Santiago de Chile bets its future on clean mobility

Santiago faces a serious smog problem. Particularly in winter, when there is little rainfall or wind to clear away the pollution, which remains trapped in the valley, making life unbearable. But the city has an ambitious plan to introduce electric cars, buses and taxis while fostering innovation.

With a flourishing economy and a strong mining industry, Chile’s capital continues to grow at a rapid pace. More and more people from all over the world move to Santiago, adding to the city’s carbon footprint. Santiago is, without a doubt, polluted. This is largely caused by an excessive amount of car fumes that get trapped above the city, resulting in an almost permanent layer of smog. The large amount of waste going into landfill is an added challenge in this metropolis of 6.5 million people.

Three years ago, Santiago was plunged into a state of environmental emergency as the air quality reached alarming levels. Chilean authorities forced over 900 industries to stop operations and banned 40 percent of the 1 700 000 vehicles off the streets. The subways subsequently became overloaded with commuters. On that day, it became more than clear that the city needed to tackle its problem with pollution – sooner rather than later.

Santiago: Latin America’s innovation hub

Despite the challenges, Santiago boasts several advantages in its quest to become a smarter, more sustainable city. The country’s stable economy, relatively easy immigration policies and low inflation attract a significant number of international companies wanting to do business in Chile’s capital. It is also increasingly becoming a hotspot for entrepreneurship. The public start-up accelerator program, Start-Up Chile, was launched in 2010 by the Chilean government and has revolutionised entrepreneurship in the country. The program offers start-ups from around the world up to USD 80 000 equity-free as well as a working visa, office space, training, and a strong supportive network. It also supports female entrepreneurs as well as environmentally-friendly business ideas.

The country’s progressive start-up policy has not only positioned Chile as the hub of innovation for Latin America, it has also sparked some creative ideas to make cities cleaner and smarter. In a move to overcome the city’s reliance on cars, Santiago-based developer Iván Páez Mora  created KAPPO Bike, an award-winning platform that helps to increase the urban bicycle usage through gamification and safety navigation for citizens. KAPPO also provides the local government with data about the busiest routes that do not have bike lanes, enabling it to identify cyclists’ needs and improve the city’s bike infrastructure. Páez Mora’s dream is to create a city where his children can safely ride their bikes to kindergarten, and he believes this can be achieved by encouraging more people to start cycling.

Another example is Reciclapp, a mobile app that seeks to reduce litter by connecting enterprises, small businesses and communities with recicladores (people working in waste recycling) to pick up the waste – if possible, on bike. Christian Lara, the CEO and founder of Reciclapp says that the reason why people don’t recycle in Santiago is because they often don’t have access to recycling points, or they are too far. Local councils support this initiative, and it currently operates successfully in several Chilean cities as well as in other Latin American countries.

The future is electric

The Chilean authorities have recognised the significance of clean mobility and aim to increase the number of electric vehicles tenfold by 2022. It introduced a fleet of 100 electric buses – with another 100 set to arrive at a later stage – making it the first Latin American city to invest heavily in electric mobility. For the electric buses to operate safely and efficiently, the city built a partially solar-powered electric bus terminal was built with 63 charging stations. The electric buses will help to reduce noise and air pollution, as well as significantly lower operation and maintenance costs. As residents support the overarching goal of improving air quality and recognise the benefits of an electrified transport system, the city recorded a 6.5 percent reduction in fare dodging since the buses were introduced.

Additionally, Chile encourages its citizens to switch to more energy efficient vehicles by offering them exemptions from environmental tax and traffic restrictions. The same applies to taxi and truck drivers. Currently, the biggest barriers to greater adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles are the lack of charging stations throughout the country and the high up-front costs of purchasing them. But the government says they are working on solutions.

Bringing electric racing cars to the city

To further demonstrate its commitment to sustainable transport, the city of Santiago hosted this year, for the second time, the ABB FIA Formula E Prix They did so with great success as not only the residents enjoyed watching the series of electric racing at their doorstep, but the race has also helped  raise awareness of the benefits of e-mobility. This year’s circuit was at Parque O’Higgins, the city’s green oasis and a much-loved recreational space for its residents.

It is with all these initiatives, investments and programs that the metropolis of Santiago de Chile is progressively becoming more innovative, competitive and sustainable – and is creating a better, greener future for its residents with less smog and uninterrupted views of the snow-capped Andes.

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