Substantive planning needed for introduction of electric buses
Gurugram is the only city in Haryana to get electric buses under the Government of India’s second round of Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (hybrid) and Electric Vehicles or FAME 2 scheme.Updated: Aug 28, 2019 09:33 IST
The ridership in Gurugaman, the city bus service, has been growing steadily. This is welcome news. The bus service will complete one year of operations next month. A couple of weeks ago, the ridership crossed over 50,000 passengers per day. Incidentally, this is more than double the ridership in Gurugram’s Metro rail system — the Rapid Metro. Gurugaman has seen a slow but steady increase in patronage. There are many reasons for the increase in the ridership, but largely, it has been due in an increase in coverage. Today, around 80 buses operate on seven routes. This number is expected to increase to 500 buses plying on 25 routes.
Gurugram is the only city in Haryana to get electric buses under the Government of India’s second round of Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (hybrid) and Electric Vehicles or FAME 2 scheme. These 50 electric vehicles couldn’t have come at a better time. Addition of these vehicles will not only increase the number of buses in the city but also improve the quality of public transport. The city can leverage the deployment of electric buses to increase the public transport network in the city, provided it can address three fundamental issues.
An electric bus is not a bus with a different fuel type. It’s a different product altogether. Electric bus operation requires substantive planning as it needs to address issues around a range of anxieties, charging technologies, availability of charging stations, performance, etc. Several factors need to be considered while planning for effective operation, but substantive planning is the key. The operation of the first 50 buses should clearly define the scale and timing, specify the data needed, include data collection mechanisms, and plans for charging infrastructure regardless of the scale of the current e-bus fleet. It is also important to have a flexible planning process that takes into account emerging results and lessons learned through trial and error and that supports information-sharing and peer-learning. Gurugram should plan for a larger e-bus fleet and should consider the 50 buses as pilot. The deployment of these buses can also be used to kick-start a larger electric vehicle deployment in the city.
Charging infrastructure is the backbone of electric vehicles. This is even more important when it comes to buses. In fact, in many ways charging infrastructure defines the operational plan for electric buses. This is where Gurugram needs to be very careful in planning because electric bus charging can be done in multiple ways. Overnight charging of batteries is done when the bus is parked at the depot at night. The buses then operate like any other buses with any other fuel, during the day. The impact on the operations and other parameters is minimal. However, this means that the bus will have a very large battery which also means higher cost. On the other hand, opportunity charging, which involves fast charging, can be done when the bus comes to a stop for some time. This can be also done, say, when the bus completes a round trip. The advantage of opportunity charging is that it decreases the requirement for the size of the battery. Battery swapping is also an option for charging of batteries.
Electric buses are new, not only in India but most of the part of the world. Therefore, it is important to document their impact more so for operations in India. For example, the success or failure of electric buses hugely depends on the battery. It is also seen that performance depends hugely on the weather. The temperature in Gurugram can vary from close to zero degrees in winters to almost 50 degrees in summers. Global literature reveals that’s that performance of Lithium-ion battery starts dropping when the temperature moves above 27 degrees.
So, how will these buses perform when the temperature reaches say 40 degrees? Also, most of the electric buses are manufactured in China and India is just picking up the manufacturing of the components now. Therefore it is important to document these issues in details as this will give a true picture of the impact of operations of these buses in our context.
Around 80 city buses are running in Gurugram. The guidance from the ministry of housing and urban affairs is to have 50 buses for every one lakh population. This means that Gurugram needs close to 1,000 buses. The question is can Gurugram use electric buses to provide a clean, reliable, safe and comfortable transport service? Yes. Right now, electric buses are more expensive than both diesel and CNG buses. This is because the buses run on lithium-ion batteries, which are not manufactured in India. However, with FAME 2, this will change. Gurugram can use this opportunity to kick-start the electric bus revolution.
(Amit Bhatt is Director— Integrated Transport, WRI India)