Mexico City opts for green buses

Posted: 14 April 2005

Author: Mateo Bueno and Peter Denton

Mexico City mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, waved the starting flag as seven clean-engine buses recently took off into the city streets to show off their torque and power in the developing world's most populous city.

Unlike a conventional drag race, however, this demonstration consisted of an in-depth evaluation and comparison of the top-of-the line environmentally sensitive vehicles offered by the world's leading bus manufacturers. Among the participants are ultra-low sulfur diesel buses from Volvo and Scania, natural gas powered buses from Ankai and FAW, hybrid buses from GM-Allison and Eletra, and a conventional diesel-powered bus from Mercedes Benz.

"Transport is an important means to economic development and social interaction," said Dr. Lee Schipper, director of research for EMBARQ - the WRI Center for Transport and the Environment. "In Mexico City today, the difficulties - severe traffic congestion and air pollution - are choking economic activity and people's daily lives."

The test is part of an environmentally ambitious project which seeks to replace the fleet of buses currently operating in Mexico City with more efficient, low-emission buses. Mexico City is the world's second largest megacity and its residents have long been plagued by traffic jams, lengthy commutes to work, and poor air quality.

While exposed to the altitude and temperature of the Mexican capital and carrying an average weight of 50 passengers, the competing vehicles will perform continuous stops and starts for an 18-month period. Each bus is also equipped with RAVEM, a "Ride Along Vehicle Emissions Measuring System," and a chassis dynamometer. These instruments will determine the environmental impact of the vehicle and compare the emissions to those released by the conventional buses currently running in Mexico City.

"This project is not only about air quality," said Schipper. "We are creating a market for sustainable transport as we reward the companies willing to invest in the environment and manufacture climate-friendly vehicles."

By participating in this "race for zero impact," manufacturers will earn consideration for future Mexico City Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors and compete for international market share as an increasing number of cities and countries explore methods to address local air pollution and the pressing issue of climate change.

In May 2002, EMBARQ signed a memorandum of understanding with the Mexico City authorities creating the Center for Sustainable Transport in Mexico City (CST) to implement an integrated strategy to begin to solve transport-related problems in the capital.

The evaluation of environmentally sensitive buses is part of this comprehensive strategy, which includes the development of a BRT system, the selection of best engine/fuel combinations for new high-capacity buses, and the retrofit of existing diesel buses. A formal event presenting a new retrofitted diesel bus fleet is scheduled for January 2005 and the Mexican government is hoping to launch the first BRT corridor along Avenue Insurgentes in March 2005.

BRT systems use buses to approach, when properly designed and executed, the capacity and efficiency of an underground subway at a fraction of the price. This is an important consideration for cities in cash-strapped developing countries.

"In a matter of two years, WRI, EMBARQ, and CTS have built the technical and political know-how in order to incorporate environmental and social factors into the Mexico's transportation system," said Dr. Nancy Kete, director of EMBARQ. "The advances in this project demonstrate the fruit of our work."

EMBARQ fosters viable government-business-civil society partnerships whose members are committed to finding solutions to the transportation-related problems facing the cities in which they operate. The center is also working in cooperation with the city of Shanghai, China to produce a BRT concept plan and demonstration corridor, and to develop a system of sustainable transport indicators that the government and public can use to monitor progress after a new transport model has been implemented.

Additionally, EMBARQ is launching projects in Sao Paolo and Porto Alegre, Brazil, Leon de Guanajuato and Queretaro, Mexico, and Lima, Peru to help them develop BRT systems.

Mateo Bueno is an intern with EMBARQ. Peter Denton is managing editor of WRI Features

Source: WRI Features