In Europe, Greener Transit on Existing Infrastructure

Vienna is employing some old-fashioned technology to run shiny new electric buses wending their way through the narrow inner-city streets.

The Austrian capital is switching from buses powered by liquefied petroleum gas to a novel, first-of-its-kind fleet of electric buses that run unplugged, go anywhere, and recharge their batteries using the overhead power lines of older trams. Twelve of the buses, each of which can carry 40 passengers, are in service.

As Vienna shifts to electric buses, it is striving to be a leader in green transportation by testing new systems that can potentially create a cleaner, quieter downtown. Vienna is one of several European cities — struggling to square tight budgets with civic goals to meet climate targets — that are experimenting with new electric vehicles and infrastructure systems for buses and trains.

With the European Union’s ambitious goals to reduce global warming, these cutting-edge technologies are part of a slow-motion revolution in urban transit. Siemens, which provided technology for the electric buses, is negotiating with at least five cities in Europe and two in South America that have existing tram lines and might adopt the Vienna system, said Andreas Laske, of the eBus program at Siemens Rail Systems in Berlin.

The electric buses are more expensive, however, said Anna Reich of Wiener Linien, the city-owned transport company. But the city saved money by not having to build new infrastructure for the fleet.

“Vienna has the fifth largest tram infrastructure in the world,” Ms. Reich said by telephone. “We wanted to use the infrastructure we already have.”

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