Electrification of Public Transport, A Case Study of the Shenzhen Bus Group

When hearing the news that the megacity Shenzhen has achieved the full electrification of its transit fleet, we immediately sent Xiuli Zhang, our Chinese Ph.D. student to the city to find out the true cost of this transition, guided by Dr. Alan Jenn. The World Bank embraced the idea and expanded the research exploration into a four-party research program. Since the beginning of 2019, the Shenzhen experience has been shared around the world, but I have heard comments both in California at the ZEV Bus Workshop hosted by the CARB and at a meeting with experts engaged in EV policy research in Turkey that the Chinese example is impossible to duplicate. True, the social pollical system is vastly different, but there are still universal practices that the Chinese experience shares with other successful countries and regions such as Norway and California, namely–

  1. ZEV development needs initial government intervention through ambitious overall targets, armed with carrots (subsidies, tax-exemption, HOV lanes, and parking privilege) and sticks (no entry into the downtown area, fewer parking spaces, higher tax or registration fees, higher fuel tax…).
  2. An EV eco-system led or coordinated by a key government agency initially; an NGO could take over later. i.e. PEV Collaboratives in California or EV leading Group in Shenzhen.
  3. The charging system is a typical case of market failure. The government needs to do two things: provides subsidies and coordinates with various parties to provide precious land, permits, and access to the power supply.
  4. Any selection of a pilot city or region needs to consider the candidate with a potential EV/battery production industrial base. The hunger to make money will propel a lot of innovations and lobbying by the private sector to push for more EV deployment. If all the EVs are from other countries or regions, then the government may face a backlash since local tax-payers’ money will be used to subsidize the “imported” EVs.
  5. Rapid EV deployment is a virtuous cycle: with a successful EV program followed by clean air and strong EV-related business, the government will be recognized and feel better to do even more.
  6. Doing it correctly with local products, e-buses shouldn’t be much more expensive than diesel buses, in terms of TCO.

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