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


Germany

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."

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