Wellington Update: Transdev and Diesel Buses and cycleways

They’ve been a few interesting pieces of news from Wellington over the last last week.

Transdev to run Wellington’s trains

Transdev – who run the trains in Auckland – has been picked as the preferred operator for the trains in Wellington. This is an interesting result as for one it means trains in both Auckland and Wellington will have the same operator. Whether this is a good or a bad thing will have to remain to be seen. The Dominion Post reported the company was surveying people earlier in the year asking about ideas such as quiet cars, indicators to say where seats were available and WiFi. All of which begs the question of if they’ve thought of it, why they aren’t doing it in Auckland already. Presumably their holding some improvements back while they wait for Auckland Transport to go out to tender again or restart the current tender process*.

Just whether changes will lead to growth is something we’ll follow closely. In recent year’s patronage in the capital has increased but not by much.

2015-10 - WLG - Rail Patronage

*Auckland was also running a tender for rail services with the short-list also being Transdev, Kiwirail and Serco however AT postponed it in September citing uncertainty over the outcome of the Auckland Transport Alignment Process. As such they extended Transdev’s contract.

Greater Wellington Regional Council has selected Transdev Australasia in association with Hyundai Rotem as its preferred future operator for Wellington’s metro rail service.

The Regional Council will now begin negotiations with Transdev to finalise the terms of the 15 year contract. Subject to those negotiations being successful, a new contract is intended to commence on 1 July 2016.

The jobs of 400 TranzMetro staff who currently deliver Wellington’s metro rail service and maintain the new Matangi trains will be preserved. GWRC’s contract will require Transdev and Hyundai Rotem to offer employment to those staff on the same or more favourable conditions.

GWRC Chair Chris Laidlaw says the selection of a preferred operator is a significant milestone towards a new era for public transport in the Wellington region. “The rail contract is the first of all new, performance-based contracts for our train, bus and harbour ferry services. The new contracts will mean better services for customers and provide strong incentives for operators to grow patronage by making public transport easier and smarter.”

Mr Laidlaw also acknowledged the very competitive tenders submitted by the two other tenderers. Those tenderers were Keolis Downer in partnership with KiwiRail, and the UK based rail operator Serco.

Transdev currently operates the Auckland passenger rail service under contract to Auckland Transport and operates rail, tram and bus services in 19 countries across 5 continents.

Hyundai Rotem is the manufacturer of the region’s Matangi electric train fleet.

Commenting on its selection by GWRC, Transdev Australasia’s Acting CEO, Mr Peter Lodge said “We are very excited by the news today and look forward to the next stage of the process and concluding the contract with GWRC in the New Year.”

GWRC will not be making further comment until negotiations with Transdev are completed and a decision has been made to award the contract. This is likely to occur in March 2016.


Diesel buses set to replace trolley buses

As part of a new bus network the regional council will phase out the use of the electric trolley buses in 2017 in favour of diesel buses that they can eventually replace with battery powered buses. It is part of their change to a new bus network but does sound like an odd way of going about things. As an example it raises the question of why not just skip straight to battery buses which as a technology are advancing quickly. It also seems a bit odd that they think they’ll get a whole heap of new diesel buses now and that bus companies will replace them again in just a few year’s time. That sounds like a recipe for bus companies charging a lot more to run services as they amortise the cost of the buses over a shorter time frame.

Wellington New Network

Wellington’s new bus network

The Wellington region now has a clear path to an all-electric bus fleet after the Regional Council made some decisions today on how best to get there.

Chris Laidlaw, Chair of Greater Wellington Regional Council, says an exciting future is in store for bus travel in the region.  “We are determined to be the first region in the country with an all-electric bus fleet when the technology is more mature and affordable.  We expect to progressively introduce electric buses to the region within the next five years, starting with an electric bus demonstration in the first half of 2016.

“In the interim, however, we need to begin upgrading the Wellington City bus fleet.  High capacity buses are a vital part of the new, simpler and more convenient network which will be rolled out in early 2018. The new network will give 75% of residents, compared to 45% at present, access within 1km to a high frequency bus route.  Services will run through the CBD instead of stopping or starting at Wellington Station or Courtenay Place as many do currently.  This, coupled with the use of high capacity buses, will speed up travel times for everyone.

“The Council has decided that an upgraded fleet should include new low emission double decker buses, ten of which will be hybrids. These will replace the older diesel buses in the fleet and the trolley buses, which are being phased out in 2017 because of their unreliability, the high cost of upgrading and maintaining the infrastructure and incompatibility with the new routes. The upgrade will mean that by 2018 the average age of the fleet will be five years compared to 13 at present and overall tailpipe emissions levels of the fleet will be about 33% lower than they are now.

“The biggest gain we can make in contributing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to get people out of their cars and onto public transport, and this is why the bus fleet strategy that we’ve endorsed this week is so important. By removing the trolley buses and the old diesels we can deliver services that are fast, reliable, comfortable, easy to use and that go where people want to go. And the only way to achieve these big changes by 2018 is by replacing those vehicles with the best technology available, which is a mix of hybrid buses and new low emission diesels.”

Mr Laidlaw says the Regional Council will be going to tender around April next year for new bus service contracts and will be working with operators to bring their ideas and innovations on how to provide a low emission bus fleet for the region.

“We also plan to hold a symposium around the middle of next year on electric vehicles, bringing everyone together to ensure we make the most of the exciting opportunities on the horizon.  Electric vehicles are coming and the challenge is to prepare the way for these by agreeing on the infrastructural needs. Wellington region is poised to lead the country to a cleaner, smarter transport future and we’re determined to make this happen.”

Island Bay Cycleway

While the work to build the Island Bay parking protected cycleway continues, some parts are already open and it looks fantastic. Unfortunately, the people who have long opposed any change to the street – claiming that the road was already safe (because only the hardy used it) and that people would be doored by passengers on the left have continued to fight the project.

A new cycleway through the heart of Wellington’s southern suburbs is threatening to tear the community apart, as thousands vent their anger at its “confusing” design.

Critics of the Island Bay cycleway have labelled it “a death trap” and say it has made one of the city’s main arterial roads too narrow for buses, reduced visibility for motorists on adjoining streets, and even made it “impossible” for some residents to pull out of their driveways.

But many also say the cycleway looks fantastic and will make life easier and safer for people on bikes.

There is a very good post on the project responding to many of the claims from supporters of the project and where the image below is from showing there is plenty of space for doors to open and not hit people on bikes.

Another claim levelled at the project is that the road isn’t wide enough for a protected cycleway. This image from Stuff highlights the width well. You can see the cycleway on each side (with some cars parked in it), the parking and the road lanes. It looks like plenty of space to me.

Trolley buses to go in Wellington

News from Wellington that the trolley bus network is going to end in 2017 and replaced with something else. The Dominion Post reports.

The plug has been pulled on Wellington’s trolley buses, after 90 years of plying the capital’s streets.

The wires that have criss-crossed the central city since 1924 will come down in 2017, and the trolley buses will be replaced, under a plan being put forward by Greater Wellington Regional Council.

There are 60 trolley buses in the city’s fleet, which was upgraded at a cost of $27 million only seven years ago. They would go under the plan, as would the city’s 218 other buses – all to be replaced by more modern vehicles, which have not been chosen yet.

The plan to stop trolley buses has certainly sparked a lot of comment as there is quite a bit of attachment to the buses in Wellington. But why change them? The article continues:

Paul Swain, the council’s public transport portfolio leader, said axing the trolleys was “a big call, but the correct one”.

The extra costs associated with the wire network, coupled with the difficulty of changing the buses’ routes, were the main factors in the decision, he said.

They also caused backlogs when they broke down, and they could not overtake.

The 50-year-old power system would need upgrading soon at a cost of “tens of millions of dollars”, Mr Swain said, and maintaining the 160 kilometres of wires and 15 substations cost $6m a year. The one-off cost of dismantling the network would be cheaper.

The council’s new public transport plan will change bus routes around the city, focusing services on north-south and east-west spines. There will be more frequent all-day services, but also the need for more passengers to change buses.

The draft of the new Regional Public Transport Plan can be seen here. The background to the issues with the trolley buses is set out on page 27 and shows that another big driver for this decision, other than the ones mentioned above, is the bus rapid transit spine that was finally decided on a few weeks back.

While working to implement BRT on the PT Spine we anticipate progressively introducing new vehicles into the Metlink bus fleet as older vehicles are retired, and are exploring options for the types of vehicles that would best meet Wellington’s needs. A low emission vehicle solution is essential for the health of people living, working and visiting the city, and is better for our natural environment. The proposed timing of BRT and the consideration of the type of higher capacity bus we need is an opportunity to access the options for improving the bus fleet as a whole to deliver the best public transport services for the region.

I think the comment about improving the bus fleet as a whole is an important one. It’s one thing to have a pile of electric trolley buses but if the rest of the fleet is made up of clapped out old diesels then emissions can still be bad (I’m not saying that the diesels are clapped out). As NZ Bus CEO Zane Fulljames says in the article, it’s pointless deciding to get rid of the trolleys without deciding what would replace them. It’s something that the GRWC haven’t decided yet, they only know they don’t want the trolley buses. The RPTP says that all up there were four options (including the trolleys) that they considered for the future of the Wellington bus fleet. They were assessed over a 40 year period on a number of different criteria. The options are:

  1. Maintaining the current mix of diesel and trolley buses, with new trolley buses
  2. Modern (EuroV/VI) diesel buses. Diesel buses use traditional diesel engines and are currently the most popular form of bus used for public transport internationally. In line with stricter European guidelines, modern engines are significantly cleaner burning than older engines.
  3. Hybrid buses. Hybrid buses typically use an electric engine in conjunction with a diesel based combustion engine. The diesel engine is used to charge an internal battery pack which drives the motor. Regenerative braking is also typically used, transforming kinetic energy from braking into electrical energy.
  4. Opportunity electric buses. Electric buses are powered by an electric battery that drives the motor. These batteries must be recharged regularly. Opportunity buses recharge at stopping points en‐route allowing them to carry a lightweight battery (increasing passenger capacity).

A table in the report (page 30-34) provides more detailed comparisons between the options. One of the things that surprises about them is the cost difference in purchase price.

  • Diesel Bus – $300,000-$450000 per bus
  • Trolley Bus – roughly $700,000 per bus + investment needed to bring the overhead network up to scratch.
  • Hybrid – roughly $600,000 per bus.
  • Electric – $900,000-$1.1 million per bus

I suspect some of the anger/disappointment that the trolleys are going is that people suspect they will just be replaced with the cheapest solution.

The infrastructure itself is also interesting. One thing that infrastructure does do is create a sense of permanence, signalising that the route will most likely continue to be there in the future.  Of course this goes against one of the big benefits people like to tout about buses, being that they have the flexibility to change routes when needed.

Overall it’s an interesting decision by the regional council but what do you think of it?