Transition to electric buses. Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Greater passenger comfort. Or even reducing noise in urban areas.
These are only some of Europe’s goals when establishing objectives concerning the major shift that urban mobility is currently experiencing.
In 2014, China set the lead for a transformation of the bus system, introducing 16.000 electric buses with the clear aim of reducing contamination in a country characterised by its extremely high pollution levels. Four years later, a study conducted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance demonstrated how 29 Chinese cities had reduced their concentration of fine particles in the air by 32%. In fact, since this mobility plan was launched, Shenzhen’s city bus company calculated it had managed a total reduction of 440.000 tons of C02 per year, having achieved a 100% electric bus fleet in the city.
This demonstrated the effectiveness and importance of developing a change of model in the bus mobility industry. Each electric bus can avoid up to 60 tons of carbon emissions per year, and this shift to electric vehicles is essential to make public transport more attractive and sustainable for citizens and to generate public health and environmental benefits.
With more than 95% of Europe’s urban areas suffering poor air quality, much of which is due to diesel buses, the Commission decided to follow China’s example and set ambitious targets for each of its state members. Each country now has different goals, but the percentage varies between 43% and 75% of new buses being clean vehicles by 2030. The COP21 agreement took place in 2015, and since then the vast majority of European countries has begun adopting the new measures to meet the strict targets. In fact, between the years 2018 and 2019 the number of zero emission buses registered in Europe has tripled.
Some European cities are taking the lead when it comes to addressing the problem. Metropoli such as Paris or Madrid are pursuing green technological initiatives, to make mobility sustainable.
However, these cities have had to overcome some barriers along the way:
- The higher upfront cost: the cost of an electric bus can be double the price of a diesel bus. Financial support is a must, especially for less wealthy cities which are normally the ones to experience air pollution issues.
- Lack of strong policy support and unfamiliar procurement and financing schemes.
- Insufficient operational knowledge of electric bus models.
Here are some of the pioneer cities that are investing in clean, non-polluting and affordable electric buses:
In February 2020, Madrid opened the first fully electric bus line. This initiative is within the framework of the 360º climate plan, that the city’s mayor is developing to fight climate change in the Spanish capital to meet the European Union’s air quality standards.
The fleet of vehicles will be composed exclusively of 100% electric zero-emission buses, and will be completely free to support the use of public transport in the city.
The bus line will connect Atocha Renfe and Moncloa, two of the city’s most connected transport stations, and it is expected to move more than 4 million passengers each year.
The City Council is aiming at a 3750% annual increase in travel, going from eighty thousand to more than three million passengers every year.
This month, the municipal public transport company will open a second zero-emissions line that will take passengers from Argüelles to Puerta de Toledo, two other key spots of the city.
The French capital also belongs to the list of cities working towards an electric transport model. Citizens living in or passing by the 15th arrondissement of Paris will be able to take one of the 100% electric bus routes. At the beginning, the fleet will be formed by minibuses that will soon be replaced by average-sized buses. They will be able to take up to 22 passengers, and will be running seven days a week.
The 15th arrondissement is the busiest, and it will now incorporate this new transport service that will take passengers from the Pasteur Institute to Georges Brassens park, passing by the town hall, schools and the multimedia library.
The next short-term goal for the city? By 2025 the next objective is for two out of three buses of the Parisian bus network to be electric, and one out of three to be powered by biogas.
Between the years 2018 and 2019 the number of zero emission buses registered in Europe has tripled.
The city of Berlin is another pioneer in the push towards bus electrification. In Spring 2020, the city’s electric bus fleet will increase by 60 new buses that will have an electric heating system and pantograph for fast charging. These two features stand out as they will allow truly emission free operations, and rapidly charge the bus during daily use.
This will make a total of 140 electric buses in the German capital, and the aim is to replace all Diesel buses with electric ones by 2030.
Route 94 has been selected as the next line in the British capital bus system to use electric double decker buses, running between Acton Green and Piccadilly Circus. This makes a total of 280, demonstrating the city’s significant commitment when tackling the current pollution problems.
These new vehicles achieve up to 160 miles on a single charge, and they are also fitted with the Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System, which serves to generate sound at speeds below 12 mph, as a way to alert pedestrians or vulnerable road users.
Another twelve routes are expected to become completely electric during this year 2020. The next line to experience the electric transformation for a cleaner city will be C3, operating from West Cromwell Road to Clapham Junction, and line 23, that goes from Westbourne Park and Hammersmith.
The English capital support of zero-emissions initiatives is more than evident. London is serving as an example to other European cities as a city that is fighting to bring its air pollution levels within legal limits.
Other European cities
Not only are big cities fighting for a cleaner transport system. Several cities in the Netherlands are setting an example by making large investments in electric transport. For example, more than 160 buses are already hitting the streets of Groningen and Drenthe in the Netherlands. Another city to lead the change for a cleaner city center is Utrecht, where there are already ten buses forming the first zero-emissions transport line.
Other cases? The city representation of the municipality of Copenhagen has announced its goal to stop using all diesel buses in the city before the end of 2025, and routes have already been tested, obtaining promising results. Also, the German city of Bonn is joining the European initiative to boost zero-emission public transportation. The initiative starts with six electric buses, growing to a fleet totally powered by electricity.
The main challenge: where and when to charge?
According to the ‘Global Electric & Hybrid Electric Bus Market By Vehicle Type, By Technology, Competition Forecast and Opportunities, 2021’ report, the global market for electric and hybrid buses has a projected annual growth rate of 17%. Even if electric buses are significantly more expensive than conventional vehicles, their running costs are lower and the electric bus lifetime cost is expected to equal the conventionally powered bus lifetime cost by 2023.
A more profound understanding of the life cycle of bus batteries and its implications for the investment in electric bus fleets will be necessary for future agreements. Moreover, public transport operators will be forced to develop new skills such as battery maintenance to accommodate the new dynamics in the value chain. Currently, there is still a lot of uncertainty around electric bus battery charging strategies, and the optimal type of charging hardware for each vehicle considering costs and operational flexibility. The main challenge nowadays is: when and where to charge?
At the end of 2019, VDL was the market leader with a total of 386 e-buses registered and 22,5% of the share. Its vehicles include the latest generation of quick-change batteries that are charged in 20 minutes or less, allowing 24-hour service in cities like Amsterdam. BYD will be in second place with 236 buses in key cities like London, and Solaris will be third with a total of 145 registrations, incorporating its buses in urban environments like Hamburg or Barcelona.
More and more cities are demonstrating that persistence and collaboration make greener and healthier cities possible. We will all soon see the effect of electrification in our lives.
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