Exclusive: How Electric Buses Are Reshaping the Future of India’s Public Transport System?

While India is at the forefront of championing the cause of sustainability, there is a tremendous opportunity to fight climate change in the country by targeting core areas such as public transport. The growing popularity of electric buses (e-buses) among travellers, governments and industry makes them a reliable choice in India’s pursuit of a sustainable future. Compared to ICE, usually diesel-powered buses, the electric variants are a much more effective and viable solution for the intra-urban segment to cater to the common Indian commuter, the state treasury and the environment in general. It is promising that the e-buses are being encouraged by policy makers and decision makers across India and also presents a great opportunity to modernize the public bus service in India.

A great opportunity for clean, modern public transport

The move to e-buses is critical for India to decarbonise public transport and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. The buses currently plying India’s roads rely largely on fossil fuels and are reported to account for more than 10% of the country’s diesel consumption. Buses in India are the most preferred and affordable mode of travel. A majority of the workforce, students and others depend on it for their daily commute.

Since these buses are responsible for a large part of the polluting substances, replacement with electric variants can bring major benefits. They are easy to use and maintain and have a low running cost. Electric buses can minimize urban pollution and provide low-noise roads.

In addition, e-buses have a drastically lower carbon footprint and require much less energy/km to drive. Compared to diesel variants, these buses have no exhaust emissions and offer comfortable smoke-free and smooth rides for passengers. In a recent survey of e-bus commuters, 78% of respondents prefer to travel by e-bus because of less noise and vibration.

Factors contributing to the growth of e-mobility

India has set a target of meeting 50% of its energy needs from renewables by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2070. By boosting e-mobility, it aims to reach the sales penetration of electric vehicles: 30% of private cars, 70% of commercial cars, 40% of buses and 80% of two- and three-wheelers by 2030. In line with this goals, the Indian government is giving huge support to electric mobility in the country with initiatives such as FAME and PLI​,​ and the results are encouraging.

In addition, the country is expanding its EV and battery manufacturing capabilities today, which will help locate and create low-cost products suitable for Indian needs. Technological advances will soon be able to offer high-range products to cover long distances and make e-mobility more viable for users.

​Removing the existing bottlenecks

According to benchmarks set by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Indian metros require 60 buses per lakh population. Based on these figures, the country uses less than a fifth of the buses it needs and to adequately serve users, it needs to add another 1.45,000 buses.

While electric mobility can be of great value to STUs, they currently lack the technical know-how, operational knowledge and skills to deploy, operate and manage fleets of e-buses. Financing e-buses is another barrier to electric vehicle adoption. In addition, funding shortfalls and inadequate budgets prevent STUs from making direct purchases. In addition to government subsidies, the e-bus ecosystem also needs high capital investments to drive the transition.

The success of e-buses in India also depends on the domestic production capacities which require favorable industrial policies. The segment can contribute to huge revenue opportunities, job generation, innovation and joint efforts of all stakeholders are needed to transform the face of public mobility with e-buses in India.

This article is written by Satish Jain, Chairman, PMI Electro Mobility. All opinions are personal.

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