Cities are increasingly trying to discern what post-pandemic resilience will look like, especially in terms of mobility and public transport. And in Colombia, cities are known for their innovations in public transport systems — like Bogotá's bus rapid transport and Medellín's Metrocable.

To build on existing political will and bus infrastructure, the Accelerating Electric Bus Adoption in Colombia project funded by UK PACT Colombia and executed by WRI Mexico and Clean Energy Works provided direct technical bus electrification assistance to three mid-sized cities in Colombia – Montería, Neiva and Pasto – and helped coordinate among actors at the national level.

Bus depot in Colombia
Transmilenio buses in a bus depot in Colombia. These three cities see electric buses as a catalyst for a more resilient and equitable transport system. Photo by Daniel Cano

In February 2022, WRI and partners gathered over 50 stakeholders across Colombia in Bogotá for a “World Café” style workshop that pushed participants to discuss themes ranging from financing to existing laws that affect electric bus procurement and operations. Attendees came from government, financial institutions, public institutions, academia and more.

A team from WRI and the Colombian Ministry of Transport then visited Montería, Neiva and Pasto to present the proposed electrification strategy. Each city was selected for the UK PACT Colombia project as small- and medium-sized cities that do not currently operate electric buses. In each city we met with the mayor’s office, various secretaries, operators and civil society representatives. The WRI team presented the results of a charging analysis, route optimization analysis, financial analysis and environmental impact analysis for each city. In Montería and Pasto, WRI was able to visit the existing bus depots, guided by the bus operators, and experienced some bus routes firsthand.

Conversations with the bus operators also revealed some of the challenges that cities are facing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as a loss of bus ridership. In Montería, ridership got so low that two operators, Sinú Móvil and Montería Móvil, merged their fleets to capitalize on ridership and cut financial losses. As public transport fleets try to bring riders back and compete with other modes, like moto-taxis, electric buses can offer residents a safe, zero-emission, comfortable option as cities enter the post-pandemic era.

In both Pasto and Neiva, city officials committed to pursuing electric bus procurement recommendations. An immediate and important next step for the cities is to identify funding opportunities and financial assistance for the procurements. In March, the WRI team returned to Pasto and Neiva to host framing workshops focused on setting goals, identifying impacts and risks, and creating a stakeholder map to further assist the cities.

The team was also able to visit a brand new, state-of-the-art electric bus depot in Bogotá. The Transmilenio electric buses are equipped with technology to promote public safety. Each bus has seven video cameras with a live feed, so if there are any incidents, the driver will be notified in real time. Based on conversations with city stakeholders, public transport systems there were similarly crippled by COVID-19. So far, COVID-19 relief packages in Colombia have focused on providing basic needs rather than expanding transport.

These cities are keen to modernize their transport systems to be more resilient and sustainable and see electric buses as a catalyst for a more resilient and equitable transport system.