e-Bus goals call for an urban-transport reset - Hindustan Times

e-Bus goals call for an urban-transport reset

Apr 15, 2024 12:13 AM IST

Any change in the mode of urban transport in India is a huge task and needs a clear plan. A multi-pronged strategy is needed for the transformation.

The Prime Minister e-bus Sewa Scheme, announced on August 16, 2023, to put 10,000 electric buses on city routes across the country will greatly help in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a key goal set by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi at the 2021 Glasgow climate summit. The Centre wants to replace 800,000 diesel buses--a third of the number running the country--in the next eight-10 years. It aims to place 50,000 electric buses on the roads by 2027. There are 6,745 registered electric buses across the country on January 11, 2024. Any change in the mode of urban transport in India is a huge task and needs a clear plan. A multi-pronged strategy is needed for the transformation. The following approaches need to be kept in mind.

Centre aims to place 50,000 electric buses on the roads by 2027. PREMIUM
Centre aims to place 50,000 electric buses on the roads by 2027.

First, it will be possible to achieve greater efficiency in city bus services if it is handed over to private operators. This will curtail government expenditure in running the city bus services and it will save the continual losses suffered by the state-run city transport corporations.

Second, create a structured bus service in smaller cities that lack one today.

Third, increase the number of electric vehicles (EVs) in the country, and help shift bus services in urban and semi-urban areas to electric buses entirely.

Fourth, improve mobility in cities, make them more competitive, and be better placed to take the national economy to a $30-trillion one by 2047. Providing an efficient city bus service is an important part of the strategy to make cities catalysts of economic growth.

Fifth, the switch to electricity-run city transport services would help meet the climate goals promised by the PM at the 2022 Glasgow climate summit.

Sixth, there will be a reduction of costs in running urban transport systems by improving the economies of scale by procuring electric buses from manufacturers in greater numbers.

Each of these approaches will bring about major changes, but each one of them poses a challenge. It is not easy to make these changes.

First, the state transport authorities must shift from their role as operators of buses to that of regulators. It is not an easy thing to do because the change requires a different set of skills. The change would make a large segment of the staff of the road transport corporation redundant; it will be necessary to get a policy in place to re-skill them and redeploy them. And in some cases, it would be necessary to make a generous voluntary retirement package. This is a politically sensitive and difficult issue to handle.

Second, in cities where there is no local government-run bus service and, therefore, no transport authority, it will be necessary to create a local transport authority to play the role of the regulator.

Third, private bus operators who have been running an unstructured bus service in smaller cities and between cities need to create a structured bus service. It requires new skills. Programmes to build this capacity must be designed.

Fourth, the operation of electric buses is quite different from running a fleet of diesel-run buses because the charging time of electric buses is quite long, and the mid-day recharging has to be planned meticulously. The refill time of diesel buses was short and the turnaround was quick.

Fifth, if the electric bus operations are to be run efficiently, it will be necessary to create an information-technology-based monitoring system. Two levels of information flow will be needed--one at the operational level, and the second at the management level. The information from the operational level has to be transmitted to the management level to keep the operations effective and smooth. The IT-based monitoring system with standard protocols for data collection and management should be in place across the country.

Sixth, the electricity load must be managed well. The recharging process should not result in outages due to grid overload because that would lead to a breakdown of the system. The grid should be equipped to withstand the overload.

Clearly, aggressive capacity-building programmes will be needed to equip private-sector operators as well as public-sector regulators. While the private operators will need to better understand complex skills like bus and crew scheduling, public sector regulatory agencies will need to better understand the complexities of demand estimation, route and network design, procurement, and monitoring. It should be possible to enable the staff of the state transport corporations who had been offered voluntary retirement packages to form cooperatives and bid for operating bus routes.

The government will do well to start systematically working on each of these to ensure that a well-thought-out and transformational programme does not fall by the wayside for want of supportive action.

OP Agarwal is senior advisor, WRI India, and Pawan Mulukutla is executive program director, Integrated Transport, Clean Air and Hydrogen at WRI India. The views expressed are personal

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