Mexico City commits to a soot-free urban bus fleet

Posted Thursday, 28 July 2016, 15:36

In Mexico City the summer rains have brought temporary relief from the choking, eye-watering, crisis-level air pollution of the spring. Driving restrictions have been lifted for private cars (although owners still have to wrestle with new rules on inspection and maintenance). Now Mexico's task is to move beyond emergency measures to a long-term fix for air-quality problems not only in Mexico City but also in other urban areas.

President Peña Nieto has reaffirmed his commitment to much cleaner vehicle standards, an essential step in controlling ozone and particulates, two of the worst and most harmful air pollutants in Mexico. In Mexico City itself, the Department of Environment (SEDEMA), while supporting longer-term, national regulatory action, is also looking for local policy measures that can accelerate progress toward cleaning up the city's air. Mexico City's just-announced commitment (in Spanish here, English translation here) to renovate its bus fleet with soot-free vehicles—basically, buses with nearly zero emissions of particulate matter; in practice, buses that meet Euro VI or US2010 vehicle emission standards—will do exactly that.

For any city wanting to reduce air pollution from vehicle emissions, buses are an obvious place to start. They are centrally operated, fueled, and maintained, which makes it possible to concentrate investment in infrastructure, equipment, and staff. Bus fleets have managers and mechanics who can deal with any technical and logistical challenges posed by new vehicles and fuels. And they are regulated and often funded by public agencies, with a public purpose.

Controlling urban bus emissions is also a very efficient way to limit population exposure to air pollution. Soot-free buses improve air quality in the densest urban areas and also reduce exposure of bus riders, making the public transit experience healthier, more comfortable, and more appealing. And Tanya Müller, Mexico City's secretary of the environment, who has made promotion of bicycling a hallmark of her administration, should also appreciate the benefits to bicyclists and pedestrians.

And Mexico City is in a good position to take this step. The emission controls on soot-free buses depend on low-sulfur fuel to function optimally; clean fuels aren't universally available, but Mexico City is fully supplied. Furthermore, more than 80 percent of trucks and buses manufactured in Mexico already meet soot-free engine standards; these are exported outside of Mexico, but clearly manufacturers can't claim that they can't meet such strict emission standards if they already do so for the export market.

With this initiative Mexico City joins a select group of urban transport policy leaders worldwide, but is not the only global city that can and should renovate its bus fleet as an effective way of reducing harmful air pollution. With the support of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, the ICCT in partnership with the UN Environment Programme, C40 Cities, and Centro Mario Molina-Chile is working to help 20 major cities around the world to move to soot-free buses. Mexico City is the third city to make this commitment. Earlier this year, Santiago, Chile, winner of the 2017 International Sustainable Transport Award, announced its intention to procure Euro VI engines for its Transantiago bus fleet beginning in 2017. Istanbul, Turkey, began the shift to soot-free buses with implementation of a Euro VI standard in 2015. Mexico City has requested our support, and we will be developing a joint workplan, to kick off with a public workshop on soot-free buses in September this year.

The Mexican national government has proposed to implement Euro VI/US 2010 emission standards nationwide by 2018, and President Enrique Peña Nieto has made a commitment to harmonize all car, truck and bus standards with the rest of North America (more on that here). While harmonization is clearly an essential ingredient in any plan to address air pollution in the region, auto industry opposition continues to delay adoption and potentially implementation of these critical standards. Secretary Müller’s commitment to require that all new buses in Mexico City be soot-free, and to accelerate the renovation of the city's existing bus fleet, will make a difference in the health and quality of life of the city's citizens right away. It will also help bolster the case for federal action, and provide a progressive example to cities in the rest of the country, as well as throughout Latin America and the world.