see progress being made, but he was disappointed the Wrightspeeds would not be in place by November.
"They will be using diesel buses over that [interim] period, which is something we were hoping to avoid.
"The positive side of that is the Wrightspeed technology is certainly under development. It's a new technology, so there's always challenges in that."
NZ Bus chief executive Zane Fulljames said final acceptance testing of the motors was scheduled for November. The company would decide after that whether it ordered the buses from Wrightspeed.
There was no telling when, or if, the new buses would be ready to go, he said.
"When you're doing this type of work, there is an inherent element of risk.
"We're well ahead of the curve, not only in Wellington but around the world. It's cutting-edge stuff that we're doing."
An average of 10 to 15 trolley buses are currently being removed from service for maintenance each day, to ensure they remain fit for service and don't need any major repair work before they are removed.
The Wrightspeed buses will operate mostly on battery power, and can recharge while travelling downhill.
The amount of diesel fuel required will range from just over 20 per cent on flat routes to none at all for hilly routes.
It is hoped the buses will eventually become fully electric.