Wheels are turning for electric buses in Korea

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Wheels are turning for electric buses in Korea


Dongseo Traffic, a public transportation company based in Jeju, recently opened an EV center in the city of Seogwipo equipped with a fast-charging station for electric vehicles. The 4,200-square-meter (45,000-square-foot) facility has repair bays to service the 59 electric buses that the company operates.

With more private transportation companies adopting electric buses in their fleet, regional and city governments across Korea are also scrambling to put more battery-powered buses on the road.

Jeju is a leader in Korea when it comes to electric vehicles, with registered EVs in Jeju making up about half of all registered electric cars in the country. By the end of this year, the government of Jeju hopes to have a total of 20,060 electric vehicles - including passenger cars, buses and commercial vehicles - on the road. It is no surprise, then, that a public transportation company that operates the most number of electric buses in the country is based in Jeju.

Busan comes in second, with 10 electric buses running through the city. By mid-December, it plans to add 20 more to the fleet. Electric buses currently account for about 1 percent of all buses in the city.

The electric buses currently?running in Busan are made by TGM, a Korean manufacturer. The buses can travel about 180 kilometers (111 miles) on a single charge.

The buses that will hit the road in December will be made by Hyundai Motor, the country’s largest automaker. The maximum distance they can travel on a single charge is 309 kilometers, and it can go as far as 170 kilometers on a 30-minute fast charge.

The city of Seoul has yet to purchase any electric buses, but it is mulling over the possibility. The government has a plan to put as many as 100,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025 by installing charging stations across the city.

The lack of stations has been seen as the main obstacle to the popularization of EVs in the city. Increasing the number of battery-powered commercial vehicles, including public buses and delivery trucks, is also on the agenda.?The first step is to put 30 electric buses?on the road?by next year.

“Out of 7,400 buses in Seoul, 4,000 are outdated and must be replaced,” said Kim Jung-yun, chief of the bus policy division in the Seoul Metropolitan Government. “Some of them will be replaced with electric buses starting next year.”

While government offices are trying to make their buses more eco-friendly, public transport operators and bus manufacturers are pointing to the steep costs as the main obstacle to the plan.

Hyundai’s electric bus, for instance, costs 400 million won ($358,868) each, and even with subsidies from the central government, regional governments will still have to pay over 100 million won.

By comparison, a gas-powered bus costs below 100 million won.

Price is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the financial burden of electric buses. Building charging stations for commercial vehicles like buses costs about two times more than comparable stations for passenger vehicles.

“Facilities for public buses are already packed, and sparing space to install charging infrastructure is going to be difficult,” an industry source said. “In addition to the space issue, burdens that stem from the cost of charging stations and hiring maintenance staff make it difficult to introduce electric buses quickly.”

BY JANG JOO-YOUNG [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]
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