Electric public transport: Bus down to electric avenue

  • Gothenburg’s ElectriCity project has been testing all-electric buses as a sustainable, low-emission public transport solution.
  • An all-electric Volvo bus silently makes its way along Route 55, a new route in the Gothenburg city bowl.
  • Volvo’s electric bus can accommodate more passengers, while allowing for more interior luxuries, such as large touch screens, USB charging for smartphones and Wi-Fi access.
Date:27 October 2016 Author: Nikky Knijf Tags:, , , , , ,

Electrified public transport isn’t new, but the global increase in sustainable technology investment has created opportunities for the development of electric public transport systems.

By the first quarter of 2016, Cape Town’s MyCiTi rapid transit bus fleet had recorded more than 38,5 million passenger trips since its inauguration. For the month of November 2015 alone, more than 1,5 million trips were undertaken. In the coming months the MyCiTi transport will be adding more routes to its schedule, hoping to feed the demand for public transport. But with fossil fuel prices soaring, and increasing pressure to lower carbon emissions, the city’s local government earlier this year announced a tender for battery powered electric buses to join the public transport fleet. Cities across the world would soon reach a point where alternative fuel for public transport was no longer a choice, but a prerequisite, mayor Patricia de Lille said. Therefore, Cape Town has decided to expand its existing fleet of diesel buses with electric ones.

Last year, 195 countries signed a legally binding climate deal during the 21st Conference of Parties at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris. The agreement is the culmination of various plans that countries will introduce to limit global warming. As part of the global change being implemented by 2020, transport agencies the world over are investigating electric bus fleets. Electric buses have the potential to curb carbon emissions to aid in the stabilising of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and to assist in the development of sustainable transport systems. One city embracing the electric bus idea is Kuala Lumpur. Following the implementation of a bus-only mass transit system in the city in 2012, the Malaysian Ministry of Transport ordered a fleet of 55 buses for the initial phase of its electric bus rapid transport system. The electric bus acquisition forms part of the country’s plan to reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent by the year 2020.

KL’s first all-electric buses started running in June 2015 and now contribute significantly to moving the city’s more than one-million daily public transport users. These particular electric buses are manufactured by Chinese rechargeable battery and electric vehicle manufacturer, BYD. The company is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of rechargeable electric batteries, and is assisting transport authorities in testing electrified solutions in more than 190 cities worldwide. Recently, BYD’s 18-metre articulated electric bus successfully completed a city-to-city trip of over 400 kilometres. The bus travelled from Bogota to Medellin in Colombia on a single battery charge. Public transport testing was reportedly to commence9 from the end of March 2016.

Another successful electric bus implemenation is the ElectriCity project in Gothenburg, Sweden. In 2014, more than 240 million passenger trips were recorded in Gothenburg – a 40 per cent increase since 2007. In an effort to meet the demand for public transport, while trying to adhere to the requirements of an environmental policy that dictates that 95 per cent of all passenger trips should be executed using renewable energy by 2025, the city’s public transport agency Vasttrafik, looked to electric buses. Conceptually the buses not only adhere to the environmental policy, but also contribute to reduced noise pollution.

The all-electric buses were designed by Gothenburg-based Volvo. The buses, which started operating on a newly implemented route last June, hold more passengers than their diesel equivalents, too. The ElectriCity project shuttled more than 600 000 passengers in its first seven months. The first commercial version of Volvo’s all-electric bus, the Volvo 7900 Electric, was launched at the Busworld exhibition in October 2015. Series production is scheduled for 2017. “We would like all public transport to be carbon neutral – whether biogas or electricity,” says the municipal commissioner for Gothenburg, Johan Nyhus. “We have been watching this project closely – everyone in the city is behind it. The people of Gothenburg care a lot about the environment and CO2-neutral buses are an important step in the right direction.

“Increasing sustainability and lowering emissions are key – power should be clean and renewable. It has involved a lot of effort from many partners, and the city is very proud of this project.” Volvo’s bus division is widening its sustainable vehicle focus, to accommodate vehicle maintenance. Globally, Volvo Buses have more than 250 workshop technicians that are certified to work with electric and hybrid buses. The company will also be looking at developing its workshops to enhance expertise and offer existing and potential customers more efficient transport solutions and aftermarket electric bus solutions.

“The technology exists; the challenge now is to help cities make the shift from diesel power to electric,” says Volvo Group’s electro-mobility drive head and ex-president of Volvo Buses, Håkan Karlsson. “Electric-only buses can help cities achieve their targets of being CO2 neutral.”

Images credit: Volvo Buses

This article about electric public transport was originally published in the May 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.