Electric buses are a solution to our cities’ worst problems


A lot of news and noise surround electric cars but another vehicle is also benefitting largely from elecrification: buses. Running not for just a little bit in the morning and in the evening, they run all day, and sometimes, even part of the night. Tranporting not just one or two people to work at a time, they can transport dozens. This is why switching 5,000 buses to full electric has the impact of switching 100,000 cars.

Public transportation is a key component to sustainability, resiliency and combatting climate change. Cities around the world are polluted, and the massive diesel engines running current buses are part of the problem. But this is changing.

Cities are switching to electric buses for four reasons.

To a study quoted by Robert Llewellyn and Jonny Smith on Fully Charged, switching buses to electric models help cities cut fuel costs by 70 percent and maintenance costs by 50 percent. Cleantechies quote Proterra, a US electric bus company, that claims saving more than 80% on energy costs compared to diesel. These are truly massive cuts.

Now, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance: “in a megacity, where buses travel at least 220km/day, using even the most expensive 350kWh e-bus instead of a CNG bus could bring around $130,000 in operational cost savings over the 15-year lifetime of a bus. “

This might not seem like a lot, but BNEF is very conservative in its estimates and work. This points out that even in “worst case scenarios”, cities would still make money by switching today. As the consultancy explains, prices will continue to drop as the technology is adopted worldwide and cost parity with diesel would happen in the mid 2020s. Other analysts however believe that full electric buses are already cost competitive. These are exciting prospects.

David Roberts in his excellent article on Vox also points out that besides cutting costs and pollution, electric buses also make less noise and provide a “much nicer experience” to riders as they are “lower to the ground (and) roomier”. This is a win-win-win-win. The riders win, the neighbours win, the city wins, the entire planet wins !

But not everything is rosy for Battery Electric Buses (BEBs): they cost more upfront, they need charging capacity (and ideally, the clean and cheap electricity to charge them with) and can suffer from a more limited range.

Cities worldwide are adopting electric buses en masse.

Despite these drawbacks, more and more cities around the globe have started to unveil plans to ditch polluting models running on fossil fuels for cleaner full electric buses. In Europe, the public transportation companies serving Paris and its surrounding cities announced that they will make their fleet zero emission by 2025. This will help with the air pollution that has plagued the French capital in recent years.

Meanwhile, London plans to retrofit 5,000 old diesel buses, including its famous double-deckers. To Bloomberg, if the city’s bus fleet entirely switched to electric, national diesel consumption would be reduced by 0.7 percent. Other cities in other European countries are also moving adopting this exciting technology.

In the US, New York City is planning to switch all of its 5,700 buses to electric by 2040. As many have pointed out, this might happen much faster than that. Los Angeles is also planning to do so by 2030.  Likewise, Seattle is starting to use this technology and plans to have 120 such buses by 2020. Chicago, Washington DC and many other American cities are following suit.

But the winner in electric buses adoption is without contest, China, and this thanks to huge production by local companies such as BYD. The People’s Republic counted 385,000 of them at the end of last year. Every five weeks, Chinese cities add 9,500 of the zero-emissions transporters—the equivalent of London’s entire working fleet. Just in the city of Shenzhen, there are over 16,300 electric buses!

The only people who are losing from the massive adoption of this technology are oil companies. To Bloomberg, “For every 1,000 battery-powered buses on the road, about 500 barrels a day of diesel fuel will be displaced from the market (…) This year, the volume of fuel not needed may rise 37 percent to 279,000 barrels a day. “

Now, these are great news ! Let’s make sure that all buses are electric or zero emissions by the end of the next decade !

Image credits: Proterra. 

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