How 3 Cities Are Navigating the Transition to Electric Buses

As today’s urban areas house more than half the world’s population and produce more than 80 percent of global economic activity, cities are uniquely positioned to deliver sustainable solutions. However, poor local air quality and issues related to global climate change are negatively impacting the lives of millions. Promising solutions exist – cities are increasingly turning to low- and zero-emission buses to decrease environmental impacts while creating economic, environmental and health benefits, for example. Transitioning bus fleets to clean technologies can also improve quality of service and reduce costs in the long run. So why aren’t all cities closing the curtain on diesel-fueled fleets and transitioning to electric?

To better understand this question and evaluate the barriers that cities face when taking on electric buses, the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative interviewed three experts in three different cities going through the process, each with the objective of improving quality of life for residents and their urban environment.

Santiago, Chile

In Santiago de Chile, Carlos Melo, deputy secretary for transport for the government of Chile, explains how sub-par bus service, high levels of pollution and Chile’s commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030 pushed the city to invest in electric buses. The city views electric buses as an opportunity to deliver on its climate targets and decrease air pollution, achieving multiple goals at once.

“The most important challenge is the lack of trust that operators have in this new technology,” says Melo. Building confidence in these new technologies, by creating incentives allowing operators to embrace them, is a challenge that cities all around the world are facing.

Bangalore, India

The number of motor vehicles in Bangalore is increasing dramatically, contributing to congestion and air pollution in this city of more than 10 million people. Poor air quality is a chief concern for Ekroop Caur, finance secretary for the state of Karnataka. Caur emphasizes the need to jump right into electric technologies, instead of “moving from one fuel to another, or from one technology to a slightly better one.” These technologies are the “future of the entire mobility sector.”

To lessen the financial burden for Bangalore, the city planned to use a hiring model rather than purchase buses outright, which lowers the total cost of ownership.

London, United Kingdom

Each year, nearly 10,000 people die from the long-term effects of air pollution in London. Richard Harrington, engineering director at GoAhead London, highlights the critical need to cut emissions in the city. In 2019, London will implement an ultra-low-emission zone within which most vehicles will need to meet strict exhaust emission standards or pay a daily fee. Additionally, there will be 12 city corridors in which vehicles are required to meet the European Union’s Euro 6 emission standards.

“Any city in the world can transition to electric bus technologies,” says Harrington, pointing to planning, preparation and a high level of coordination between city officials, manufacturers and power suppliers as important components for success.

While striving toward the same goal, each city faces distinct barriers. Many sustainable development projects, from electric buses and bike sharing to more energy efficient buildings, stall due to lack of funding, limited internal expertise, or challenges in coordinating across different public and private sector agencies. The Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative is helping cities address these challenges by bridging ideas and implementation through the development of innovative business models and identifying the ingredients of successful sustainable urban projects around the world.

The Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative (FSCI), funded by the Citi Foundation, is a partnership between WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group that helps cities accelerate and scale-up investments in sustainable urban solutions through the development of innovative business models.

This video was launched at World Urban Forum 9 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Christopher Moon-Miklaucic is a Research Assistant with Urban Innovation and Finance at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Talia Rubnitz is Communications Assistant with WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

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