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Vilnius – Riga – Tallinn: The Baltic capitals are increasingly focussing on electric buses

The capitals of the three Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have been using trolleybuses on important routes for many years and can therefore undoubtedly be regarded as pioneers in the field of electromobility. Now the services in Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn are to be supplemented by a larger number of battery electric buses.

In Vilnius, Lithuania, around 250 trolleybuses currently serve a total of 17 routes on the most important main connections. The delivery of 91 new Skoda/SOR 32 Tr trolleybuses has just begun and a further 140 or so trolleybuses are being put out to tender. The implementation of the much-discussed project to introduce a tram will take even longer, which is why the city has decided to introduce 12 completely new bus routes to improve and expand public transport services, in addition to increasing the frequency on many of the existing 89 routes (6 of which are express services). With these changes, the city wants to ensure that passengers do not have to wait longer than 15 minutes for a bus during rush hour, even in remote areas.

55 of these Solaris Trollino 15 built in 2006/7 operate in Vilnius | © Budach
Skoda/SOR 32Tr trolleybus for Vilnius. 91 of these are on order | © Skoda Group

The 12 new routes are to be operated exclusively by electric buses. At the same time, the city council issued new conditions for the awarding of contracts to private transport companies on regular bus routes, so that in future private operators will also be increasingly involved in the greater Vilnius area alongside the three municipal transport companies UAB Vilniaus viešasis transportas, UAB Transrevis and UAB Kautra. It is hoped that this type of market liberalisation will lead to quality improvements and cost savings.

Today, four trolleybus routes are operated in Tallinn, Estonia, on which 44 Solaris Trollino 12 and Trollino 18 trolleybuses from 2002-9 (out of a total of 52 delivered) are used. After the future of electric trolleybus operation had been in doubt for some time, the decision was made to modernise and use the overhead line network for the dynamic charging of 40 newly procured trolleybuses with modern IMC technology, we reported here: https://www.urban-transport-magazine.com/en/new-investments-no-closure-tallinn-opts-for-battery-trolleybuses/.

Solaris Trollino 18 in Tallinn | © Budach
This Solaris Urbino 12 electric was on test in Tallinn already back in 2017 | © Budach
First of 15 new Solaris Urbino 12 electric for charging via inverted pantograph in Tallinn | © Solaris

In addition, the diesel bus fleet is to be gradually replaced by battery buses, of which the Polish company Solaris Bus & Coach has just delivered the first 15 Urbino 12 electric buses ordered to the operator Aktsiaselts Tallinna Linnatransport (TLT). TLT already had such a model in trial operation for some time in 2017. Solaris had also already delivered a large number of CNG buses to Tallinn. The new e-buses can be recharged plug-in via cable or via inverted pantograph at charging stations along the route. 15 charging stations are installed in the depot and two outside the network.

In Latvia’s capital Riga, the largest of the three capitals with a population of approximately 630,000 inhabitants, various tram lines serve the urban area, just like in Tallinn. Electromobility on the roads has also been taking place here for a very long time in the form of trolleybuses. 22 lines are operated with 260 Solaris (Trollino 18 model) and Iveco (Citelis model) trolleybuses, which also cover areas away from the trolley network thanks to sufficiently powerful auxiliary drives on longer sections of the route. 10 of the Solaris articulated trolleybuses are hybrid trolleybuses equipped with fuel cells for hydrogen propulsion – a unique technical solution as a range extender away from the overhead lines which required intensive testing necessary before the vehicle could start revenue service.

The procurement of battery-electric buses is also planned in Riga in order to gradually replace the diesel buses. The first 35 Solaris Urbino 12 electric started operation here on 22 December 2023; their procurement costs of EUR 19.2 million were supported by EU funding of EUR 16.1 million. A further 17 vehicles are to follow.

Iveco-Irisbus Citelis and a Solaris Trollino 18 (left) in Riga | © Budach
Riga’s Solaris Urbino 12 electric | © Rigas Satiksme Press