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Guest Article: Buses: the mainstay of public transport

“The bus for hikers and bikers in the Upper Ahr Valley is back.“ Anyone not connected with the region may have overlooked that headline in mid-April 2022. However, it was quite an important one. In the wake of the catastrophic floods in the Ahr Valley the region is still in the midst of being rebuilt. So a bus route connecting hiking trails and bringing tourists back to this holiday region sends a strong message for the future.

This news item also showed what buses can achieve: they connect places, bring people together, and are instrumental in establishing transport links in rural areas. In short, it is difficult to imagine mobility without bus transport – and in the future too. Buses will always play a decisive role, particularly in confronting the challenges of climate change.

Attracting more people to public transport

Buses are the mainstay of public transport in particular. In 2019, the year before the pandemic, 5.5 billion passengers made use of buses on public transport, a substantial share of which was and continues to be in the hands of private bus companies.

That is why, in the Coalition Agreement, we agreed to further prioritise privately owned public transport and give SMEs in this sector a fair opportunity to independently organise public transport.

In general, we want to attract more people to public transport in order to save energy – and show them that bus travel is not only climate-friendly, but also practical, forward-looking and safe.

The federal government has ambitious climate targets

For one thing is clear: we can only achieve our ambitious climate targets if more people make use of public transport. The aim is for Germany to reduce its traffic emissions from 146 million tonnes (2020) of CO2 to 85 million tonnes by 2030, and for the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to reach net zero by 2045. To be able to achieve that every sector must contribute, including transport and the bus industry.

At present, bus transport is almost exclusively diesel-driven. Converting around 82,000 public transport buses to zero-emissions technology can contribute decisively to protecting the climate. The climate protection programme 2030 stipulates that around 50 per cent of urban bus transport is to be electrified by the end of this decade.

In the picture: A blue bus with the inscription 'H2 Hydrogen' and a charging station with the same inscription.
In the left half of the picture you can see some wind turbines in the background, in the foreground of the right half of the picture a green bus with the inscription Electric Bus.

Opportunities and challenges for public transport

Bus routes have a predictable range, which makes public transport buses predestined for shaping and driving the transition to electromobility. Zero-emissions mobility – whether battery-electric or fuel-cell driven – offers decisive advantages. The object is to achieve not only climate targets, but clean air too and reduce noise emissions. That is where the transition is noticeable immediately.

At present, the biggest obstacle is the significantly higher cost compared with diesel-engined buses. Purchasing a battery-electric or fuel-cell bus is almost twice as expensive, which is why the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure is supporting SMEs in the bus industry.

Federal government supports the transition to alternative drives

Since September 2021, in accordance with its ’guideline for supporting alternative drive systems for public transport buses’, the Federal Ministry of Transport has provided support for transitioning to alternative drives in bus transport and establishing the necessary infrastructure. The comprehensive support programme embraces all forms of technology to ensure the right choice can be made for the purpose in question.

The focus is on transitioning to battery-electric and fuel cell buses as well as trolleybuses and biogas-powered buses. Establishing the necessary infrastructure and feasibility studies is also part of the support programme.

Demand is huge. The initial announcement attracted applications for more than 5,000 buses, which significantly exceeded our expectations. A second announcement offering support is already being prepared and due in the second quarter of 2022. Our aim is to extend the support period and provide additional funding to further help the industry to make the transition.

What is clear is that we must continue to work hand in hand to make the market flourish. By “we“, I mean ministries amongst each other, at federal and state level – and naturally the industry itself. Together, we can make bus travel more forward-looking and modern, cleaner – and even more attractive.

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