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The transition to electric public transport

Electric cars have come a long way in 2018. Public interest in how electric cars work, how much they cost to own and their benefits has risen significantly. With more EV charging stations available than ever, this broad network is capable of supporting even more drivers. In addition to this, the variety of electric cars coming in 2019 means that consumers will have a multitude of choices when it comes to switching to electric. Given this expansion of the electric car market, it’s no surprise that more consumers expect electric public transport to evolve in parallel.

A short history of public transportation

Electricity has been used as a power source for centuries and many subway and metro networks still use it today. However, it is only in recent years that the technology has become available to fully harness this capability across a wider range of public transport methods.

It was only a few short years ago that we witnessed the first deep-level tube line. The City and South London Railway opened on the London Underground in 1890. In fact, the very first trains that were used on the Tube were electric.

Prior to this, electric tram systems have been used since the 19th century, the first commercially-successful line operating in Lichterfelde near Berlin, Germany, in 1881.

The earliest forms of public transport can be traced back to ferries and Chinese canals built in the 5th century BC. Over the intervening years the passenger horse-drawn coach, street car, stagecoach and buses have taken this concept further. The evolution of public transport from these early modes to now highlight just how far we’ve come - and can continue to do so.

The rise in popularity of electric public transport

One of the reasons for the rise of electrically-powered public transport is a surge in public support. With the UK government incentivising EV use (the plug-in car grant offers £3,500 off the list price of an EV), public attitudes to sustainability and environmentally-conscious options, electric travel is becoming far more mainstream.

In a recent survey carried out by Volvo Buses, 58% of respondents said they embrace the use of electric buses and would be open to funding these initiatives through higher fares and higher road tax to improve air quality. For these reasons, we’re entering an era where the transition to fully electric public transport is a distinct possibility.

Economic, political, and social benefits of electric public transport

In the UK, and locations all over the world, the addition of electric buses is significantly contributing to a full transition towards a comprehensive electric public transport. For example, by 2023, all public transport in a South Wales could go electric with an £8m plan – a first for the UK. The addition of 68 new zero-emission buses to the London Transport Network will mean that London will have Europe's largest double-decker electric bus fleet. Looking outside of the UK for a moment, research by the Zero Emission Urban Bus System project has found that 19 public transport operators/authorities in 25 European cities have a zero-emissions bus strategy in place for 2020.

Perhaps the most compelling reasons for this huge spike in popularity are the benefits the electric public transport offers. These include:

  • Reducing pollution. Transport (including general and public) represents 27% of Europe’s total greenhouse emissions. Switching to electric public transport results in a reduction in nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide emissions. The result is a cleaner environment for city inhabitants. This is particularly important given that the WHO estimates that air pollution causes 1 in every 9 deaths worldwide.

  • Economic mobility. Efficient and affordable public transport enables economic advancement in cities, and facilitates access to markets and resources. Electric transport requires less maintenance and is less likely to break down. As a result, investment in electric transport infrastructure delivers better performance and better support.

  • Reducing the cost of public transport. Whilst a higher up front cost to electric public transport may be required, many studies have shown that electric vehicles are substantially cheaper to operate. This means it can be more affordable and more accessible for those it is designed to serve.

The future of electric public transport

With so many countries committed to electric public transport, it looks set to dominate infrastructure in the near future. Given the strength of commitment to electric transport networks, it’s entirely possible that we could soon see fleets of electric buses alongside fleets of electric cars on our roads nationwide. This would create a safer and greener future for everyone.

A transition to electric public transport is no longer a pipe-dream. Innovation has ensured a broad roll out of this technology is possible and the benefits make it increasingly appealing.