Electrifying public transport

Latin America's electric bus fleet is growing rapidly, led by Chile and Colombia.

Electric buses are making their way through Latin American cities, ushering in a new era of sustainable and environmentally friendly public transportation. With a growing population and increasing urbanisation, cities in Latin America are facing significant challenges in terms of traffic congestion, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. In response to these challenges, many cities are turning to electric buses as a solution to improve the quality of life for their citizens.

A Mobility Consultant at the Mexican Association of Automotive Distributors provided local context, “Electrification is a key part of decarbonising public transport and local and national governments across the region are working on policies and partnerships to accelerate the shift from fossil fuels and meet their NetZero commitments. Furthermore, in some of the region’s most polluted cities, improving air quality is a massive benefit for public health.”

“Electrification is a key part of decarbonising public transport … [and] … improving air quality is a massive benefit for public health.”

Mobility Consultant at the Mexican Association of Automotive Distributors

Several thousand electric buses are already in operation across Latin America. One of the most notable examples of electric buses in Latin America is the city of Santiago, Chile, which has implemented a fleet of over 400 electric buses. This impressive initiative is part of a larger plan to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. These electric buses have a range of up to 250 km on a single charge, which is more than enough to cover most urban routes. Additionally, these buses have zero emissions and are much quieter than their diesel counterparts, making them a more pleasant option for both passengers and residents in the surrounding areas.

Another city that has taken significant steps towards electrifying its public transportation system is Bogotá, Colombia. The city has committed to replacing its entire fleet of buses with electric models by 2029, with the first electric buses already on the road. The new electric buses are expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2.7 million tonnes over their lifetime and save the city over USD 1.3 billion in fuel costs. In Bogotá, more than 30,000 daily users benefit from the city’s electric bus services. Mayor Claudia López said that, in terms of CO2 capture, the use of these buses was equivalent to planting 148,000 trees in the city.

A Colombian public policy expert explained the key drivers behind this early success, “There were clear objectives set by the public administration in the National Development Plan and Conpes 3934. This gave confidence to investors and enabled the entry of many  multinational companies such as VgMobility, Super Polo, BYD, among others. Importantly, Bogota’s Mayor, Claudia López, has also been aligned with achieving sustainable mobility, understanding it as a priority for the city.”

“There were clear objectives set by the public administration in the National Development Plan and Conpes 3934. This gave confidence to investors and enabled the entry of many  multinational companies.”

Public policy expert, Colombia

Electric buses are also gaining popularity in other parts of Latin America, such as Brazil and Mexico, where cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have implemented electric buses in their fleets. São Paulo, for instance, has introduced over 200 electric buses, reducing emissions by approximately 1,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Similarly, Rio de Janeiro has launched a pilot programme with 12 electric buses, with plans to add more to its fleet in the future. In Mexico, Scania is carrying out manufacturing trials for the production of  chassis for electric buses to be sold across in the region. Similarly, Mercedes Benz is in the process of delivering 100 units of its eO500 electric bus model in Brazil.

However, the transition to electric buses is not without its challenges. One of the biggest obstacles is the high initial cost of electric buses compared to traditional diesel models. Such challenges are being addressed through initiatives such as government subsidies and partnerships with private companies, making electric buses a viable option for many cities in Latin America. For example, the International Finance Corporation (“IFC”) has championed public-private partnership and concession models that have accelerated the deployment of electric buses by providing the stability required to finance, procure, and maintain equipment, while public bodies focus on operations and investing in infrastructure. According to the IFC, this model allows each party to do what they do best as opposed to other cities in the world where buses are owned by a public authority or a single private operator. The mobility consultant highlighted other international support, “Organisations, such as the Inter-American Development Bank, have been supporting the initiatives of countries such as Colombia, Chile and Peru, through the creation of a regional fund that has financially leveraged this transition to electric mobility.”

“There is a long way to go but I believe Latin America’s electric bus fleet will see exponential growth in the coming years.”

Mobility Consultant at the Mexican Association of Automotive Distributors

While the transition to electric buses is not without its challenges, the benefits of these vehicles make them a worthwhile investment in the future of sustainable public transportation. As the world continues to face the challenges of climate change, electric buses are proving to be an important tool in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. The mobility consultant concluded, “There is a long way to go but I believe Latin America’s electric bus fleet will see exponential growth in the coming years. Companies such as VgMobility, BYD and Enel X are leading the creation of electric mobility projects in countries such as Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Peru, but there are other Asian competitors such as Yutong, Zhongtong, King Long, Higer Bus that have a presence in Latin America and are gaining more relevance. It is hoped that as the market grows European and American manufacturers will arrive too.”

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