Socio-technical transitions of low emission buses : an analysis from multi-level perspective for the case of Brazil

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2018)


Socio-Technical Transitions; Low-Emission Buses; Electric Vehicles; Multi-Level Perspective



1st author’s name: Lady Tatiana Bermúdez Rodríguez
Ph.D Student of Science and Technology Policy. Institute of Geoscience. University of Campinas, Brazil.
Phone: +55 (19) 996154113

2st author´s name: Flávia Luciane Consoni
Professor of Science and Technology Policy. Institute of Geoscience. University of Campinas, Brazil
Phone: +55 (11) 997834316

1. Research Question
Transport is fundamental for economy and society and has important impacts on public space, mobility, the environment and health, specifically due to its greenhouse gas emissions given its dependence on fossil fuels. According to the IEA (International Energy Agency, 2017), "Transport is responsible for approximately one quarter (24%) of global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion".

In this context, the Conference of the Parties (COP21), also known as Paris Agreement, reinforce the need to have an action plan to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change. It is expected to keep the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts that limit the temperature increase even further on 1,5 degrees Celsius (UNFCCC, 2015). To achieve this objective it is necessary to make changes in the current transport systems, which have contributed greatly to global warming, and to promote a transition towards the "decarbonisation of transport".

In this sense, Electric Vehicles (EV) represent one of the alternatives to the decarbonisation of transport, because they have a better energy efficiency and reduce dependence on fossil fuels as well as CO2 emissions.
However, the simple replacement of vehicles with Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) by individual Electric Vehicles (EV) does not contribute to the reduction of congestion and traffic in large urban centers. “The Individual Car is the dominant system of urban mobility, not only for its striking share of the mobility market (more than 80% of total journeys in all developed countries), as for the ability of its supporting coalition (where automotive and oil companies are the main core-actors) to influence institutions and the society as a whole” (MARLETTO, 2014). In addition, according to the U.S Energy Information Administration (2016) light-duty vehicles are responsible for 44% of the total world energy consumption by passenger modes of transportation.

Therefore, it can be considered that the implementation of technologies associated with EVs by itself will not be enough to mitigate the impact of transport on the environment, health and mobility problems that affect large cities. A real transition towards the decarbonisation of transport implies the incorporation of different alternatives to traditional mobility based on individual vehicles, such as the implementation of Collective Public Transport Systems, including low emission buses, which constitutes the main objective of this article. Thus, the research question that arises is: What are the opportunities and the challenges associated with the socio-technical transitions of low-emission buses in Brazil?

2. Methodology
The methodology used in this paper is based on a qualitative analysis that uses the theoretical framework of Sustainability Transitions, Socio-Technical Transitions and Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) . This framework conceptualizes the transitions towards low emission transport systems as a configuration of elements that includes technology, policy, markets, industry, consumer practices, infrastructure and cultural and scientific knowledge.

This paper characterizes the three levels of analysis of the Multi-Level Perspective for the case of low emission buses in Brazil: Micro-Level: Niche Innovation; Meso-Level: Socio-Technical Regime; Macro-Level: Socio-Technical Landscape. For this purpose, it was made a review of secondary sources related to both, the mechanisms that exert pressure on the current System of Public Transport and the main characteristics of the current Regime. A characterization of the Niche Innovations associated with low emission buses was also made: hybrid buses (electric traction/diesel/biofuels), trolley-buses, battery-powered electric buses and fuel-cell buses. Finally, during the year 2017, interviews were conducted with the main actors located in Brazil associated with these Niche Innovations, such as the main bus companies, fleet operators and policy-makers.

3. Main findings
Based on the literature review and the interviews conducted, the Socio-Technical Transitions of the Low Emission Buses in Brazil were characterized, highlighting that the incorporation of electric mobility technologies has an important opportunity in Collective Public Transportation. Brazil is one of the countries with the higher use of per capita buses. Only considering the case of the city of São Paulo, the public transport fleet consists of approximately 15,000 buses for a population of about 12.1 million people (IBGE, 2016). For this reason, the incorporation of low emission buses has a strategic potential and could represent a gateway for electric mobility in Latin American countries like Brazil (UNEP, EUROPEAN UNION, 2017).

Furthermore, in Brazil there are located three electric/hybrid buses assemblers: Eletra (São Paulo, SP); Volvo (Curitiba, PR) and the Chinese company BYD (Campinas, SP), which already have buses in circulation and demonstration projects in the main cities of the country. There is also a national network of bus component companies that can support local production, such as WEG, Magneti Marelli, Baterias Moura, CAIO, Mercedes Benz, among others.

Finally, there are financing mechanisms focused on the promotion of low-emission buses, such as: Fundo Clima, Bens de Capital Efficient-BNDES, Finame-BNDES and Finep, among others, as well as national and local policies for the promotion of collective public transport. At the national level, the National Urban Mobility Policy (Lei 12.587/12) prioritizes the implementation of collective public transport services that incorporate renewable energies (BRASIL, 2012). At the local level, the Lei N.16.802 of 17/01/18, promotes the incorporation of less polluting energy sources in the collective transport fleet of São Paulo (CIDADE DE SÃO PAULO, 2018). This law is the basis for the formulation of the Collective Public Transport Bid of São Paulo, which determines a schedule for the reduction of pollutant emissions from the fleet, for which it is necessary to implement alternative sources of energy in the buses.

It is concluded that, in the case of São Paulo, there is not a single niche innovation that manages to make a transition in the current Socio-Technical Regime. On the contrary, this process must be carried out through a "mix of technologies", that allows both, to reduce emissions and to take advantage of local capacities in relation to biofuels and hybrid technologies.

For the success of a socio-technical transition in Brazil, it is necessary the participation of actors from different sectors, such as Industry, Fleet Operators, Government (local and national), Universities, Research Centers and the permanent validation by the users of the public transport.


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