You have to keep your eyes peeled for the bus at thestation in Shenzhen’s Futian central business districtthese days. The diesel behemoths that once signalledtheir arrival with a piercing hiss, a rattle of engineand a plume of fumes are no more, replaced with theworld’s first and largest 100% electric bus fleet.
Shenzhen now has 16,000 electric buses in total and is noticeably quieter for it. “We find thatthe buses are so quiet that people might not hear them coming,” says Joseph Ma, deputygeneral manager at Shenzhen Bus Group, the largest of the three main bus companies in thecity. “In fact, we’ve received requests to add some artificial noise to the buses so that peoplecan hear them. We’re considering it.”
The benefits from the switch from diesel buses to electric are not confined to less noisepollution: this fast-growing megacity of 12 million is also expected to achieve an estimatedreduction in CO2 emissions of 48% and cuts in pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, non-methane hydrocarbons and particulate matter.
Shenzhen Bus Group estimates it has been able to conserve 160,000 tonnes of coal per yearand reduce annual CO2 emissions by 440,000 tonnes. Its fuel bill has halved.
“With diesel buses I can remember standing at the bus stop and the heat, noise and emissionsthey generated made it unbearable in the summer,” says Ma. “The electric buses have made atremendous difference.”
China’s drive to reduce the choking smog that envelops many of its major cities has propelled ahuge investment in electric transport. Although it remains expensive for cities to introduceelectric buses – one bus costs around 1.8 million yuan – Shenzhen was able to go all-electricthanks to generous subsidies from both central and local government.
“Typically, more than half of the cost of the bus is subsidized by government,” says Ma. “Interms of operation there is another subsidy: if we run our buses for a distance of more than 60,000km we receive just under 500,000 yuan from local government.”
This subsidy is put towards reducing the cost of the bus fares: “The government looks at thepublic transport very much as social welfare.”
To keep Shenzhen’s electric vehicle fleet running, the city has built around 40,000 chargingpiles. Shenzhen Bus Company has 180 depots with their own charging facilities installed. One ofits major depots in Futian can accommodate around 20 buses at the same time.
“Most of the buses we charge overnight for two hours and then they can run their entireservice, as the range of the bus is 200km per charge,” says Ma.
More than 30 Chinese cities have made plans to achieve 100% electrified public transit by 2020.
But with central government planning to withdraw subsidies by 2020, introducing electricbuses elsewhere could be too expensive.
There is also geography to consider. Shenzhen is fairly flat, but the hills of nearby Hong Konghave proven too much in trials of electric buses. Other cities in northern China have struggledwith battery power in the extreme cold of winter.
Meanwhile, cities such as London and New York are accelerating their drive towards electricbuses. London plans to make all single-decker buses emission-free by 2020, and all double-deckers hybrid by 2019. New York plans to make its bus fleet all-electric by 2040.
Riding the 222 bus the length of Shenzhen’s CBD, you hear little sound other than a softwhine when the driver accelerates.
The easy-to-clean hard plastic seats are not the most comfortable but most passengers opt tostand anyway – a choice made easier by the smoothness of the ride.
Rolling into our destination, the doors open with a beep, beep, beep – the loudest noise thebus has made the entire journey.
“It’s quieter, smoother and I only pay the same fare as before,” says Lai, a regular passenger. “I would say most people here are happy with the switch.”