Riga Transport Company trams, Latvia

Network modernisation: new low-floor, high-capacity trams; hydrogen bus fleet and electric range extended trolley buses.

Total project cost: EUR 195 million; EIB loan up to EUR 75 million, EFSI guarantee; EU CEF grant: EUR 5 million.

Riga, the largest city of the Baltic States, has an extensive public transport network with multiple modes: nine tram lines based on mostly traditional, ageing high-floor trams, 19 trolley bus lines with range extension provided by diesel motors, and 53 conventional bus lines – all diesel-fuelled. These achieved some 147 million passenger trips in 2015. However, while passenger numbers were increasing up until 2014, they have fallen into a decline as the network ages, reliability levels fall, and private passenger car numbers increase. To address this, a new set of strategies and programmes have been developed to guide and reverse the trend. One of the city’s specific goals is to make Riga a pedestrian, bicycle and public transport-friendly city, and it has adopted a strategy of zero emission vehicles for the city centre to reduce the pollution. In part, this has been driven by the city centre’s canyon-like narrow streets, bounded by high buildings, which tend to trap atmospheric pollution at ground level. The trams and hydrogen cell buses have a particular role to play in achieving these zero emissions objectives.

The new investments include: 20 new low-floor trams, plus 11 km of upgraded track to allow the new trams to operate, and a range of other tram infrastructure investments; the acquisition of ten new hydrogen fuel-cell electric buses, supported by a hydrogen production, storage and refuelling station; and the purchase of ten trolley buses with hydrogen fuel-cell-powered range extenders. Range extenders allow trolley buses to operate like conventional buses and travel beyond their dedicated infrastructure. Backing up these investments will be the complete overhaul and reconstruction of a tram depot to allow it to maintain and repair the new generation of low-floor trams.

Riga Transport Trams is yet another example of how projects which benefit from Bank financing can simultaneously support multiple EU policy objectives. Clearly, the project supports the sustainable transport objective, and the horizontal climate action policy. It falls under the Cleaner Transport Facility as it is one of the early examples of the deployment of hydrogen buses. However, the project will also benefit from direct EU support under the EU’s CEF and, of course, it is also located in a Cohesion Region. The combination of EIB financing and an EFSI guarantee meant that the borrower could benefit from longer-term lending than the market could offer, and allow crowding in of local commercial banks to support Riga city’s transport objectives.