Latin America’s Largest E-Bus Fleet Navigates the High Andes

The city with the largest electric bus fleet in South America is not the continent's most populated, but it is elevated above most places. It is in Bogotá, Colombia's capital and commercial hub, that the most modern e-buses glide silently up and down the steep streets, easing the city's infamous traffic chaos.

Located on a high plateau in the Andes mountains, Bogotá is the largest city in the world at its elevation 2,640 metres. With more than 11 million residents, it is the fourth largest city in South America - and still growing.

Transdev, an international private-sector mobility company based in France that operates public transport in 17 countries, has assembled the clean, quiet e-bus fleet in Bogotá over the past four years. Transdev operates the e-buses with its longtime local partner Fanalca through the joint venture company Green Movil.

In 2020, Transdev opened a 40,000 m2 bus depot from which the new buses come and go, the Green Movil Logistic Center, located in the Las Brisas neighborhood in the district of Fontibón, next to the Bogotá International Airport.

The new e-bus fleet is already enriching the city's economy. For instance, more than 1,100 direct jobs have been generated through the Green Movil concessionary, and the the Green Movil Logistic Center is just one of three e-bus charging depots now operating in Bogotá.

In April, Transdev inaugurated 406 new electric buses for Bogotá, adding to its existing fleet of 1,061 electric buses in the city for a total of 1,467 - the largest electric bus fleet in Latin America, and, like Bogotá itself, still growing.

To combat climate change, Bogotá aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 15 percent by 2024, compared to 2020 levels, and by half by 2030, with the aim of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.

Officials say the city is so far on track to meet its goals. With the 406 new electric buses, Bogotá will be able to reduce its carbon levels by 17,000 tonnes a year.

Colombia's Transport Secretary Felipe Ramírez, who heads the city's TransMilenio bus system, says Bogotá's e-bus fleet is not only the largest in Latin America, it's the largest in any city outside China, and it is helping the country meet its climate goals. "Despite the pandemic, we're on schedule," said Ramirez.

The country’s main goal is to reach 600,000 electric vehicles on Colombian roads by 2030. But the road ahead is a long one. In 2020, just 1,321 electric vehicles were sold across Colombia.

A few of the hundreds of new electric buses (Photo Carlos Eduardo Romero Moreno)

COLOMBIA IS THE COUNTRY THAT SELLS THE MOST ELECTRIC VEHICLES IN LATIN AMERICA.

Marco Pastrana

Divisional Manager, BYD

The arrival of the new Green Movil fleet was announced by Bogotá Mayor Claudia López, who sees the new buses as a fitting tribute to two children who were killed and 39 others injured in a March 2022 attack by dissidents on a Bogotá police station just days before the first new e-buses arrived.

"Perhaps the best way to honor the memory of our children, those in heaven and those here, is to continue working for the City of Bogotá that they deserve," said Mayor Lopez. "A clean, green, sustainable, inclusive Bogotá, a Bogotá that gets better every day for everyone."

In another first, Bogotá's 406 new e-buses, made by BYD (Build Your Dream), did not arrive completed as had previous BYD electric buses in Bogotá's fleet.

Instead, BYD worked with Superpolo, a Colombian bus manufacturer, on the body parts of the buses for this order, developing local skilled workers and marking a first in Latin America, where until now the Chinese manufacturer has delivered complete buses.

Transdev points out that the new buses are equipped with technology to improve passengers' travel experiences: on-board cameras, USB ports for charging cell phones, GPS, information panels, speakers and microphones that communicate directly with the control center, plus permanent transmission of operational data.

The electric buses come with wheelchair accessible platforms, start and hill climbing assistance, rapid energy recharging, and automatic fire control.

"The continued integration of the electric fleet into Bogotá’s transportation system reinforces our goal of improving service to users, our purpose," said Álvaro José Rengifo, director of Bogotá's state-owned TransMilenio bus system.

TransMilenio is the backbone of the city's transportation system with a daily ridership of more than 2.5 million passengers. It is through TransMilenio that private bus firms such as Transdev buy and operate the e-bus fleet in exchange for multi-year concessions.

WE WILL BE ABLE TO INCREASE FREQUENCIES, REDUCE NOISE, IMPROVE AIR QUALITY FOR PASSENGERS AND THE COMMUNITY IN GENERAL. WE ARE PUTTING THE BEST TECHNOLOGY CURRENTLY AVAILABLE IN THE MARKET AT THE SERVICE OF CITIZENS.

Alvaro Jose Rengifo

Director of Bogota's TransMilenio bus system

"We will be able to increase frequencies, reduce noise, improve air quality for passengers and the community in general," Rengifo said. "We are putting the best technology currently available in the market at the service of citizens."

The 406 new e-buses are running on 14 different routes to serve the neighborhoods of Fontibón, Usme, Ciudad Bolívar, Usaquén, San Cristóbal, Chapinero, Teusaquillo and Kennedy – all high in the Andes in the Bogotá metropolitan area.