PROMOTING ELECTRIC BUSES IN INDIA @ URBAN MOBILITY INDIA 2018

Urban Mobility India (UMI) is an annual flagship event of Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), focusing on the urban transport development in India. UITP was happy to join as Knowledge Partner for 11th edition of Urban Mobility India 2018. The event was organised in Nagpur, Maharashtra from 02-05 November 2018. 

UITP supported two sessions - (i) Women in Public Transport - 02 November 2018 and (ii) Promoting Electric Buses in India - 03 November 2018. 

The session of Promoting Electric Buses in India was very interesting and some of the key points discussed during the session are as follows: The session on promoting electric buses (e-buses) in India was chaired by Mr. Atul Agarwal from the World Bank with speakers providing varying perspectives on the topic i.e. Mr. V. Ponnuraj, the Managing Director (MD) of the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) the largest city bus operator in India, Prof. Shivanand Swamy from CEPT University, a well-known expert on bus system planning and design, Mr. Jerome Pourbaix, Senior Director, Global Growth at UITP presenting international learnings for India and Mr. Chinmay Pandit from KPIT, one of the leading Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) for electric buses in India.

Mr. Jerome Pourbaix started the session with his presentation on learnings from UITP’s Zero Emission Urban Bus System (ZeEUS) project providing technical assistance to 11 European cities in introducing electric buses. He explained how many European cities started with small pilots of 2 to electric buses to understand the dynamics of their operation before scaling up their induction. The initial pilots helped gain confidence in the electric bus technology and operation and has resulted in more than 800 buses being procured in the past year. He has also noted that the availability of electric buses was observed to be approx. 80% compared to 90-95% availability of conventional vehicles, due to their charging requirements. Cities inducting electric buses need to be planning their services accordingly. European cities are also piloting Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, but their market readiness isn’t on par with electrification yet.

Prof. Shivanand Swamy presented the findings from his research on the recent tendering for procurement and lease of electric buses under the FAME I scheme of the Government of India, which subsidised electric buses in 11 cities. He highlighted how the established bus operators like Bengaluru and Mumbai preferred lease model owing to the uncertainty in the available e-bus technologies while lesser established cities like Indore opted for upfront purchase of these buses. He noted that many of the OEMs are defaulting on their delivery timelines and cities ought to evaluate OEM’s technology readiness even at the tender stage. He emphasised the need to develop an overall public transport improvement strategy for the city and place the e0buses within this strategy rather than treating them separately. Finally, he presented a recent scheme by the Gujarat state Government which allows for viability gap funding for electric buses on a per-km basis, wherein the State Government covers 50% of the gap and the city covers the remaining gap. Such models are worth emulating across India since traditionally funding for buses has always been for capital investment for purchasing the vehicles, incentivising the purchase business model even where leasing of services may be more efficient.

Mr. Chinmay Pandit presented KPIT’s experiences in developing e-bus technology through small pilots and now making the vehicles available at a commercial scale. He presented findings from the current KPIT operations in Kolkata to explain how the city has been witnessing a gradual increase in the daily vehicle utilisation as they build confidence in the technology. He highlighted that the partnership with a proactive bus agency like the West Bengal Transport Corporation (WBTC) has helped them customise the vehicle according to local operating conditions. The availability of e-bus technology for 9m buses and their ability to operate even in smaller Indian cities with limited road width has also been emphasised.

Mr. V. Ponnuraj, MD, BMTC was the final speaker of the session presenting an operators perspective of e-bus deployment. He started with highlighting the benefits of e-buses including reduction in man-power requirement for maintenance, which is one of the biggest cost for diesel bus operators. He further presented a comprehensive overview of the rigorous process undertaken by BMTC in identifying the appropriate business model and vehicle technology for the recent tender of 80 e-buses. BMTC has adopted a technology agnostic approach and instead focussed on a service oriented approach i.e. their tender specified the type of vehicle i.e. 12m AC low-floor services and their operating schedule. The bidders were free to choose the appropriate battery and charging technology to meet these requirements. They have also maintained dialogue with the potential bidders to develop the tender conditions that will be optimal both for the city and the bidders. This helped them achieve the least bid-value among all Indian cities in-spite of asking for a better quality vehicle.

Finally, he summarised the learnings from the process into the following key learnings:

  1. e-bus tenders need to be technology neutral and should instead focus on the service requirements
  2. Operators should partner with OEMs while bidding in-order to ensure timely delivery of services given the current technology uncertainty
  3. Long-term contracts (up to 10 years) will build operators confidence in the project and lead to reduced costs
  4. The lack of adequate bid-process management and technical expertise is a key gap faced by the traditional State Transport Undertakings (STUs) in tendering and contracting e-buses

The session concluded with comments from the audience highlighting recent e-bus tendering in Kerala, need for charging infrastructure standardisation and the limited potential offered by retrofits. Overall, the session answered many questions on the status of e-bus penetration in India and generated good debate on the alternative pathways for future development.