As Jose Luis Aranda got off a new trolley bus in Mexico City, he was surprised by how quiet and comfortable his ride had been, especially when passengers need to be sufficiently distanced during the current pandemic situation.
The 70-year-old public accountant says he has seen Chinese-made trolley buses come and go for some time, but it was only recently that he began riding in one of the electric vehicles known for its cutting-edge technology and energy efficiency.
"I like the way it looks, its comfort, and above all it is quiet. It also has a panel that states all the stops, and there is even music," Aranda says.
Manufactured in China by leading bus maker Yutong, the slick blue-and-black trolley buses have significantly upgraded the city's 70-year-old trolley bus network. Both the authorities and passengers have agreed that the upgrade has attracted new riders.
Since the start of the buses' arrival in Mexico from 2019, the fleet of 193 zero-emission trolley buses from Yutong's plant in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou has been serving the capital's commuters along several main thoroughfares such as Eje Central and Central Axis, the area where Aranda took the bus from.
"Definitely, the difference is huge... Right now, in this new normal, it is very spacious, so people can be more distanced," Aranda says.
Maria del Carmen Martinez, who has taken the trolley bus every day for 15 years to visit her mother, says the new vehicles cut her travel time by half and is now enjoying the improved passenger experience.
"It is renovated. They are nicer, they are clean and it's all air-conditioned," says the 58-year-old real estate consultant.
Guillermo Calderon, director of the Electric Transportation Service, says Chinese trolley buses are easier for passengers to board because their floors are lower, making them more accessible.
He adds that those vehicles are well ventilated to reduce the risk of viral transmission, and are 50 percent more energy efficient.
"Yes, there are savings in terms of consumption per kilometer traveled. There is an important reduction of 50 percent," Calderon says.
The local government acquired the Chinese trolley buses in its push to increase electromobility in one of the world's most populous cities, which has been grappling with traffic congestion and air pollution.
Using the China-made vehicles, the city doubled the size of its nonpolluting trolley bus fleet in two years.
Calderon says the previously dilapidated network was losing passengers and money.
He says the number of passengers on the trolley bus network, which connects with metro stations and the Metrobus rapid transit service, increased to 100,000 a day by mid-February from 70,000 in previous months.
Authorities were able to swiftly expand trolley bus routes without having to build overhead catenary cables that feed the buses with electricity, as Yutong's vehicles are equipped with a battery that can go 75 kilometers without connection to power cables.
"The performance was extraordinary... The batteries lost 7 percent of their charge, which was then restored by the conventional circuit connected to the catenary," he says.
Drivers applauded the autonomy the battery offers, allowing them to easily bypass potential disruptions in service such as vehicles invading the trolley bus lane, putting cables out of reach, or power failures.
"Before, we would get stuck there if an accident prevented us from passing. Now, we just go around and keep going," says a driver with two decades of experience, who requested anonymity.
When announcing the renovation of a trolley bus line in January, Claudia Sheinbaum, the city's mayor, says the electromobility project was advancing in leaps and bounds.
"This trolley bus is already becoming a Mexico City icon," she says.