Sunday, April 29, 2018

Korea: Real change or the cycle of bluff?

North Korea watchers are split on what the outcomes of the latest diplomatic activities on the Korean peninsula will mean.  There was the usual, tiresome, anti-Trump kneejerk reaction to his threats to the DPRK, which of course follow the DPRK's missile and nuclear tests, all of which breach UN Security Council Resolutions.  Trump rightfully declared that no regime oppresses its citizens like North Korea.  Liberty in North Korea gives you more on this, which I wont repeat.  It's a regime that controls movement of its people not only to leave this prison state, but to leave your own town.  It runs gulags in which it incarcerates entire families for the political "crimes" of one (that mean elderly relatives down to babies).  It is difficult to exaggerate the scale of this, but it's also important to remember that this ISN'T a priority internationally.  

So let's be clear about what the DPRK is.

  • Totalitarian regime with unrivalled levels of control on media, speech, movement of people compared with virtually any other country.  There is little internet access, almost no access to broadcasts from outside the country, and very few ever have permission to travel outside the country.  There is very little private enterprise, with what there is being restricted to informal (but tolerated) market stalls.  All other retail and trading activities are undertaken by the state, and economic activity is directed by central planning with limited use of price as a tool to manage demand and supply.
  • Highly militarised, with a standing army of 1.1 million (and over 8 million reservists) out of a population of around 25 million, with the military taking around 20% of GDP.
  • It is the creation of the USSR, which entered the northern half of Korea near the end of World War 2 as the US entered the southern half, as Japan withdrew its imperial forces.  Japan had occupied Korea and treated it is a vassal state since 1910, treating Koreans in many cases as slave labour.  The UN sought to hold elections across Korea, but the USSR refused to allow the holding of an election in the northern half.  The south held elections, and the Republic of Korea was formed, with the first President Syngman Rhee.  The north declared the Democratic People's Republic of Korea shortly thereafter, with a Stalinist system led by Kim Il Sung.  At the end of the 1940s the US withdrew from south Korea, and Kim Il Sung was given approval from Stalin and Mao to reunify Korea under a communist system, starting the Korean War.  After three years of bloodshed, including UN intervention on the side of the south (led by the USA), the war ended roughly at the same point as where it started.  The DPRK declared "victory" as it claimed the south started the war, led by "US imperialism".  
  • The USSR instituted Kim Il Sung as Supreme Leader of the DPRK, with a Constitution and party/state structure mirroring that of the USSR at the time (under Stalin).  Kim Il Sung was a minor guerrilla fighter who led a small band of resistance against the Japanese, before fleeing to the USSR where the Red Army schooled him in Stalinism.  
However, it is important to remember what it tells its citizens:
  • They are the luckiest people in the world with (as Barbara Demick's book was titled) "Nothing to Envy in the world".
  • South Korea is a "puppet regime" run by the USA as a slave colony of fascism, where the people revere the Kim dynasty and ache for reunification under their leadership.  South Korea would quickly reunify with the North if the US imperialist withdrew their "troops of occupation", but the USA treats its south Korean "subjects" like the Japanese used to.
  • Kim Il Sung led an army which was responsible for liberating ALL of Korea from Japanese imperialism, and he entered Pyongyang to adoring crowds grateful for his feats of military acumen.  Kim Il Sung was the most intelligent, skilled, amazing, adoring and generous man of all history, he is admired globally by billions of people, and his works are consumed by them and inspire their own feats.   
  • Other countries are either impoverished or comprise a small rich elite that take advantage of a mass of downtrodden workers, who are all impoverished, without the wondrous goods and free housing, healthcare and education of the DPRK.  
  • The Korean War was NOT started by the DPRK, but by the USA wanting to aggressively turn all of Korea into a slave colony.  The US has always wanted this.
Kim Jong Un's number one priority is regime survival.  This has two elements.  One is protection from foreign attack (primarily the US, seeking to destroy its nuclear arsenal) and the other is internal revolt.

Kim Jong Un may have a big ego and be ruthless, but he is no fool.  For decades, the DPRK relied on the Cold War to ensure that it didn't really fear any US attack, because that was deterred by the USSR.  However, with US military action to overthrow Saddam Hussein, to support the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi and to strategically attack military sites in Syria, there is real fear of the US (particularly under Trump, compared to Obama), striking the DPRK.

Yes Kim Jong Un knows the US fears the DPRK striking back, not so much with nuclear weapons, but with a massive conventional attack on south Korea, which may also include chemical and biological weapons (it is widely believed that the DPRK has all three primary types of WMDs).  However, he also knows that the US and south Korea can easily defeat the DPRK on the battlefield with conventional weapons and if nuclear weapons were used by the DPRK, Pyongyang would almost certainly be levelled by a similar response.  He is as deterred by the devastation and scale of death as the US is, so he is keen on lowering of tensions.

His survival also needs protection from internal revolt.  The only institution capable of doing this is the military.  Mass revolt by the population is almost inconceivable, as the whole country outside Pyongyang faced starvation during the late 1990s and there was little sign of resistance.  However, shortly after Kim Il Sung's death in 1994, his widow (who was not Kim Jong Il's mother, but his stepmother) apparently sought to get the military to stage a coup against Kim Jong Il (widely thought of as a lazy psychopathic playboy), but failed.  His response was the "Songun" (military first) policy that effectively sidelined the Korean Workers Party as the centre of authority, making the military the priority of the party, the state and the economy.

This is where the rational interest of denuclearisation, reduction of tension and peace on the Korean peninsula faces a conflict of interests with those of the Korean People's Army.  Kim Jong Un will know that if he significantly reduces the economic commitment of the state to the military he risks the military taking over.

So he has TWO choices, assuming that ignoring the military isn't an option.

1.  Don't demilitarise at all.  Re-enter the familiar cycle of detente, with rhetoric of peace.  Conduct no more nuclear tests, even allow unprecedented levels of inspection of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site (which is already destroyed) and seek a lowering or ending of economic sanctions. It will not dismantle its existing arsenal, but it will buy time for trade and investment.  It will demand that the US withdraw from south Korea before anything else happens (despite claims to the contrary) and after a period of a year or two of more trade, the cycle of sanctions and threats will recommence.

2.  Corporatise the military.  Sign a peace treaty, get US assurances of non-aggression, but retain WMDs and a formidable defence capability, but redirect the defence sector's activity more towards trade and the (black) economy.  Let the army run businesses, allow limited foreign investment in factories and infrastructure and become rich.   The military can then be part of a pseudo-capitalist reform programme that enriches those within it, enables it to upgrade its own equipment and grow the economy.  This will also mean that the current elite can enrich themselves through a mild form of liberalisation and capitalism.  Think China in the 1970s, but don't go too far down that path.

For as long as the Kim clan lead, the Kim Il Sung myth needs to be sustained.  That means that the big lies of the regime must be protected.  North Koreans can't know that their brethren in the south live with a level of prosperity AND freedom that they could hardly imagine.  So don't expect very much loosening of trade and travel between north and south.  South Koreans will be able to visit very carefully managed resorts (and be expected to spend a lot of hard currency), but north Koreans wont be travelling.   The tight control on media, movement of people and information will have to be maintained, otherwise it risks the broad mass of the population who are neither in the military nor the elite, asking questions and demanding to live more like south Koreans.  They'll want the houses, the clothes, the electrical goods, the cars, the freedom.  All of that will bring down the DPRK, particularly if the military split.  

So what do I think will happen?

I think there will be a lot of talk.  I think the US will demand, as a bare minimum, full inspection and verification of the dismantling of the DPRK's nuclear arsenal and concrete steps to build confidence between the sides.  That could mean allowing unrestricted family reunifications across the border,  greater travel from the south to the north, trade and investment, and allowing cultural and sporting exchanges.

However, the DPRK only wants three things: the US to withdraw from south Korea, a guarantee to not be attacked and an end to economic sanctions.  It can't afford to open up, so it is stuck.  

By no means should Trump agree to US withdrawal from south Korea without a least full verifiable dismantling of the nuclear weapons programme, and ideally also chemical and biological weapons (if the DPRK opens those up then it will be a transformative change).  Although it could certainly agree to a non-aggression treaty based end to the war, it still needs to maintain deterrence against conventional attack.   However, what should not be neglected is the push for closer interaction between the Koreas at the personal level.  I'm far from convinced that Kim Jong Un is doing anything other than playing for time, cementing his reputation in the north and pushing to get economic sanctions eased to help enrich the elite of his regime (and encourage some investment.

He is stuck between the legacy of his grandfather (and father's) web of deceit and the military's position to overthrow him.  The China reform option isn't really there.  However, let's take the calming of tensions as a good thing and hope that it's an opportunity to break the regime open a bit more.  The more that happens, the better the chances for the millions north of the DMZ.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ignorant transport policy "advocates"

Stuff has posted a story by Bevan Woodword who is cited as: the project director for SkyPath and spokesperson for Movement, an alliance of national organisations seeking safe journeys for active transport users.

It's typical of what passes for "analysis" in transport policy among many advocates, and those who are part of the "green" central planning school of transport thinking.   It's shoddy and full of errors, which I'll outline below.  He outlines "six interventions that would make our transport system safer, more efficient and sustainable"...

1. Let's tax fossil fuels:  Hang on.  Existing taxes on petrol, excluding GST are over 69c/l (including the Emissions Trading Levy).   The Government is already planning to increase it.  Yes there is only a small 3.33c/l on diesel, but that's because Road User Charges recover the costs of maintaining and improving roads from diesel powered vehicles.   There ARE taxes on fossil fuels (except fuel oil for shipping and aviation fuel for international flights, but I don't think he thinks about modes off the land).  Taxes on petrol have been increasing by inflation for some years now.  

However, he argues that the taxes should be punitive, not for a purpose other than to make it more expensive to own a car that burns fossil fuels, so that those who can afford it can buy electric cars.  He says "the air we breathe will be healthier", yet there is little evidence New Zealand has a serious air quality issue due to pollution from road vehicles (although there are localised problems in parts of Auckland).  So it's just a guess.  He says the "tax money can fund better alternatives to driving".  Yet, over 15% of the revenue collected from road users is spent on public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure.   

It's as if he is completely unaware of the current government transport revenue and funding system.  No doubt he thinks making it more and more expensive for everyone to drive, including the poor, the elderly and in particular people in regional and rural areas, is good for them because it will "fund alternatives".   So if you're in Kaitaia, Kaitangata, Karori or Katikati, you'll pay more, even though the odds are that in only one of those cases you might have an alternative that Bevan "approves".

2. We need to reward those who use public transport:  Of course many urban public transport users are already rewarded, because on average about half of the cost of their travel is subsidised by road users and ratepayers.  It is nonsense to say "Every person using public transport is helping to relieve traffic congestion and reduce the need for expensive new roads". A fair proportion of those using it either have no reasonable alternative or would share a car trip with another, not everyone on public transport can hop into a car (or would) if it wasn't there.  Yes, airlines (which do provide public transport). reward frequent flyers, but that is a market, it is commercial and it appeared spontaneously.  Long distance public transport (coaches, trains, ferries and airlines) is not subsidised in New Zealand, but that isn't what Bevan thinks of.

3. Put safety experts in charge of our country's road safety:  Um, who does he think works for NZ Transport Agency (which incorporated the Land Transport Safety Authority). NZ's road death rate is twice the rate of the UK because the UK had 15x the population, and most of its major highways are equivalent to a motorway standard in New Zealand (so no head on collisions and few loss of control accidents).  Norway and Switzerland also have low accident rates because the road network in those countries is so superior.   He says:  In New Zealand, politicians are required to approve road safety decisions - such as whether to implement pedestrian crossings, protected cycle lanes, safer speed limits, road safety improvements, compulsory third party insurance, and mandatory professional driver licence training. Most politicians have no expertise in road safety.

No, you wont fund a Minister approving a pedestrian crossing, or even a cycle lane or road safety improvements. Yes Councillors have some role in this for local roads, but state highways are managed by professionals.  Compulsory third party insurance is largely irrelevant in New Zealand because of ACC (which is compulsory socialised "insurance").  Yes, most politicians have no expertise in road safety, but you don't either.  

4. We need to replace the Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR) approach used to assess and prioritise transport projects:  Do keep up Bevan, this was significantly diluted around 15 years ago with the Land Transport Management Act. BCR is only one factor used to prioritise projects.  It is "biased towards roading projects" because, surprise surprise, it is funded by road users.  It does take into account carbon emissions, but it doesn't value them above everything else (the UK did this a few years ago, encouraging low CO2 emitting diesel vehicles over others, and local air quality got worse).  Don't worry, the tool that prioritises what road users want their money spent on isn't used how you think it is.

5. Apply road pricing:  Now I'm fine with this, but Bevan doesn't realise that NZ already has road user charges.  Yes, I'm all in favour of a commercial market approach to charging for roads, but that doesn't include taxing fuel and it means roads being supplied on a market approach as well as priced that way.  He thinks the poor can be helped out by free public transport, though he is unlikely to find that works for people in Huntly, Carterton, Westport or Tuatapere.  I don't think Bevan really wants a market though, because it would go against most of what he wants.

6. Treat our roads as valuable spaces. Our streets must not become traffic sewers: What does that even mean?  Does it mean he thinks vehicles on roads are "sewerage", whether they carry people or goods?  That's just trendy pejorative nonsense.

He wants to "reduce traffic", but implies that a lot of traffic necessarily interferes with walking, cycling and horse riding.   It doesn't if it is on roads purpose built for traffic, and local streets are left for local access.  

The truth is that there is a congestion problem, mainly in Auckland, mainly because market mechanisms aren't used to manage both the demand and supply of roads.  However, road transport has never been safer, never been cleaner (in terms of pollution) and never been cheaper.  Yes, local authorities haven't always thought about how pedestrians fit into the urban environment, and there are locations that could do with traffic bypassing areas better suited for pedestrians and cyclists, but this set of measures devalues the freedom, flexibility, time saving and comfort that private motoring offers millions. New Zealand DID have railway services across much of the country, also with complementary bus services, but New Zealanders bought cars when they could afford them, paid petrol tax to improve the roads, and politicians by and large responded accordingly.  Many other changes in transport patterns have occurred over the years, including huge expansion in air travel, and the recent growth in Uber, all due to individuals and entrepreneurs responding to opportunities.

Bevan, unfortunately, is seeking the command and control central planners' approach to transport.  He wants to tax the choices people currently make, to pay for the ones he thinks are good for them. Unfortunately, he doesn't realise that most of his suggestions are already in place in one form or another.

I think urban design should be supportive of pedestrian access, and cycling where there is demand to justify it.  However, too often this slips beyond advocating for improvements, to a barely disguised attack on motorised road transport, to make it slower, more expensive and less desirable.  If people want to walk and bike, then good luck to them, but why do these advocates for walking and cycling think it is their business to get in the way of people who drive for work, pleasure or business?

Footnote

SkyPath is the advocacy group for a project to put a cycleway and walkway on the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Movement describes itself as "a strong, effective, national voice for active transport users (including elderly, disabled and children)."  Well we are all "active transport users" as we all walk.  

Its vision is: 
For people walking, cycling or using mobility aids, conditions are often unsafe or unpleasant.
Their only option to be completely dependent on a private vehicle. Providing good facilities for active transport, delivers immense benefits: a healthier society, less traffic congestion, more livable communities and an enhanced environment.

Bevan Woodword's profile says: Bevan’s work with BetterWorld NZ includes a wide range of sustainable transport consultancy. He has worked towards the goal of walking and cycling across the AHB for more than 10 years, along with many other initiatives to improve transport choice for Aucklanders. 




Sunday, April 15, 2018

How to explain the hard-left's position on Syria

When a one-party state, led by a dictator, with a personality cult, who inherited his position from his father (who himself gained power by military coup), repeatedly uses chemical weapons against his opponents and the residents of areas governed by his opponents, you'd think there would be universal outrage and condemnation.  

But no.  Setting aside the regime itself and its foreign backer (Russia - which has used its airforce to quell dissent against the regime, with little apparent concern for civilian casualties), there have been two groups who tend to hold one (or even more than one) of three views of these events:

1.  The chemical attacks didn't happen (the "false flag" believers).  As such it was staged by one or more opposition groups, or the more ludicrous claims that it was a CIA, MI5, Israeli orchestrated charade.

2.  The chemical attacks did happen, but were undertaken either by an opposition group (which has no air power, given the Syrian Air Force is well equipped) or by the UK (says Russia), to discredit Assad and Russia.

3.  The chemical attacks did happen, but no one can prove it was the Assad regime, and besides any military action just "makes it worse", will "escalate conflict", will "benefit Jihadists", is "illegal", etc.

One group are non-interventionist libertarians, who at best simply oppose military action by governments on principle, unless it is for self-defence.  Some are conspiracy theory cranks who share a lot with the other group.  I'll discuss them all another day.  Suffice to say, while I respect high levels of scepticism over intervention, I am not a non-interventionist.  I think there is a considerable interest for us all, for those governments with some values of individual rights, rule of law and secular liberal democracy, to take steps to ensure that the treaty based commitment of state to not use chemical weapons, is enforced, with some urgency especially if that state is using it against civilians.  There is merit in arguments against such action, but this post is not about those arguments.

This is about the much larger and vocal "other lot", the so-called "peace" movement on the left.  It's view, as exemplified by the far-left hypocritical "Stop the War Coalition" in the UK, is fairly simple.  It opposes absolutely all Western military action of all kinds, and happily cheers on military, terrorist and other insurgency action by any entities confronting the West or its allies. Loud on US intervention, silent on Russia.  Most of the libertarian non-interventionists are fairly consistently opposed to both, but the far-left are much more obviously hypocritical.

With a Hat Tip to Dave Rich on Twitter I thought his explanation of the hard-left worldview of these events, alongside the Skripal poisoning and indeed many foreign policy issues is as applicable to the NZ Green Party as it is to the UK Labour Party, and to equivalent far-left movements in other countries. 













Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Korean People's Army soldier flees for freedom over the DMZ, gets shot

A bit of context.  

The two Koreas are divided by the DeMilitarised Zone (DMZ) which is actually one of the most militarised zones anywhere in the world.   I've travelled on the road to the DMZ from the northern side and you can see that very road (in the DMZ) up till he passes a checkpoint at around 1:07.  That is the first indication he is not authorised to drive in the DMZ.  Before that is a major north Korean tourist landmark in the DMZ as the location where the Armistice that halted the Korean War was signed (called the DPRK "Peace Museum" naturally).   It is in the heavily forested area to the right side of the footage up till the checkpoint that he is seen passing.  When I was there, there were several tour coaches located on this road, they are not visible here, indicating no foreign tourists were at the DMZ on this day (had there been, it may have stopped them as there are likely to be more guards on such a day).

At 1:18 you can see the panic as he passes the checkpoint although slowing down to cross Bridge 72 (still on the northern side) into the northern half of the Joint Security Area.  That is effectively when he has moved from the northern part of the DMZ into the concentrated JSA.  No more than 35 guards are permitted to be on duty, for each side, in the JSA.  At 1:33 he is in the JSA.  By this point, he will have caused a major panic on the northern side as he will have been keenly observed.  By 1:55 he has passed Tongil Gak, which is the northern side meeting house where joint meetings between both sides are held on an alternate basis with the southern equivalent (Peace House is the southern side equivalent).

At 2:00 he passes the Kim Il Sung "signature" monument which was installed shortly after he died in 1994.  The myth is that his last statement the day before he died on 8 July 1994 was this one, of course seeking reunification (ignoring that few on the southern side want a reunified personality cult led slave state like exists in the north).  Shortly after that he drives towards the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), which is effectively the boundary of control between the two Koreas.  It is then he stops driving near a Korean People's Army building on the MDL.  At 2:28 the shot shifts to see the reaction of soldiers from the northern side in front of the main DMZ buildings on the northern side running to see what is going on.

At 2:55 you can see his vehicle is stuck, he is fewer than 10 metres away from the other side.  At 2:58 he escapes the vehicle and runs for it, while being shot at by the Korean People's Army (KPA) soldiers. At 3:02 another image shows him on the southern side running for "Freedom House" the southern side main building.  At 3:12 one KPA soldier is seen crossing the MDL, which is a big no-no, in pursuit before he remembers and runs back.  Footage for a while after that shows KPA soldiers rallying in panic, but from 4:59, southern (Republic of Korea) soldiers crawl to recover the injured defector.  Crawling out of fear that the KPA ones might shoot them.




That's it.  The KPA is among the most well fed organisation in the north, it's curious that the number of army defectors has been growing in recent years, as news of the outside world trickles in via DVDs smuggled in via China of life in the south.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Requiem for the Wellington trolley bus

Trolley buses are almost iconic for Wellington.   

Wellington was the city that first had them in New Zealand (1924-1932 on one route, followed by the current system since 1950) and will be the last today.  I grew up with them, with my Mum sometimes taking me into town and back on them, and as a child I was fascinated by these vehicles that got energy from wires, were quiet and emitted no fumes.  I lived on a street on which they operated and regularly became "detached" from the wires as drivers went too quickly around the corner, with the old British made rigid overhead wires unable to cope with more than a snail like cornering.  

Trolley buses are nostalgic, the presence of the wires (visual pollution to some) indicates the permanency of the route (a bus will come eventually), and the mere fact they use pure electric technology means they are user friendly.  I've many fond memories of riding on trolley buses, sitting on Mum's lap while watching a Big Ben's Pies disc ad rolling back and forth above the corridor entrance of the bus.  The ride through the Hataitai trolley bus tunnel, pitch black, one lane, the only real chance the trolley buses got to ride at a decent speed, and then the memory of the obnoxious driver who shouted at me for not taking a seat at the back of the bus (he stopped and walked to the back of the bus to do this).  The prick.

However, that nostalgia is tempered by cost (10% more to operate under current oil prices, without including the cost of capital replacement), and the tendency of trolley buses to be slower than other vehicles on curves (Wellington motorists widely see them as the snails of the roads).  

Trolley buses were in all major New Zealand at one point, and New Plymouth. 

Four other cities in New Zealand had them. Christchurch from 1931 to 1956 was the first to go permanently, as the system needed renewal and there was little interest in expanding the network on this low density city. 

Christchurch trolley bus

New Plymouth was the smallest city with a system, running from 1950 till 1967 as one tram route was replaced with trolley buses, but again the costs of running one route in a small city weren't economy.  

ex. New Plymouth trolley bus restored on special trip on the Wellington system
Auckland started with Farmers setting up its own service, for free for customers, operating a loop from 1938 till 1967, joined from 1949 by the City Council replacing tram lines with trolley bus routes.  However, Auckland's system was plagued by a lack of capital renewal, as it relied almost entirely on the electrical system introduced in the 1900s with the electrical tram network.  So from the 1970s, trolley bus routes were closed until 1980 when the last route was closed.  Yet in parallel a decision had been made to replace the inner city network, including services to Parnell, Newmarket, Ponsonby and Herne Bay, with a brand new trolley bus system.  

Farmers Free trolley bus Auckland, owned by Farmers 1930s

Auckland Regional Authority (which had taken over the system some years before) ordered brand new overhead wires and buses, but in 1982 cancelled the lot and was stuck with a mini-system.   Wellington City Council bought the 20 buses at a discount price to replace some of its older trolley buses, and the new overhead wires were used to replace well worn wires in central Wellington.   Another success for the Auckland Regional Authority in politicised decision making on transport.

Never used in the city they were built for.  Auckland ordered Ansaldo Volvo B11M trolleybus
bought at a bargain price from ARA by Wellington City Transport late 1980s
Dunedin held out for two more years, it introduced trolley buses in 1950 also to replace trams, primarily because its hilly topography was better suited to the superior acceleration of trolley buses, than the diesel bus technology of the time.  However, Dunedin paralleled Auckland, with routes shifting to diesel operation as parts of the network needed repairs and the whole system was to be closed in 1980, deferred by the sudden oil crisis, which persuaded the Council to keep the trolley buses until 1982, before finally closing the system.

Dunedin trolley bus in 1978
Wellington was a bit different.  The 1924-1932 "trackless tram" line was a trial from Thornton to Kaiwharawhara on what is now known as the Hutt Road, it would have been extended further towards Ngaio, but the Railways Department objected to the competition so it wasn't permitted.  The modern system started in 1949 and was designed to replace the tram network.  As in Dunedin, trolley buses were much more suited to the hilly topography of Wellington compared to the underpowered, noisy and slow diesel buses of the time.   However, as with other cities, Wellington faced challenges as to the economics of trolley buses when there was a need for replacement buses (as the first generation of 1950s buses were at the end of their economic lives).  However, the oil crisis saw a decision made to buy new buses and 68 new Volvo B-58 trolley buses were ordered (with NZ made bodies), and not long afterwards the 20 Ansaldo Auckland buses became available, enabling the 1960s era BUT buses to be replaced as well.  With new overhead wires in the central city network, and new buses, the trolleybus system got a new lease of life.    Albeit that there were extensive teething problems, as drivers objected to the design of the bus windscreens, and there were constant breakdowns and complaints about noise and interference with AM car radios.

1950s era British United Traction (BUT) Wellington trolleybuses

The Volvo B-58 Wellington trolleybus, with NZ made bodywork

On top of that, the trolley bus network was expanded.  The Mornington route was extended to Kingston, the Newtown Park/Zoo route was electrified, but when the Northland route was extended it was done with diesels (and the electrified segment removed) and a few years later the original Wadestown to Roseneath trolley bus route was also removed, as Wadestown services routinely continued to Wilton.  Weekend and evening services which had been revived were discontinued, mainly to provide time for wire maintenance, although the central city overhead wire system doubled as infrastructure to carry an overhead suspended fibre optic telecommunications network.

By 2001 the issue of replacement came up again, but it was decided in 2004 to replace the Volvo B-58s, but the bodies were replaced as the electrics were still in good order.   Wellington Regional Council agreed to a ten year contract with Stagecoach to retain the trolley buses with a subsidy, because they cost more to operate with the cost of maintaining the overhead wires.  

Wellington's last type of trolley bus- Designline/Volvo at Lyall Bay terminus 2009

Now they are being scrapped, following advice from consultants (none of which have actually worked on operating trolley bus systems in other countries curiously).  Even though the buses themselves have many years of operating life left and almost 40% of the overhead wires had been replaced by 2014.  The electrical supply system is dated though and needs replacement and would cost over $50m to replace.

Yes, I would like them to have been retained, replaced and upgraded (and no doubt it would cost a fraction of the ludicrous plans for light rail in Auckland).  I would like there to be just one line kept for nostalgic purposes, but my claim for nostalgia doesn't mean taxpayers should have to pay for it.   Could something else have been done to save them?  Could experts with working knowledge of modern systems in other countries known of ways to operate and renew a system more economically than those who advised Wellington Regional Council?  Maybe, but the fundamentals around the electrical supply system wouldn't change.  It just isn't worth it to spend that much money on replacing those systems, for nostalgia, noise or to reduce pollution in a city which has good air quality primarily due to the weather! 

What IS disappointing, is that the system is being dismantled before the replacement vehicles are ready.  

So farewell Wellington trolley buses.  Maybe the enthusiasm to preserve them will reignite the nascent museum in Foxton (which lost momentum with the death of its founder and enthusiast Ian Little).   However, while economics may drive transport policy for Wellington, it's clear it has been completely abandoned by the government for its newfound fetish for trams - in Auckland.

So think this.  Why does it make sense to lay down track, install new overhead wire, for a system which is effectively a guided electric bus system, in Auckland?