Bogotá buses go electric

Ebus electric buses in Bogotá
Ebus electric buses in Bogotá

It’s a scene anyone familiar with Bogotá will recognize: overcrowded busetas groaning along the city’s main streets belching clouds of toxic exhaust. But the acrid, smoky clouds hanging over calles and carreras may soon be a distant memory as the city plans to include a fleet of electric buses in its ambitious shift to the new SITP public transportation system.

All this month, one of the electric buses – dubbed eBus and produced by Chinese auto manufacturer BYD –will circulate throughout the city testing a number of factors from range to charge times. The vehicle is one of the first pure electric buses to operate in Latin America, and Bogotá would become one of only a handful of world cities to implement the technology into its public transportation system, should the test go well.

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The eBus runs on high capacity iron-phosphate batteries, produces no direct greenhouse gas emissions and operates almost completely silently. Given the cost difference between diesel fuel and electricity, each electric bus could save as much as $200,000 pesos per day or almost $80 million pesos per year. In addition to economic savings, reduced fuel consumption translates to more than 200,000 fewer tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions per bus, according to BYD.

While such savings sound impressive, a new electric vehicle costs almost twice as much as a conventional bus, leaving several of the companies involved in implementing and running the SITP skeptical of the technology’s benefits. The one-month test period, occurring this April, looks to clear up doubts regarding the buses’ practicality and cost-efficiency.

According to BYD, each eBus offers a range of roughly 155 miles (about 250 kilometers) per charge, and batteries can be fully recharged in as little as three hours at fast charging stations or within five hours hooked up to a standard electrical outlet. Relatively low driving ranges given current battery capacity could force electric buses to be used only on certain routes or in a systemic rotation.

Nonetheless, the company claims that a fleet of 200 buses operating in its headquarters city of Shenzhen, one of the largest fleets of its kind in the world, has already covered more than 5 million miles in the course of a year, with no notable decrease in battery capacity or significant unplanned vehicle maintenance costs.

Electric public transportation is nothing new in the Colombian capital, where cable trolleys connected different areas of the city for more than a half-century before the system was disbanded in 1951. Reasoning behind the abrupt disappearance of the electric trolley was never fully explained, although damage from the Bogotazo riots of 1948 and the increasing influence of oil and automotive industries are often cited as factors. Mayor Petro has expressed a desire to bring electric trolleys back to the Carrera Septima as an alternative to the controversial Transmilenio expansion planned by his predecessor.

Of course, trolleys and subways may seem a distant option for public mobility in Bogotá, but if all goes well this month, the city could rapidly shift from suffering through smog-choked traffic to leading the international community into a quieter, healthier and greener future.


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