Sustainable cities | “The mobility of the future is electric because it is more economical, comfortable and sustainable”

With the aim of being one of the 100 climate-neutral cities in 2030 and thanks to European funds, Zaragoza has launched an ambitious plan to transform its pioneering urban transport in Spain. With 68 state-of-the-art buses already manufactured in the Irizar factory in Aduna (Guipúzcoa), the Aragonese capital is joining a new concept of mobility called to revolutionize the “blood system” of cities.

In order to respond to this process, the newspaper Herald of Aragonalso belonging to the Henneo Group, is organizing a new edition of its informative breakfasts under the title Sustainable cities: ecomobility. The mayor of Zaragoza, Jorge Azcón; Valentin Alonso, CEO of Avanza Group; and Txema Otero, Commercial Director of Irizar in Spain and Portugal. The discussion was moderated by the director of HeraldMikel Iturbe.

The framework for the debate was the central platform of one of the new Irizar buses, 100% electric, which remained parked next to the Palais des Congrès at the Expo. The recording, visible in its entirety, was made by the company Audiovideoracord with four robotic cameras.

The conclusion of the meeting is clear: “The mobility of the future is electric because it is cheaper, more comfortable and much more sustainable”, as summarized by the mayor of Zaragoza. And it may be the right tool to meet the main challenge of urban mobility: to recover the volume of users lost in the pandemic.

Renew 25% of the fleet

Azcón opens the debate by pointing out that “the city has never made such a strong commitment to public transport“. Not only 25% of the Avanza fleet is renewed “at once”. By the way already a bus that is not 100% electric will no longer be bought backstrategic choice called upon to change mobility.

Txema Otero comments that the the new buses are “the flagship” of the Basque company’s range of electric vehicles. “Irizar e-mobility emerged in 2012 as a visionary idea of ​​the direction urban mobility was taking, when no one was betting on this technology. It was a lesson that leads us today to an innovative product that sets a trend in the market,” he says. . In times of a pandemic, these are vehicles with a “controlled atmosphere” and CO2 gauges. Its streetcar aesthetic adds an “emotional” component that highlights its innovative character and the fact that it is emission-free. The general manager of Avanza also recalls the electrification works of the garages, valued at 12 million euros.

Defense of public transport

The mayor explains that half of the journeys in Zaragoza are done on foot and a 24% in public transport. The private vehicle concentrates more than 20%, after having fallen by 5%. 3% correspond to bicycles and the same percentage to personal mobility vehicles (PMVs). But the the pandemic has changed urban routines.

Valentin Alonso is clear about the future of mobility. “The big bet must be urban transport. Zaragoza is also at the forefront in this area,” he says. And it gives data: 400,000 daily uses in a city of 700,000 people, with a high level of satisfaction. Last year, despite the pandemic and strikes, buses in the capital received a rating of 7.8, the highest rating in recent years. But he believes there is room for improvement and gaining market share with the particular vehicle.

“In times of a pandemic, the commitment of cities must be public transport,” agrees the mayor. He refers to decrease in the number of users experienced by this transport system, despite “pioneering” measures to reduce risks, such as vehicle disinfection, hydroalcoholic gel dispensers or studies with CO2 measurements. Zaragoza is 25% below 2019 data and during the health crisis it fell by 95%.

And this circumstance forces the city council to provide more resources. “That’s why this investment in public transport is so important. We want people to get back on the bus“says Azcón, who complains of the insufficiency of state aid to cope with the drop in users. The CEO of Avanza suggests that a financing rightgiven that compared to the 100 million that Madrid and Barcelona receive, Zaragoza only have 6. “I’m happy to be paid for the spread of the pandemic”, jokes the mayor.

Valentin Alonso insists that, in any case, public transport is safe. “We haven’t had a single outbreak. Less than 1% of infections occurred on public transport, but more than 40% think it’s not safe. We have all the measurements in the world to demonstrate that this is the case,” he says. For this reason, he maintains that the biggest challenge is to offer an “increasingly attractive service in order to regain the trust of users; the pandemic was a decade-long setback.”

Sustainability and digitization

Participants at the breakfast highlight two concepts: sustainability and digitization. Azcón highlights the first of them. “When we renew all the buses in the city, we will prevent the emission of 620,000 tons of CO2 into our atmosphere, which is the equivalent of the emission of our buildings, or 40% of the total. There is never had such an important project from the point of view of the environment”, underlines the city councilor, who adds to this strategy the rehabilitation of houses with energy efficiency measures and the forest of Zaragozanos.

“The pandemic-era situation made us think about sustainability and mobility, taking care of the environment. In this context, the technology allows us to approach this mobility in a sustainable way and looking to the future, it is an unstoppable process,” says Txema Otero.

Valentin Alonso defends the increase of the relationship with the user. “There is a spectacular world for make people’s lives easier“, notes the director of Avanza, such as the virtualization of transport tickets, connectivity or automation. “Digitalization will allow geolocation to know how to get to a place faster with the different modes of transport. It will be another of the great transformations of the city, ”says the mayor.

The conversation is about financing this process of change. The arrival of European funds to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic, which have focused on digital and environmental transformation to facilitate the transition to a new economy, fit the new urban mobility like a glove. Zaragoza and most cities opt for the support program for the implementation of low emission zones and digital and sustainable transformation transport, which has one billion euros, of which Zaragoza aspires to capture 49. Of this amount, the 68 new electric buses are the star product, in addition to the purchase of two new trams.

“A project of anticipation”

In addition to believing that the funds will be distributed “fairly”, Azcón recalls that the City Council of Zaragoza has started working on its electric mobility strategy not only before the launch of aid, but before the pandemic. This means that when the calls came in, the projects were mature enough. “We will be one of the first cities in which these buses will criss-cross the streets”, specifies the city councilor.

Alonso adds that the Zaragoza’s transport renewal plan is “a project of anticipation”, where European funds “are the icing on the cake”. “We have been working for two years to seize this opportunity”, specifies the manager, who highlights the role of public-private collaboration.

The new Irizar electric bus, which in a few months will be integrated into the Zaragoza fleet, next to the Expo Conference Center.
GUILLERMO MESTRE / HERALDO

The mayor recalls that this new concept of mobility is more economically efficient. “It’s just that the numbers come out, if you compare gas or maintenance expenses with electricity consumption,” he says. And he recalls that electric buses, although offering similar advantages, they cost four times less than a tram. For this reason, Azcón bets more on this type of vehicle. “We would be wrong to propose a tram line 2. The previous governments did not do it because they could not pay”, he argues.

The debate arises if the electric mobility is compatible with the hydrogen commitment. “I think the two will coexist. Personally, and at Irizar we have also designed it in this way, urban mobility will be exclusively electric unless the evolution of hydrogen allows us to reduce the weight of the batteries,” says Txema Otero.

In any case, Valentin Alonso believes that “Zaragoza is prepared for what could happen”. “It involves great uncertainties. The City Council has taken the appropriate measures with the ideal partners. It renews 25% and has 75% to make decisions. Zaragoza is the laboratory to investigate what is coming, ”warns -he.

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