Electric buses: The sustainable future of public transport

China, Columbia & Europe are home to the majority of the world’s electric bus fleets, utilising clean energy to reduce emissions and increase air quality

Electric buses prove an increasingly utilised travel option, offering both financially appealing choices for users, accessibility for members of the public without access to cars, and a more sustainable option for the planet. 

Public transport user penetration globally is 56.1% currently, and expected to hit 56.6% by 2027. A predicted 0.54 billion people will be using buses by 2027, with a segment revenue annual growth rate of 3.1% resulting in a projected market volume of US$24.45bn by 2027. 

The global electric bus market is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 13.6% during 2023-2028.

So which countries are paving the way to the future of electric public transport, and what do their networks look like? 

Diesel power dips and EVs rise in Europe

“The most recent quarterly sales data for buses this year shows that the share of diesel-only vehicles sold has dipped below its majority stake, giving way to battery electric to take a leading role,” says The International Council on Clean Transportation. “This marks the first time that a zero-emission technology has become dominant in a road transport sector in Europe.”

Electric buses are helping reduce emissions  in most major cities in Western Europe, with over half of European capital cities planning for exclusively zero-emission buses on their roads by 2040.

Leading the way with ambitious plans are The Netherlands and Denmark, which are both working towards removing internal combustion engines in bus sales by 2025.

In the UK, electric buses are being rolled out in major cities, including London — a city with over 8,000 buses — aiming to have entirely zero-emission buses by 2037.

In Manchester, Stagecoach has rolled out 32 electric double decker buses, saving 2,208 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year compared to the existing fleet. Each individual bus: 

  • Produces zero emission
  • Travels 190 miles on a single charge 
  • Takes more than 70 cars off the road 

Solaris is one of the major zero-emission bus manufacturers in Europe, with electric and hydrogen fuelled vehicles operating in countries including Norway, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Mallorca and Romania. In 2022, the company saw sustainable transport make up over 50% of sales for the first time, with company revenue reaching US$762m (€696m). 

Over two decades of Chinese EV success

Pioneering the electric bus movement is China, who owned 99% of the world’s electric buses in 2017, and was adding nearly 2,000 new zero-emission buses every week. In 2020, China accounted for 90.4% of value shares in the Korea and Asia Pacific electric bus market 

China’s first electric buses hit the streets in Shenzhen in 2011, after the city was chosen for a zero-emissions scheme in 2009 in an effort to improve local air quality. 

The shift to electric public transport also lessens the  potential fuel issue for the country, who rely on imported oil. 

Bogotá’s buses putting its citizens first

Colombian capital city Bogotá is home to the second largest electric bus network in the world, after China. The city is home to nearly 1,500 vehicles, and the largest electric depot in the world outside of China, home to Transdev vehicles.

“The electric buses will do double what the million trees that we plant,” says Claudia López, the city’s Mayor. “This is having clean, sustainable, caring, timely, quality, safe, and dignified transportation for residents of Bogotá.”

The fleet reduces CO2 production by 94,300 tons annually, equivalent to taking 42,000 cars off the road, alongside reducing noise and improving air quality. 

“We are putting the best technology currently available in the market at the service of citizens,” says Álvaro José Rengifo, director of TransMilenio.

“In addition to the benefits for users, the entry into service of this new fleet has generated more than 1,100 direct jobs through the Green Móvil concessionary.” 

Is electricity the future of sustainable public transport? 

The global increase in electric buses is not likely to slow down anytime soon, with compound annual growth predicted at around 9.5% leading the market to be worth US$53bn by 2027.

However, a common concern around many types of electric vehicle is the infrastructure — diesel bus depots aren’t designed to house quantities of large chargers. 

The vehicles are more expensive to manufacture and purchase, leaving countries dependent on government schemes and support. 

The buses also take longer to charge than a diesel vehicle does to refuel, introducing an additional consideration in scheduling. 

Despite these considerations, it is undeniable that electric vehicles are the future of travel, and electric and hydrogen fuelled buses are leading the path for global public transport. 

“Accelerating a clean transportation future is an obligation we have to future generations,” says Gareth Joyce, CEO of American Electric vehicle company Proterra.