PRAGMATIC APPROACH FOR ELECTRIFICATION OF BUS TRANSPORT

The article titled “Sustainable mobility in state electric vehicle policy” published in UITP August- 2019 Newsletter presented an evaluation of the state EV policies from two sustainable mobility principles, restricting private vehicles and encouraging public transport. Appreciating that public transport system in India is highly disintegrated with conflicting priorities burdened with financial constraints, it is imperative that we place electrification of public transport as a turning point. In this regard, Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation placed its electrification targets along its long-term vision with technical support from UITP-India. This article is a short summary on the planning for electric bus systems in India taking Bangalore as a case study.

India’s vehicle ownership rates are much lower than western countries which pose us an opportunity to leap frog the further advancement of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles to electric driven. However, electrification of public transport is the low hanging fruit as we will be able to convert maximum passenger-km to electric while electrifying public transport. At the same time, the current depot and terminal space availability of bus systems enable focussed investments for charging infrastructure. Further, a shift from personal ICE vehicles to personal electric vehicles may not solve inherent transport problems for which we require a strategic shift to public transport. Therefore, electrification of public transport can be considered as a solution to bounce from existing public transport infrastructure to a sustainable and convenient public transport infrastructure. To add, metro rail systems in India are already electric driven and hence electrification of buses and three-wheelers will help complete transformation of public transport. This article mainly talks about electrification of bus transport in India and strategies to be addressed.

The current bus transport sector in India is highly disintegrated with multiple players. The existing urban bus supply is only 11% of the required number of buses and it is in this scenario that we are trying to influx a technology change. While electrification provides an opportunity to bridge this gap, we need to strategically place this goal within overall vision. Therefore, the first step while planning for electrification shall be vision setting to identify long-term vision and set implementation targets. In this regard, BMTC laid an ambitious vision for overall transformation and placed electrification within the overarching goal of “To provide quality, safe, reliable, clean and affordable travel while being sustainable, self-sufficient and technology advanced bus services in the future-urban transport scenario and hence to increase public transport use in Bengaluru”. Setting an achievable implementation target along the time frame will then aid in planning the action steps for electrification. BMTC plans for an 100% transformation to e- bus fleet by 2030 initiating with a pilot of about 300 e-buses in 2019-20. This would also enable us to be technology agnostic and to adopt more liberal towards innovative technologies in future.

The targets and vision can be achieved only with focussed and clear guiding strategies. It is important to answer most troublesome questions of e-bus deployment like which services and depots, who will operate etc. Therefore, the second step shall be to prepare a deployment plan defining the service targets and then prioritise routes, depots and schedules for e-bus deployment.  Deployment planning can be route-based approach (select routes first and then depots) or depot-based approach (select depots first and then routes). Major criteria that BMTC while adopting a depot-based approach mainly considered cost, utilization and location of depots as main criteria for depot selection and operational feasibility, number of schedules, daily utilization and route profitability as criteria for route selection. These factors ensure optimum utilization of the pilot resources and establishes a learning platform for other                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Simultaneously, business model for implementation and financing requirements also need to studied for e-bus implementation as it is a new technology and STUs are already burdened financially. The next step shall be technology and cost evaluation to identify total cost of ownership of the transition and business model evaluation for tendering and procurement.  The total cost of ownership models shall be made at the fleet level, depot level and schedule level to provide a clear understanding of the phasing of transition. Also, successful tendering and procurement is crucial to minimize the implementation challenges. Under FAME-I tenders, procurement in majority of cities hadn’t took off due to implementation challenges. A prior evaluation of any potential risks in future at the planning stage will ease up the implementation and execution struggles.

The steps for electrification would be incomplete if we conclude without discussing scheduling, charging infrastructure and electricity facilities. Before cities embrace themselves for deployment beyond pilot, an effective scheduling plan for e-buses considering ample charging time, charging infrastructure based on bus technology and depot/terminal/stop electricity infrastructure are to be evaluated.

Lastly, vehicle deployment and performance evaluation of the operation to monitor the operational characteristics will assist in peer learning and further scaling up of e-buses beyond pilot and FAME-II driven cases in cities. As the cities are envisaging ambitious targets for electrification of public transport, the learnings from pilot cases are important to augment further planning process and deployment strategies, for which we need to have a robust performance evaluation mechanism for e-buses along with its deployment.

To conclude, planning for electrification of bus transport needs to be aligned with long term vision of the city and service targets. Only strategic planning for progress of electrification will aid in easing the inherent mobility problems as well as implementation challenges. Further, evaluation of the buses is more important to scale up adoption of e-buses in Indian cities beyond FAME-II and pilot cases.