Wednesday, June 25, 2014

doubt over the future of Wellington's trolley bus system

The Volvo buses from the early 1980s were the second generation after the first generation British buses.  For more, see the book Wellington Transport Memories 

As those who have our books on Wellington know, the Wellington trolley bus system has been operating since 1949, steadily replacing the trams for the next 15 years.  Now the trolley buses's future has been thrown into doubt by the Greater Wellington Regional Council which has proposed to remove them in 2017.  This despite the third generation trolley buses being introduced less than a decade ago.

The bus drivers union isn't happy, neither are environmentalists. An extract from a Green Party press release is below.


The Green Party is launching a campaign to retain and upgrade Wellington’s trolley buses, and convert them into a more efficient, reliable and flexible bus service, using the latest electric vehicle battery technology.

This new technology could greatly improve the performance of trolley buses, and ensure that they are as flexible and reliable as diesel buses, but without the emissions or noise of diesel buses.

It is therefore calling on the Wellington Regional Council to delay its plans, outlined in its Public Transport plan, to scrap the trolley buses, and conduct a trial to see how trolley buses perform with rechargeable batteries and high efficiency motors installed into them. If the trial is successful, it would like to see the entire fleet of trolley buses upgraded in this way.

Wellington is fortunate to have a fleet of quiet, zero emitting, climate friendly trolley buses, which run on renewable energy sources instead of diesel, and therefore insulate us against any potential future oil shocks.

New Zealand Bus has recently invested $40 million dollars in upgrading our trolley bus fleet, and as a result, our trolley buses have a further 10 -15 years of life in them. As well, the trolley bus overhead wires have also been upgraded, and are used to support our internet network in Wellington.

At the same time, electric battery technology is evolving rapidly, and modern batteries and charging systems are now available that could transform our trolley bus fleet and make it more flexible and efficient, able to travel substantial distances without relying on overhead wires. These modern batteries could be recharged through our existing overhead wires, or through wireless charging technologies, to make them even more efficient.

Given this new technology, we believe it would be a major mistake to scrap our trolley bus fleet and close off future, sustainable options in a rapidly developing field. It would be particularly short sighted to get rid of our only non-polluting form of transport before we have decided what would replace them. And it would foolhardy to replace zero emission trolley buses that run on renewable energy, with oil-based diesel buses.

Instead we should trial the new technology, and assess their effectiveness. If the trial is successful, we should convert the rest of the trolley bus fleet.

We therefore propose that an existing trolley bus is modernized with a high efficiency motor and batteries that can be recharged from overhead wires, or by being plugged in at a depot. Another charging system, using induction at stops, could be used to trial the ability for trolley buses to run off-wire for sections of a route. Yet another option would be to trial a trolley bus with a diesel generator backup, and a hybrid bus, and compare all these different buses for their performance and efficiency.

We need to recognize, too, that our overhead wires are part of our strategic infrastructure, and enable electric powered public transport. Any future electric powered transport could use our overhead wire network. At a time when fossil fuels are becoming scarcer and rising in cost, it makes sense to have the option of using renewable energy to power public transport. Taking down the overhead wires, as is proposed in the Regional Council Public Transport plan, would close off this option forever, and would be the equivalent of pulling up the railway lines.

No comments: