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Ageing public bus fleet an opportunity to roll out e-buses, says experts

The panel concluded that transit agencies that have deployed electric buses have mixed feedback on the technology
At least 22% of India’s state-run buses for public transport are overage. (HT Photo)
Updated on Sep 18, 2021 06:01 AM IST
By HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

India has a total of about 140,000 state-run buses for public transport of which at least 22% are overage, meaning they are 12 years or above, said experts attending the Connect Karo-2021 conference on Friday, pointing out that the Centre should consider this as an opportunity to roll out electric buses as they have zero carbon footprint.

Sudhendu Sinha, advisor (infrastructure connectivity and electric mobility) at NITI Aayog, said India’s target of rolling out at least 10,000 electric buses by 2025 will need active participation from not just states, but also original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and banks.

“The financial arrangement that is developed for deployment of electric buses must be a win-win situation for all involved stakeholders, otherwise, e-bus adoption may not be as smooth and rapid as expected. Hence, equitable risk allocation is the key,” he said.

Prof HM Shivanand Swamy, director emeritus, centre of excellence in urban transport at CEPT University, said the switch to e-buses must be well calibrated. “There are four reasons to switch to electric buses - reduced pollutant emissions; lowered fiscal deficits due to oil; limited operating costs, and; decreased greenhouse effect,” he said.

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Giving the example of China, which is a global leader in EVs both in terms of technology and mass manufacturing, Lulu Xue, urban mobility manager, WRI China, said increasing the contract period for electric bus operation from eight years to 15 years can help in bringing down the costs of procurement. “In China, e-buses were deployed on shorter routes to align with their ranges. Post that, their deployment was extended to longer routes with multiple buses, which brought down their replacement ratio against diesel buses – that practice may suit the systems in India, as well,” she said.

The panel concluded that transit agencies that have deployed electric buses have mixed feedback on the technology. While some consider the e-bus rollout fruitful, others have faced challenges in smoothly operating them due to their limited driving range. They also find that the actual on-road performance of electric buses is substantially lower than the assured ranges indicated by electric bus OEMs. However, many STUs also found that electric bus deployment was more successful on low-frequency and less congested routes.

Another issue that was discussed was the lack of relevant details of routes or existing fleet operations in tender documents and also during pre-bid consultations which is a common challenge which e-buses OEMs or bus operators face. The panelists said that the lack of information makes it difficult for bidders to understand operational requirements and enter into service-level agreements with transit agencies, and attributed the information gap to transit agencies’ limited understanding of electric bus operation and their lack of preparedness prior to issuing tenders.

Gerald Ollivier, lead transport specialist, World Bank, said, “Scaling up electric bus deployment and leveraging the economies of scale can reduce their procurement costs by 10%. Balanced tweaking of some contractual clauses can reduce costs by a further 15% and effective unbundling of services can support a further 15% decrease.”

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