Buses spark a silent transport revolution

File picture of new Yutong electric bus / Credit: News Now Creative

Espoo’s drive to make public transport carbon-neutral by 2025 is being jump-started by a fleet of new electric buses and the infrastructure to make them function smoothly.

It’s not easy to miss the shiny blue Yutong buses, with the cable-and-plug decal on the side, as they glide around the city.

Designed in China, built in Europe, operated by regional transport company HSL and picking up passengers at Espoo bus stops.

They’re an important part of the city’s ambitious plan to reduce its environmental impact.

“The goal is to have 30% electric buses, and even the diesel ones will be filled with biodiesel fuel” explains Johanna Nyberg, Head of City Traffic at the City of Espoo.

Acknowledging the 2025 deadline is tight, Nyberg says at least they’ll reach the wider target of 2030 for the city as a whole to be carbon-neutral.

“It’s very important because we have set the goal to be carbon neutral by 2030 and the traffic is of course a big part of that, and especially public transport. That’s one sector where the city can really make a change. So now when HSL made the tendering for these buses, we really emphasized the environmental issues” says Nyberg.

Detail of electric bus charging station / Credit: News Now Creative

Two types of new bus technology

There’s two new types of bus technology on Espoo’s roads. The first bus model plugs in and charges overnight, can run for half a day, then needs two hours to re-charge again and continue operating for the rest of the day.

The second bus type takes an overnight charge, can drive for approximately 80km and then at special charging points takes a massive jolt of electricity in just two minutes, enough to power it for another 80km.

The fast charge boost can be done when the bus is at a terminal, waiting to turn-around and load up with new passengers at the start of its route.

All of this new technology means new infrastructure as well.

“We have agreed on building these terminals, the charging stations. So the City of Espoo is responsible for the infrastructure, and then HSL made the tendering to get the chargins as a service” Johanna Nyberg explains.

“The city prepares the infrastructure so that the company which provides the charging service can come and put their chargers in the spots that we have made, and then the bus company charges, and uses the service” she adds.

Regular passengers will notice the new charging stations coming online at Leppävaara, Tapiola and Matinkylä as the bus service expands to more routes.

Bus driver Risto Vormala behind the wheel of a new Yutong electric vehicle / Credit: News Now Creative

View from the driver’s seat 

Driver Risto Vormala works for the Pohjolan Liikenne bus company, and has been behind the wheel for 30 years.

The new Yutong models get high marks from the veteran driver.

“Acceleration is very good because the new buses have more power output and torque is also better than a diesel bus. These have a lot of power” say Vormala.

He says not many passengers notice the difference of traveling in an electric bus – their main concern is to reach their stop on time – but one thing they should notice is the noise, or lack of it.

“There’s no diesel engine noise, all you can hear is the sound of the wheels” he says, a far cry from the first Volvo diesel buses he was driving at the start of his career in the early 1990s.

Risto Vormala has been road-testing the new electric buses for a couple of months, and explains that when winter comes, on the coldest days even the heater will be powered by biofuel, another way the Yutong models are keeping their carbon footprint as low as possible.

File picture of Johanna Nyberg, Head of City Traffic Espoo / Credit: News Now Creative

Carbon neutral public transport options 

The new fleet of 30 electric buses for Espoo are just one piece of the public transport equation to reduce carbon emissions.

The city is also pioneering a range of other options, larger and smaller projects to give local residents choices when it comes to meeting their public transport needs.

“The city bike service has been a huge success, and that’s one important phase in the goal towards being carbon neutral” says Johanna Nyberg.

“Of course it’s not covering the whole of Espoo at the moment, but maybe after 2025, the last season for this scheme, when we tender next time maybe we will expand to the whole of Espoo. That’s the goal” she adds.

Other projects include car-share schemes where Espoo partners with a company to provide the vehicles; and increasing the city’s network of charging points for electric cars.

One innovation has been to instal electric charging points at sports venues, where people gather, and then leave their vehicles for a couple of hours – the perfect amount of time to power up.

“We thought that sports areas have a lot of potential, because people go there and stay for maybe two hours, and there’s demand in daytime, evenings and weekends” says Nyberg.

“There’s so many users, we now have charging stations in Leppävaara, Espoonlahti, Tapiola, Nuksio and Espoon keskus.”

File picture of new Yutong electric buses at depot / Credit: News Now Creative