All 16,000 buses in the fast-growing Chinese megacity are now electric, and soon all 13,000 taxis will be too.
You have to keep your eyes open for the bus at the station in Shenzhen's Futian CBD these days. The diesel giants that once signaled their arrival with a piercing hiss, an engine clatter and a plume of smoke, have now been replaced by the world's first and largest fleet of 100% electric buses.
Shenzhen now has 16,000 electric buses in total and is noticeably quieter for it. “We found that the buses are so quiet that people don't hear them coming,” says Joseph Ma, deputy general manager of Shenzhen Bus Group, the largest of the city's three major bus companies. “In fact, we have received requests to add some man-made noise to the buses so that people can hear them. We are considering it. "
The benefits of switching from diesel to electric buses are not limited to less noise pollution: this fast-growing megacity that already has 12 million inhabitants, and once a fishing village, becomes the first “special economic zone Designated from China. An estimated 48% reduction in CO2 emissions and reductions in pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, non-methane hydrocarbons and particulates are also expected to be achieved. Shenzhen Bus Group estimates that it has been able to conserve 160,000 tons of coal per year and reduce annual CO2 emissions by 440,000 tons. Your fuel bill has been cut in half.
"With diesel buses, I remember standing at the bus stop and the heat, noise and emissions they generated made it unbearable in the summer," says Ma. "Electric buses have made a big difference."
China's push to reduce the smog that suffocates and engulfs many of its major cities has prompted a large investment in electric transportation. Although it is still expensive for cities to introduce electric buses, a bus costs around 1.8 million yuan (£ 208,000). Shenzhen was able to make it completely electric thanks to generous subsidies from the central and local government.
“Normally, more than half the cost of the bus is subsidized by the government,” says Ma. “In terms of operation, there is another subsidy: if we drive our buses over a distance of more than 60,000 km, we receive a little less than 500,000 yuan [£ 58,000] from local government ”. This subsidy is intended to reduce the cost of bus fares. : "The government considers public transport as social welfare."
To keep Shenzhen's electric vehicle fleet running, the city has built around 40,000 charging batteries. Shenzhen Bus Company has 180 depots with its own loading facilities installed. One of its main depots in Futian can recharge around 20 buses at the same time. “Most of the buses we charge them overnight for two hours and then they can run their full service as the bus range is 200km per charge,” Ma says.
The availability of charging stations is a major factor making it difficult for other cities around the world to switch to fleets of fully electric buses. "We have some of our own warehouses, but we also have to rent some from the municipal government, as well as the private sector," he says.
Obtaining the required charging infrastructure for taxis is proving more challenging. By the end of this month, all of Shenzhen's 13,000 taxis are required to switch to electric. The Shenzhen bus company has switched its entire fleet of 4,600 taxis to electric ahead of schedule.
"For taxis it's more about distribution than the number of billing pillars because taxis run everywhere and they don't have fixed routes," says Ma. "We're looking for all kinds of different solutions, from parking spaces to public areas like municipal parks and some of the main government places, as well as temporary sites in local villages that may have communal lands that we can contract.
The lack of charging stations is causing friction among taxi drivers. "You always hear about fights between taxi drivers trying to get into charging stations and things like that," says Ma. "It's difficult for drivers because obviously they can't go too far to load their taxis."
His firm is developing an app to track available cargo spaces and notify drivers in real time.
More than 30 Chinese cities have made plans to achieve 100% electrified public transit by 2020, including Guangzhou, Zhuhai, Dongguan, Foshan and Zhongshan in the Pearl River Delta; and Nanjing, Hangzhou, Shaanxi, and Shandong.
But with the central government planning to withdraw subsidies by 2020, introducing electric buses elsewhere could be too costly.
You also have to consider geography. Shenzhen is fairly flat, but the hills of nearby Hong Kong have proven too difficult for electric buses. Other cities in northern China have struggled with battery power in the extreme cold of winter.
Meanwhile, cities like London and New York are accelerating their path to electric buses. London plans to make all single-decker buses emission-free by 2020, and all double-decker buses hybrid by 2019. New York plans to make its fleet of buses fully electric by 2040.
Riding the 222 bus along the Shenzhen CBD, you hear a sound little more than a soft whistle as the driver accelerates. The easy-to-clean hard plastic seats aren't the most comfortable, but most passengers choose to stand up anyway, an option that's made easy by the smoothness of the ride.
Arrive at our destination, the doors open with a beep, the loudest noise the bus has made the entire trip.
"It's quieter, smoother and I pay the same fare as before," says Lai, a regular passenger. "I would say that most of the people here are happy with the change."
Original article (in English)