Who is Accelerating the Shift to Electric Mobility?

The deployment of electric vehicles across the nation’s public transport sector has become a government priority as Chile accelerates towards developed nation status and a sustainable, low-carbon future.

Public transport of the future, today

Chile’s National Energy Balance 2016, produced by the Ministry of Energy, states that 35 per cent of final energy consumption in Chile corresponds to the transport sector and, of this fraction, 98 per cent to petroleum-based products.

This reliance on carbon-based transport systems is one of the primary reasons behind government’s plan to modernise Chile’s public transport infrastructure and bring about an efficient system based on low carbon and sustainability. In line with its new Ruta Energética (Energy Route) 2018-2022, the government of President Sebastián Piñera is prioritising the promotion of electric vehicles (EVs) in both public and private transport and has formulated a target to ensure that 40 per cent of all private cars and 100 per cent of public transport are fully electric by 2050.

Government efforts to accelerate the transition to electric mobility, particularly on the public transport side, have also been enshrined in its Plan Transporte Tercer Milenio (Third Millennium Transport Plan), or TTM, which outlines a vision based on the concept of sustainable, smart cities and carbon-free travel. For more detailed information about the TTM, see here.

Much of the initial emphasis of the TTM is on expanding Santiago’s metro system and modernising its fleet of buses as a way to disincentivise the use of cars. While the metro system already runs on electricity, 60 per cent of which is generated from solar power sources, the city’s bus network, Transantiago, has only three electric buses operating on the roads. This is set to change by the end of the year.


Electric buses and taxis

In line with the TTM, authorities are focusing on the gradual replacement of the Transantiago system with a more efficient and user-friendly service. This includes the renewal of the entire fleet of 6,500 traditional buses over the course of the next decade, since many are ageing and approaching the end of their lifespan in 2018.

That is why the government is prioritising the incorporation of a new fleet of electric buses, with lower emissions and extra comfort for passengers, along prominent routes. One key factor behind this move is President Piñera’s vision of achieving a ‘third millennium’ transport system in which passengers have access to new forms of technology as part of a more modern transport experience.

The initial goal of the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications (MTT) is to introduce 200 new electric buses to the streets of Santiago by the end of 2018. To date, it has already secured 100 state-of-the-art models via a public-private partnership with the Italian multinational energy distributor, Enel. The government and Enel expect these 100 buses to begin circulating in the final quarter of 2018.

Enel purchased the vehicles from Chinese firm BYD and is set to lease both the vehicles and their battery-charging infrastructure to the operator, Metbus, in the coming months. In addition, Enel has declared that it is available for the purchase of the remaining 100 electric buses earmarked by the government in the short-term, if required.

Beyond buses, the MTT has also launched a tender to introduce 60 electric taxis to the roads of the Metropolitan Region by the end of 2018. Similarly, a government tender for 125 electric taxis is underway for the Valparaiso Region. Moving forward, the goal is to replicate this model across other regions in the short to medium term.


Economy and comfort

The initial investment from Enel required to buy the 100 electric buses due in Santiago by the end of 2018 was 1.5 to 2 times the price of a conventional bus. However, the company says that the low operating costs, which are up to 30 per cheaper than for conventional buses, in conjunction with a longer lifespan of 14 years, compared to 10 years, is sufficient compensation.

Moreover, the added value of these buses from the passenger perspective is substantial, including lower particulate contamination, on-board air conditioning, USB ports to charge phones, low engine noise, and a smoother ride. On the technical side, each of the electric buses from Enel is capable of travelling 250 kilometres for each nightly charge.

The comfort factor in particular is one that the government is keen to stress, since passengers seem to prefer electric buses. Results from a mid-2018 survey of passengers travelling on the two electric bus routes of the Transantiago network show that people rated their overall experience as 6.3 out of 7, compared to 4.5 for conventional buses. According to the results, the higher rating is due to the added comfort and technology afforded by the electric buses.


Sustainable transport

While comfort is an important factor behind the introduction of new electric buses, as well as taxis, within Chile’s public transport infrastructure, the key aspects relate to their zero-emission capabilities and the resultant human-health and financial impacts.

According to the government, the use of an electric vehicle rather than a conventional one can help to avoid over 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, saving 1,300 litres of fuel equivalent in the process. In addition, an electric kilometre is approximately 80 per cent cheaper than a fuel kilometre, and within 10 years the price of an electric vehicle is expected to be the same as an internal combustion one. In broader terms, government estimates show that the introduction of electric vehicles will reduce the country’s energy expenditure by more than US$3.3 billion every year.

A 2017 report compiled by the United Nations Environment Programme claimed that if all taxis and buses in Santiago were to be made 100 per cent electric, the city could avoid 1,379 deaths associated with air quality and reduce carbon dioxide equivalent by 10.2 million tonnes. The same report also quantified the financial impact of electric mobility in Santiago, claiming that its widespread introduction could save the city almost US$2.7 billion over the next 13 years.

As Chile moves towards a sustainable future, electric mobility is set to play an increasingly important role. What occurs in the public transport sector over the short and medium term is likely to help shape the trajectory of electric vehicles across the country as a whole.

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