Chile accelerates transition to electric public transport

SANTIAGO, Chile – They don't pollute, are more efficient and practically silent – Santiago is upgrading its public transport and has rolled out the first 100 buses in its new green fleet.

Within the next few decades, Santiago's entire public transport system will become electric.

Chile's capital has a pollution problem primarily due to the 2.4 million fuel powered vehicles cramming its streets that account for 80 percent of the city's toxic emissions.

According to some estimates, 4,000 people a year die prematurely from cardiopulmonary diseases due to pollution, mostly in Santiago where surrounding hills impede ventilation.

"We're going to have to wash our shirts less often, we're going to see that there will be less contamination in the air, we're going to leave home less tired with less irritation, primarily the people that use public transport daily because there will be a reduction of more than 90 percent of what we're breathing now," said Mauricio Osses, electromobility director at the Federico Santa Maria university.

The first green busses started their rounds in the middle of last month as city authorities looked to tackle the symptoms that make Santiago one of the most polluted cities in Latin America.


'Comfortable and spacious' 

"They're comfortable, spacious and they help a lot in the sense that they're not spitting out smoke in the way that other buses do," 23-year-old student Scarlet Silva told AFP.

"You almost don't hear it."

Painted red and white with space for 81 people – 30 seated – the buses have WIFI connectivity and USB pods to charge handheld devices.

Steadily, they will replace the much maligned fleet of 6,500 diesel buses in circulation during the last decade.

Another 100 buses will be rolled out in February with around 1,000, 18 percent of the fleet, expected over the next 3 years.

By 2050, authorities hope to have completed the replacement of every bus in Chile.

"We have a long-term electromobility strategy which aims for 100 percent of public transport buses being electric by 2050," energy minister Susana Jimenez told AFP.

"Nevertheless, given the changes we've seen with the process accelerated by the government of President (Sebastian) Pinera, it has already announced the desire to bring that forward by at least 10 years."

Chile is not the only Latin American country moving towards electromobility.

Colombia is preparing to deploy 1,500 electric taxis by 2020 while Uruguay has built electrical recharging stations along 300 kilometers of its main tourist routes, while exempting commercial electric vehicles from import tariffs.

Argentina is also lowering duties on such vehicles, from 35 percent to two percent, while in Mexico, two companies are launching projects to build electric cars.

In Central America, Costa Rica is leading the way in the decarbonization of state institutions' fleets, with the postal service purchasing 30 electric motorcycles and the electricity institute buying 100 such green vehicles.


 Four times the price 


Chile launched its revolutionary 'Transantiago' bus fleet in 2006 to provide the capital with an integrated transport system linking the buses to the metro.

But it quickly came in for criticism for its poor working order and the fact that it was responsible for 70 percent of pollution in the capital: a city of 7 million people.

In addition to an improvement in health, the new buses will reduce noise pollution by two decibels, experts say.

The state is also planning on using diesel buses that meet the Euro 6 emissions standard, which reduces pollution by 98 percent compared to standard diesel vehicles.

But while electric vehicles are 4 times more expensive ($380,000 each) than regular buses, their acquisition provides long-term benefits: the use of electricity is 4 times cheaper than fuel while the cost of maintaining them is 3 times less.

The buses can cover 250 kilometers before needing to be recharged, and that in a city where the standard bus route is around 40 kilometers.

They take 3 hours to fully recharge and are quipped with their own energy charger. – Rappler.com