How Global Cities Are Working to Electrify Transit

With the transportation sector accounting for a third of urban carbon emissions, cities around the world are seeking new ways to electrify their transit fleets and reduce fossil fuel consumption.

2 minute read

October 18, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Trams in Berlin, Germany. | Sergei Bachlakov / Shutterstock

As Somini Sengupta reports, more and more cities around the world are taking steps to reduce fossil fuel consumption in their transportation sector and electrify public transit. 

Berlin is reviving electric tram lines that were ripped out when the Berlin Wall went up. Bogotá is building cable cars that cut through the clouds to connect working-class communities perched on faraway hills. Bergen, a city by the fjords in western Norway, is moving its public ferries away from diesel and onto batteries — a remarkable shift in a petrostate that has for decades enriched itself from the sale of oil and gas and that now wants to be a leader in marine vessels for the electric age.

"Urban transportation is central to the effort to slow climate change. Home to more than half the world’s population, cities account for more than two-thirds of global carbon dioxide emissions," with transportation as the biggest–and fastest-growing–source, accounting for roughly a third of cities' emissions. Chinese bus manufacturers are taking notice, supplying electric fleets to cities including Los Angeles and Santiago, Chile. Supporters say "the change is audible" as near-silent electric buses replace the roar of gas-powered vehicles. 

"At the moment, only 16 percent of city buses worldwide are electric. The electric switch will need to accelerate, and cities will have to make mass transit more attractive, so fewer people rely on automobiles." For the growing metropolises of the developing world, electrification is expensive and challenging. "But where cities are succeeding, they’re finding that electrifying public transit can solve more than just climate problems. It can clean the air, reduce traffic jams and, ideally, make getting around town easier for ordinary people, which is why some politicians have staked their reputations on revamping transit."

Sunday, October 3, 2021 in The New York Times

Red on white 'Room for Rent, Inquire Inside' sign

In Most U.S. Cities, Archaic Laws Limit Roommate Living

Critics argue laws preventing unrelated adults from living in the same home fail to understand the modern American household.

May 24, 2023 - The Atlantic

Vancouver Chuck Wolfe

Ten Signs of a Resurgent Downtown

In GeekWire, Chuck Wolfe continues his exploration of a holistic and practical approach to post-pandemic urban center recovery, anchored in local context and community-driven initiatives that promote livability, safety, and sustainability.

May 24, 2023 - GeekWire

New York MTA subway station

Off-Peak is the New On-Peak

Public transit systems in major U.S. cities are starting to focus on non-rush hour travelers as pre-pandemic commuting patterns shift and transportation needs change.

May 19, 2023 - Curbed

Nighttime view of Tacoma, Washington skyline

Tacoma Coalition Calls for ‘Tenants’ Bill of Rights’

The group wants to put more power in the hands of tenants, but the city has its own, competing proposal for addressing the housing crisis.

May 26 - The Urbanist

Wind turbines sillhouetted against a sunset sky along roadway in New Mexico

New Power Transmission Line Approved in the Southwest

The proposed transmission line will transfer wind-produced power from New Mexico to cities in Arizona and California.

May 26 - U.S. News And World Report

Aerial view of 238 freeway in Oakland, California cutting through neighborhood with small houses

The Limitations of ‘Reconnecting Communities’

The Biden administration has pledged to correct the damage imposed on communities by highways and infrastructure, but many projects are only committing to minor improvements, not transformative changes.

May 26 - The New York Times

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.