Both the city and private owners say they are interested in replacing Cuenca’s aging diesel buses with electric units. The catch is price.
Although the federal government is offering low-interest loans to owners, the $250,000 cost per electric bus is almost double that for diesel models. “Even with the loan, we need to look at how we can recuperate the cost,” says Jorge Diaz, a representative of one bus company. “It would mean significantly higher fares or a larger subsidy from the municipality.”
According to Cuenca transit director Fernando Salazar, the government loan is based on the city establishing an electric bus pilot project beginning in 2019. “Under the program, we would be first city in the country to operate these kinds of buses,” he said, adding that almost 70% of the city’s diesel fleet will need to be replaced anyway within the next five years.
Salazar and Chinese bus-maker Zhuzhou Locomotive, which is currently in talks with the city and bus owners, say the $250,000 per electric bus cost is likely to drop significantly by 2019. Zhuzhou also says that the average life of the electric buses will be much longer than for diesel models, suggesting that prorated costs may be similar.
Salazar says that the electric buses offered by Zhuzhou operate without overhead cables and can cover the majority of city bus routes. Routes that require buses to climb steep grades, on the outskirts of the city, will still need diesel buses.
According to the city environmental office, diesel buses are the number one source of pollution in the city. “We would not only be investing in a more efficient transit system by going electric, we would be investing in the health of the city,” Salazar says.