Electric buses will fuel India’s climate action - Hindustan Times
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Electric buses will fuel India’s climate action

Jan 16, 2024 10:17 PM IST

India is well positioned to lead by example in affecting change in the global decarbonisation pursuit.

The Local Climate Action Summit held during COP28 has turned the spotlight on cities for accelerating progress on emission reduction. COP28 acknowledged the role of sub-national (federal) ambitions and actions in supercharging national efforts. In India, the federal governments have already begun the transformation of their transport sector to reduce emissions. A few months ago, the Indian government launched a scheme for the adoption of 10,000 electric buses across 100 Indian cities. The scheme PM e-Bus Sewa Scheme puts into perspective the rising criticality of improving public transport infrastructure at the state level to make India a net zero economy by 2070.

For buses, under Centre’s FAME-II scheme, the Chandigarh administration provides a subsidy of <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>20,000 per kWh for electric buses, capped at 40% of the vehicle cost or <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>55 lakh, whichever is lower. (HT File Photo) PREMIUM
For buses, under Centre’s FAME-II scheme, the Chandigarh administration provides a subsidy of 20,000 per kWh for electric buses, capped at 40% of the vehicle cost or 55 lakh, whichever is lower. (HT File Photo)

The Local Climate Action Summit held during COP28 has turned the spotlight on cities for accelerating progress on emission reduction. COP28 acknowledged the role of sub-national (federal) ambitions and actions in supercharging national efforts. In India, the federal governments have already begun the transformation of their transport sector to reduce emissions. A few months ago, the Indian government launched a scheme for the adoption of 10,000 electric buses across 100 Indian cities. The scheme PM e-Bus Sewa Scheme puts into perspective the rising criticality of improving public transport infrastructure at the state level to make India a net zero economy by 2070.

The road transport sector accounts for over 87% of total transport emissions in India. The scheme intends to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the sector while increasing the share of public transport. It also seeks to expand public bus systems in new cities and augment them in cities where they already exist. Urbanisation has led to an alarming rise in vehicles on the roads, prompting sustainable mobility solutions to decongest and decarbonise our cities. With every two out of three people expected to live in urban areas by 2050, this scheme has the potential to shape and define India’s mobility pattern.

Buses form the backbone of urban mobility in India. Over 42,000 buses carry about 35 million passengers in urban India daily, with an average of 840 passengers per day per bus. This means that every one out of 10 Indians uses a bus for travel. While buses are used for over 80% of public transport trips daily, their share has been plummeting, with no major fleet expansions over the past decade. This e-bus scheme plans to add over 10,000 buses to the transport system of over 100 cities — breathing life into the transport infrastructure. The scheme targets cities which particularly lack a robust network of public transport.

Implementation of the scheme can potentially lead to the creation of nearly 50,000 direct jobs. Of the total project estimate of 57,613 crore, the central government has allocated 20,000 crore for the scheme. The remaining funds are to come from the respective states. The viability gap funding provided on an operational basis by the government is a welcome move for the cash-ridden transit agencies and will be more effective than providing subsidies which are limited in their long-term impact.

Currently, India has nearly 42,260 buses in cities that have over 500,000 people – requiring almost 93,480 more buses for a desirable people-to-bus ratio of 50 buses per lakh population. Considering the price discovery of operating e-buses under the recently concluded Grand Challenge (FAME II Scheme) — (nearly 20% lower than ICE counterparts under an operational expenditure (OPEX) model) — the financial benefits of operating environmentally friendly e-buses are clear. The adoption of 10,000 electric buses could potentially reduce 16.5 million tons of CO2 equivalent tailpipe emissions over the course of 10 years.

The implementation of this critical scheme would also make way for some much-needed transformations in the transport system. The current infrastructure urgently needs interventions in the areas of depot infrastructure improvements, route prioritisation and optimisation strategies and improving the overall efficiency of the system. Some other ways to aid implementation of the scheme include setting service-level benchmarks for performance measurement, creating an Intelligent Transport System that is based on standards and protocols and automatic fare collection.

India has already assumed leadership in creating digital public infrastructure like Aadhaar for streamlining and catalysing economic growth. We must now explore the possibilities of integrating public transport with such an approach to overcome the current challenges faced by the public bus ecosystem. Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) based on open standards and protocols can serve as a knowledge-sharing platform — facilitating efficient planning and operations. It can further empower all the transport sector stakeholders like e-bus manufacturers, bus fleet operators, transit agencies, financing institutions, innovators and researchers, to help develop the e-bus digital ecosystem. It can be a promising avenue for holistic monitoring, evaluation and data sharing for critical parameters like battery health and performance — that can be incremental in further driving the prices down and pushing demand at scale.

India is well positioned to lead by example in affecting change in the global decarbonisation pursuit. Understandably, a country of over 1.3 billion people needs a range of impact-driven solutions to drive change and we need them at scale.

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

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