Pollution due to vehicles, irrespective of its category, has been a large contributor to the alarming pollutant levels in India. In order to reduce the impact of the conventional petrol and diesel engines, Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, has announced that soon double decker buses would ply on select highways. These buses, however, would not run on a conventional engine but would have alternate fuels such as ethanol or methanol or run completely on electricity. According to a recent conversation with PTI, the Union Minister said, “We will aim at reducing private vehicles. The way the number of private vehicles is increasing, we need to construct one lane every three years, that will cost too much. We need to discourage people from buying vehicles and improve the public transport.” The priority of the Government is to promote clean fuel in order to reduce or eliminate a hefty import bill incurred on conventional fuel which is close to Rs 7 lakh crore at the moment. Nitin Gadkari also added that a consultant has already been appointed to study automobile standards of Germany, France, UK, and Sweden.
How are other countries using such public transport systems?
In Sweden, the ElectriCity venture, which encouraged an all-electric bus operation in Gothenburg ran for two successful years on route 55 of the city and in June this year, this initiative would expand to route 16 as well. The original plan was to test these electric buses till 2018, but, considering the popularity of this public transport solution, the trials would continue to 2020. In June 2018, when Sweden will host the Volvo Ocean Race, two fully electric articulated buses would operate between Nordstan and Frihamnen, a distance of 2.2 km. Although the distance is small, the idea behind this route is to showcase the ElectriCity initiative while spectators can also enjoy the event.
Stefan Eglinger, Director of Urban Transport Administration, City of Gothenburg, told energydigital.com, "Gothenburg has a strong automotive industry and is the Nordic region's logistics hub. One benefit is that we get involved early in testing next-generation technology. That's exciting and we learn more together with our partners in ElectriCity than we would do alone. We take these lessons with us in our urban planning as Gothenburg grows into an attractive large city. Tomorrow's quiet vehicles emitting no exhaust gases will make the city even more appealing for people to live in, work in and enjoy. I'm happy and proud that our cooperative venture has been so successful that we now want to go further in the next phase.”
What India needs to do if plans are to go fully electric by 2030
The double-decker buses if deployed efficiently would also start to dissuade the use of personal vehicles for interstate travel. While fully-electric buses may not be the immediate solution as they pose a challenge with regards to proper infrastructure, alternate fuel types can be implemented for the time-being. Tata Motors recently showcased their bio-methane bus with new engines that are compatible with bio-methane, also known as bio-CNG, at the recently held Urja Utsav in Pune. While commercial vehicle manufacturers, even homegrown ones have the technology for electric, hybrid and alternate fuel public transport vehicles ready, the Government needs to push for the encouragement of using electric vehicles as India is an electric and coal surplus country. Another challenge for such vehicles to come into the mainstream is a proper infrastructure.
While the Government has started 200 electric taxis in Nagpur which can charge from 25 charging stations that have already been erected, there is still a long road ahead. Another hurdle is the affordability of electric cars as the greener Lithium-Ion batteries are not locally manufactured but imported by electric vehicle manufacturers in the country. The Mahindra e2O Plus, a fully-electric passenger vehicle starts from around Rs 7 lakh, ex-showroom. That's after the reduction of a little over Rs 1 lakh under the FAME or Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles Scheme. This kind of a price tag on a new technology such as an electric vehicle simply means that potential customers would discourage such a purchase as there is the obstacle of not having charging stations as well. Another setback for electric as well as hybrid vehicles is due to the recent implementation of GST or Goods and Services Tax which has entailed in a higher tax for hybrid cars and electric vehicles. Hybrid cars which were earlier charged at about 30 percent tax, now attract 43 percent tax (28 percent GST and 15 percent additional cess) while electric cars cost entail as much as 20.5 percent tax depending on the state. In addition to the import duty on Lithium-Ion batteries, since they are not locally manufactured for the time being, they incur 28 percent GST compared to the range of five percent to 15 percent before the new tax structure's implementation.
Although the 'one country one tax' structure has a good intent for vehicles run on conventional engines, for hybrids and electric vehicles it is the exact opposite. Apart from overcoming the challenge of setting up a proper infrastructure for alternate fuel run vehicles as well as for all-electric vehicles, the current tax structure needs to be revised. If not, the Vision 2030 for India, that states all vehicles to become fully electric, irrespective of the category (commercial vehicle or passenger vehicle) would take longer than the stipulated timeline.