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Bussing along to electric ave

A new Tranzit bus. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Greater Wellington Regional Council [GWRC] continues to champion emissions-free public transport, with its climate change committee recommending further projects to reduce the region’s transport emissions profile.

The first project discussed at this week’s meeting was Metlink’s funding application to reduce bus emissions through a diesel-to-electric power bus conversion trial.

Metlink wanted $550,000 from the government’s Low Carbon Acceleration Fund [LCAF] to convert a diesel-powered bus to electric power and trial its operation in the Metlink fleet.

The Wairarapa Times-Age reported in May that a Masterton-based workshop team successfully converted a diesel double-decker bus to 100 per cent electric.

The committee also proposed a study into reducing Sky Stadium’s environmental footprint.

The agenda said the LCAF funding was borrowed against the value of the council’s 255,660 free allocations of New Zealand Units [NZUs] in the Emissions Trading Scheme [ETS].

The units were given to the council by the government for its pre-1990 forests at the inception of the ETS.

The $550,000 funding needed to be approved by the government’s Climate Emergency Response Programme Board in order for it to be released for GWRC’s use.

GWRC said in the application it supported Metlink’s policy of accelerating the implementation of an electric-powered bus fleet in the region by 2030 to reduce carbon emissions.

It said the conversion could cut 51 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, and 761 tonnes a bus over the 15-year lifetime of high-use buses.

Transport committee chairman Roger Bleakley said if the trial were successful and the economics stacked up, conversion of selected vehicles in the fleet could lead to a large-scale reduction in carbon emissions.

“Transport is the largest and fastest rising source of greenhouse gases in the region, and conversion could take us closer to a low emission fleet and give us another weapon with which to tackle the issue.”

Bleakley said repowering buses and extending their lifespan through conversion would enhance sustainability and avoid waste from scrapping them.

“And with new electric buses costing from $700,000 to $1 million depending on bus size and type, there is also a financial case for conversion over more costly investment in new vehicles.”

Meanwhile, GWRC welcomed the announcement by Transport Minister Michael Wood of the new Sustainable Public Transport Framework.

Wood announced on Monday that the government’s new approach to public transport would now support on-demand services, allow councils to own and operate their own transport services, and deliver routes and services that reflected the needs of communities.

He said the new approach would improve drivers’ pay and working conditions and incentivise fleets’ decarbonisation.

GWRC chairman Daran Ponter said the announcement had come a year after the council’s submission on the Public Transport Operating Model, calling for significant change to bring transport assets under the control of regional councils.

GWRC argued asset control would create greater flexibility in delivering quality public transport services.

“We strongly held then, and still do, that for regional councils to be truly strategic in planning and providing world-class public transport, we need to have stronger control of critical infrastructure such as buses, depots and charging infrastructure,” Ponter said.

He said controlling or owning assets was key to minimising the risks of delivering public transport, which had been badly affected in the Wellington region by driver shortages.

“Strengthening our communities’ confidence and pride in our public transport is essential to growing patronage and generating mode shift, which will only come with us changing some of the underlying frameworks.”

Bleakley said ownership of the bus fleet, either directly or through a council-controlled organisation, could provide benefits including increased flexibility and agility in distributing the bus fleet to meet demand.

“It’s a long-term aspiration, but ownership will enable a more strategic and financially beneficial approach to procuring and financing fleet purchases, reduce private profit margins and provide security and continuity of fleet availability in our region.”

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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