Electrification is here to stay – and so are the workers
The climate crisis has pushed governments and decision-makers to accelerate the electrification of public transport in cities around the world. While decarbonising public transport reduces emissions, pollution and noise contamination, it is essential that workers in the sector are incorporated through a just transition framework focused on key concerns: workers should not be displaced from their jobs, nor should the process of electrification further encroach public space and privatise access to transport. Here, Bruno Dobrusin, Just Transition Project Coordinator at the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), explains how such a framework can guarantee that workers in public transport, and paratransit (formal and informal), are part of a process that improves their working and living conditions while cities transition to a cleaner energy matrix that provides a necessary response to the climate crisis.
Cities around the world are currently undergoing a momentous shift towards the electrification of public transport. BloombergNEF’s Electric Vehicle Outlook 20201 highlights a sharp increase over the next 10 years in the provision of electric buses and electric two and three wheelers (which make up a large portion of public transport in cities of the Global South). By 2040, this report estimates that e-buses will comprise 67 per cent of the global bus fleet, and 77 per cent of sales of two and three wheelers. Although the report does not incorporate the numbers of jobs created by these investments, there is a general perception that investing in electrification would produce net growth in the numbers of jobs for public transport. The International Labour Organization published a report in 20202 presenting possible scenarios for investing in public transport and electrification that could create millions of new jobs.
It is clear that the electrification of public transport – in particular the electrification of public buses – is here to stay as a core mitigation strategy to reduce emissions, pollution and also noise contamination in our cities. Here, we want to highlight two issues that arise with this process: the role of public transport workers in the transition; and the insufficiency of electrification alone as a strategy to address the climate crisis. Both of these complexities highlight the need for a just transition for workers and communities in cities as part of the electrification process.
Public transport workers, and workers in general, are often an afterthought of city planning. In the case of electrification, there is often the assumption that workers will be satisfied by the creation of thousands (and sometimes millions) of new jobs in the sector once the investments and new units start rolling in. Recent experiences from around the world show otherwise; thousands of workers are at risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods without a clear and decisive effort to incorporate workers and their unions into a just transition programme that provides retraining (and especially training pathways for young workers), bridging to retirement, worker participation in decision making, and a formalisation of employment relationships. This must also fundamentally challenge existing gender-based occupational discrimination. This is happening in cities with large informal transport networks, including paratransit, as well as in cities with mostly formal, integrated public transport systems.
Issue 2 2021
Bus & Coach