The Trolleybus: An Unmistakable Part of Wellington, New Zealand

A trolleybus in Wellington, New Zealand

Buses are the most popular form of public transport in Wellington, New Zealand. According to NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), about 24 million bus trips are made every year in Wellington. Statistics by NZ Bus, the largest bus operator in Wellington, indicate that on average, a Wellingtonian uses the bus 101 times a year, more than people in any other urban area in Australasia.

Wellington buses fall into two types: diesel-powered and electric. Most of the buses currently in operation in Wellington run on diesel. Only 60 buses belong to the second type. They are trolleybuses, running on electricity drawn from overhead wires by trolley poles.

First introduced in Germany in 1882 by Ernst Werner Siemens, the founder of Siemens, the trolleybus is an engineering wonder in itself. To power the motors of a trolleybus, two trolley poles must be used to collect electricity from two parallel overhead wires. The poles use a system of springs installed on the roof of the bus to maintain contact with the wires. De-wiring happens when such contact is lost. To prevent de-wiring, poles are always pulled along after the bus rather than pushed forward.

Wellington’s 50 kilometres of trolleybus routes make up a system that is the only one in Australasia and the last major one in left-driving countries. Visitors to the city will undoubtedly remember the ubiquitous GOWellington trolleybuses. Yellow in colour, these giants roam the streets of Wellington, bringing people to all corners of the city. With electric motors, they are particularly suitable for Wellington’s steep hills. Pollution from these machines is almost zero.

In many countries, the trolleybus is not merely a mode of transportation but a cultural icon. It is a pity the trolleybus system in Wellington has been scheduled for replacement by hybrid diesel-electric buses. When that day comes, Wellington’s trolleybuses and their long poles will surely be missed.

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