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Tram, Cable Car, Electric Ferry: How Cities Are Rethinking Transit

Tram, Cable Car, Electric Ferry: How Cities Are Rethinking Transit
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Tram, Cable Car, Electric Ferry: How Cities Are Rethinking Transit

Tram, Cable Car, Electric Ferry: How Cities Are Rethinking Transit

The roar of engines has long been a part of a city’s soundscape.

For a century, for billions of urban people around the world, getting around has meant boarding a diesel-powered bus or gasoline-powered auto rickshaw, or a car among the wealthy.

Today, a quiet change is underway. Berlin, Bogota and many other cities are taking creative steps to reduce gas and diesel from their public transport systems. They are doing so despite striking differences in geography, politics and economics that complicate change.

Berlin is reviving electric tram lines that were torn when the Berlin Wall went up. Bogota is building cable cars that cut clouds to connect working-class communities on distant hills. Bergen, a city by the fjords in western Norway, is moving its public ferries away from diesel and batteries – a marked change in a petrostat that has been rich on oil and gas sales for decades and now wants to be a leader of the electric age. for in ships.

Bergen’s buses are also now electric, supplied by Chinese bus manufacturers, which have taken over the market in cities such as Los Angeles and Santiago, Chile. The change is audible. “You can hear voices in the streets again,” said John Askland, the mayor of the county, including Bergen.

Urban transport is central to the effort to slow climate change. Home to more than half of the world’s population, cities account for more than two-thirds of global carbon dioxide emissions. And transportation is often the biggest, and fastest-growing, source, making it imperative to not only encourage more people to get out of their cars and go for mass transit, but also make transit less polluting and more efficient. It is also necessary to make

According to C40, a coalition of nearly 100 urban governments trying to address climate change, transportation accounts for a third of a city’s carbon dioxide emissions, on average, outpacing heating, industry and other sources such as waste. go.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. For example, in Costa Rica, private bus operators are divided over national efforts to electrify mass transit. In Chinese cities such as Shenzhen, which has an entirely electric bus fleet, electricity still mostly comes from coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. And shifting everywhere is expensive.

Currently, only 16% of city buses worldwide are electric. The electric switch will need to be accelerated, and cities will need to make mass transit more attractive, so fewer people rely on automobiles.

“It has become an appropriate position to advocate for less space for cars,” said Felix Creutzig, a transportation specialist at the Mercator Research Center in Berlin. “Ten years ago, it was not even allowed to be said. But now you can say that.”

The biggest challenge is faced by cities that need change the most: the most congested and polluted metropolises in Asia and Africa, where people rely on informal mass transport such as diesel minivans or motorcycle taxis.

But where cities are succeeding, they are finding that electrifying public transport can solve much more than just climate problems. It can clean the air, reduce traffic jams and, ideally, make it easier for ordinary people to move around the city, which is why some politicians stake their reputation on improving transit. has been put. In many cases, city governments have been able to take climate action faster than their national governments.

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“It requires political force,” Bogota Mayor Claudia López said in an interview. “For the past 25 years, Bogota has been condemned to depend on diesel buses. This is irrational in the 21st century.”

Ingmar Streis called it “a historical mistake”.

When the Berlin Wall went up, half of Berlin’s electric tram lines came down.

By 1967, when Mr. Sries was three years old, West Berlin had disbanded almost all tracks of Die Electreische – The Electric in German. Cars took over the streets.

Now, 30 years after the wall fell, as Germans face the threats of climate change, there is a growing demand for pedestrians, cyclists and users of public transport to reclaim roads from cars.

Enter Electric. again.

The mistake of the 1960s is “now being rectified,” said Mr Sries, a Green Party politician and Berlin’s permanent secretary for environment and transport.

Berlin, along with many European cities including Lisbon and Dublin, are revamping trams to curb emissions not only to clean the air but also to meet the EU’s legally binding climate targets. Those goals require a 55 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

Still, the politics of replacing cars is difficult. Berlin, with 1.2 million cars, has implemented a congestion tax, but it applies to only a small part of the city. It is part of a broader effort to improve public transportation, which includes electrification of all buses by 2030, expanding metro and suburban trains, adding bike lanes, and building about 50 miles of tram lines by 2035.

Trams are not universally preferred. Critics say that they make noise on crowded streets day and night. They’re slower than the subway, and in the era of car-shares and electric scooters, they’re old-fashioned.

Tram fans point out that they are cheaper and faster to build than subways.

Like much in Berlin, the story of Berlin’s trams is the story of a divided city. As the Elektrisch died out in the West, they continued to run in the poor, communist-run East.

Today, one of the most difficult tram projects involves extending a line called the M-10 across the historic Oberbaum bridge connecting former East and West Berlin.

Inga Kaydemir, 41, welcomed an expansion to the west while riding a packed M-10 late Wednesday. “Everything that reduces cars in the city is useful,” she said. “If it connects to the West, that’s a great idea. It will add a second meaning to it.”

But building a new tram line on the bridge would mean removing the streets from cars or bikes. Or, the city would have to build another bridge altogether.

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Mr. Streis was unwilling to say how the trams could be accommodated. But one way or another, he said, a tram will cross Oberbaum no later than 2027. “It’s not going to happen very soon,” he said. “But it’s going to happen.”

Heidi Volden spent 30 years working for Norway’s oil and gas industry. Today, she is working to put oil and gas out of business in her country’s waterways.

Ms Volden is chief executive of Nord, a company that increasingly operates public ferries on batteries rather than diesel.

Ultimately, Ms Volden hopes to take her ferries beyond the fjords. It wants to make Norlead a leader in the electrification of maritime transport.

It is part of Norway’s ambitious effort to electrify all forms of public transport. One plan is even more remarkable because Norway is a very small, very prosperous petrostate.

“Personally I am extremely happy that we are moving in the right direction,” said Ms Volden at a brisk Friday morning as Hejlstedt, a car ferry operated by Nord, departed from a pier near Bergen. Is.

Norway has set an ambitious target of halving its greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2030. Almost all of Norway’s electricity comes from hydropower. But what to do about its own oil and gas industry is at the center of a strong national political debate. Elections in September brought a centre-left coalition to power, consisting of smaller parties pushing for an end to oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.

Bergen is keen to fast-track its transition away from fossil fuels. Its city buses and trams run on electricity. Taxi operators have been told to switch to all-electric vehicles by 2024, with drivers subsidized to install chargers at home. Longer, more profitable contracts have been offered to ferry operators to offset the cost of conversion.

Unlike some other countries, including the United States, where climate policies are deeply polarizing, there hasn’t been much pushback in Bergen. Mr Askland said politicians on the left and right agreed to cut budgets for other expenses to pay for expensive electric-ferry contracts.

Eventually, the mayor said, voters in the region are aware of how to address climate change. “It certainly affects us politicians,” he said.

Ferry operators aren’t the only private companies cashing in on power conversion.

Corvus Energy, which manufactures batteries for all types of marine vehicles, including mind-bending, for oil tankers in Norway, is busy manufacturing batteries for electric ferries. “Government, using purchasing power to change the world, is also very important to us,” said Corvus chief executive Geir Björkelli. The company now has an eye on electrification ferries in the United States.

The Corvus batteries sat comfortably under Hjelstadt’s deck.

On the shore, cables hung from two high poles that a passerby might have mistaken for a lamp post. The ship’s chief engineer, Arild Alvasker, grabbed the cables with both hands and plugged them into the ship’s battery pack. The 10 minutes it took to pull the cars into the ferry was enough to load them with enough power for a journey of about 45 minutes to the fjord and back.

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Mr Alvaskar was earlier suspicious about operating a battery-operated ship. It took him less than a week to change his mind. “I was dirty here before breakfast,” he said, pointing to his upper arm. “I don’t want to go back to diesel.”

Since then he has bought an electric car.

The water was calm that morning as the ship left the pier almost without sound. On an electric ferry, there is no roaring engine.

TransMiCable is a loop of firehouse-red gondolas that run from the valley to the neighborhood along the hills that surround Bogota.

The city plans to build seven lines as part of its efforts to clean up its public transport. About 500 Chinese-made electric buses are on the roads, and contracts to buy another 1,000 are up by 2022, making Bogota’s electric bus fleet the largest of any city outside China. The mayor, Ms. Lopez, a cyclist, wants to add about 175 miles of bike lanes.

But for Freddy Cuesta Valencia, a Bogotá schoolteacher, what really matters is that Transmicable has given him his time back.

He used to spend two hours, in two slow buses, crawling through the hills to reach the school where he teaches. Once, he said, the traffic was so heavy that no teacher could reach on time. students waited outside for hours

Now, it takes him 40 minutes to go to work, an hour at worst. There is Wi-Fi. Cloud. Roofs down.

“It’s very little stress,” said Mr. Cuesta, 60, a folk dance teacher. “I check my phone, I look at the city, I relax.”

For politicians like Ms. Lopez, electrifying public transport helps them make the case that the city is aggressively cutting its emissions. But if it can improve transit, not only can it make it electric, it could attract voters, especially working people who are the majority of voters.

But overhauling transportation is expensive. For Ms. Lopez, who belongs to a centre-left political party, this requires negotiating money from the national president, Ivan Duque, who belongs to a rival conservative party.

Yet their parties have managed to find some common ground. Mr. Duke helping Ms. Lopez Construction of Bogota’s first metro, some Mayors have been trying for decades.

The case he made of her: what is good for the city Good for the country.

If Bogota cannot change its transportation system, he said, Colombia cannot achieve its climate goals. “You are interested in building a more competitive city. It is in our common interest to achieve Colombia’s climate change goals.”

Sofia Villamilly contributed reporting from Bogota, and Geneva Abdul from London.

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