Harder push into electric transport needed

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan. Photo by Marvin Hamilton

Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan promised that there will be new electric buses joining the PTSC fleet in 2022, but didn’t detail how many from the original plan for a deployment of 300 he expects to put on the road this year.

That effort has already been adulterated: a fleet expansion that was supposed to be 300 strong will now be a mix of electric and diesel buses.

That’s unfortunate, because the two engines exist on opposite ends of the emissions spectrum.

The migration from fossil fuels to sustainable energy in public transport shouldn’t be driven solely by economics. The government needs to put more muscle into its commitment to clean energy. The removal of VAT, motor vehicle tax and customs duty on imported battery-powered electric vehicles reopens the conversation on citizen participation in a migration from fossil-fuel-powered transportation to more energy efficient systems.

From this near-zero point, any start is a good start, but the new electric buses should mark a beginning with a clear destination for the technology. And any deployment of electric buses will need to be supported by an infrastructure that allows for the efficient charging of these vehicles.

It’s not a new idea. The use of electricity to power public transport began in this country in 1896, with the fourth system to be built in the Latin American region. A second electric tramway was introduced in 1902. By 1937, the Trinidad Electric Board was running 30 trams in the country, most seating at least six passengers at the peak of the electric tramway system. In 1939, the evolution of electric transport continued with the acquisition of larger-capacity trolleybuses, which drew power from overhead electric lines and rolled on tyres, not tracks. The last electric trolleybus was decommissioned in 1956.

As with electric trams and buses, a support system that serves a growing electric bus system is necessary, but also now makes it possible to expand support for the electrification of public transport. When a critical mass of electric buses is deployed, the migration of the maxi-taxi network to electric vehicles should logically follow. Maxi taxis represent an important middle ground in the mass public transport system, fitting between private taxis and buses to provide an affordable alternative for public travel on routes that either aren’t easily navigable for large buses or don’t merit a bus route because of small passenger loads.

With systems in place to service maxi taxis, the country should have built more service points for recharging electric vehicles, offering at the same time the means for the greater deployment of electric cars and an overdue reduction in vehicle emissions.