The Hot Topic: Electric buses just might save the world
While ‘electric buses’ as a concept has been around forever, what’s electric about them, how can they save the world, and why aren’t we using them everywhere already?
Brace yourselves - we just might have found a new superhero for the planet! Transportation causes a quarter of the emissions present, but transportation is essential - so it makes sense to invest in smarter transportation solutions. While ‘electric buses’ as a concept has been around forever, what’s electric about them, how can they save the world, and why aren’t we using them everywhere already?
The advantages of buses are many: considering that a bus on average carries fifty passengers, one bus could easily replace 30-40 cars on the road. If routed well, buses are even better than trains because they need no extra infrastructure. They run perfectly on pre-existing infrastructure, of roads and bus stops, and can even function on terrains where constructing the subway is not easy. And while buses used to run on diesel and CNG, it was quickly understood that these fuels are intense emitters of greenhouse gases. That was when electric buses came into the picture.
An electric bus runs on electricity, of course - but where does that electricity come from? The buses have a battery on board that can be charged at charging stations - like your little toy car. So instead of fuel, all that is needed is a simple battery. And while electricity generation also needs some source of energy, it’s easier to power a charging station through renewables, rather than every individual bus. More than anything, e-buses make less noise, have less vibration, and zero exhaust; in the long term, they are cheaper and easier to maintain. And while buses are just a small part of the transport sector, they might not immediately create a sizable reduction in emissions, but they will make your local air cleaner, and when adopted on a worldwide basis, will definitely lower emissions.
So if that is the case, why don’t we change all existing buses to electric buses on the roads? In 2018, the United States only had 300 e-buses delivered in the country. Worldwide, the figures are low and seem to be an effort that is too little, too late. Except for one country; China is the only one which seems to be spearheading the revolution towards electric buses. Compared to the USA’s 300, there were 78,000 e-buses delivered in China. It is the world’s largest consumer of e-buses - 99% of the world’s electric buses have been deployed in China, comprising of a total of 421,000 buses, which makes up seventeen per cent of China’s fleet. BYD, Build Your Dreams, is the world’s largest supplier of electric buses. China’s investment in electric buses points to early recognition of a problem and subsequent measures taken far in advance so that, while the rest of the world is just beginning to understand electric buses, China is already a mile ahead. But why are electric buses so slow to catch on?
The biggest challenge for electric buses lies in the charging stations that they require. If a city is to have many electric buses, it needs to have a significant number of charging stations, which is an infrastructure investment that is slow to catch on, especially when there are buses already running that don’t require charging stations. Electric buses are harder to operate in steeper terrains and colder climates. Moreover, the cost of electric buses is much higher - an electric bus costs 2 crores, while a CNG bus costs only 48 lakhs, and a diesel bus is even cheaper. It has to be recognised though, that in the long-term, the cost of running an e-bus is significantly less than a diesel or CNG bus, and it is time we expect our lawmakers to acknowledge this and allocate budgets accordingly.
And it turns out that cities across the world, slowly but steadily, are taking baby steps in the transition towards electric buses. Last week, the city of Los Angeles ordered 155 new electric buses for LA’s fleet, the largest ever order in the history of the US. Egypt announced that it will manufacture e-buses. Chile aims to have the second-largest fleet of electric buses in the world after China. The city of Malmo in Sweden just acquired 60 new electric buses from Volvo. And India too is not far behind.
Under the new government’s FAME-II scheme, the Indian government has set aside Rs 10,000 crore to be spent over three years, beginning 2019-20. Around 5,095 electric buses will be deployed in cities across India under this new scheme. Each state was invited to share plans for their needs for electric buses, and while only a third of these were approved, the numbers are still encouraging, for a starting point. Delhi is inducting 1000 new electric buses to its fleet and is applying for 1000 more, which is the largest ever commitment for any city outside China. Pune’s Bhekrai Nagar became the first all-electric bus depot. Bangalore invites tender for 90 electric buses to serve as feeder buses around the Bangalore metro. Chandigarh recently floated the tender for 40 electric buses, and Mumbai will get 300 new buses with women drivers.
Yet these actions need to be adopted on a far bigger scale if the targets of the Paris Agreement are to be met. For us as citizens, it is important to keep ourselves informed and educated about these little technicalities, so we can demand the best possible policy from our law and policymakers, and then appropriately demand those from our constituency. And the fact is, for a country like India which is home to several of the world’s most polluted cities, a significant share of which is caused by vehicular pollution, electric buses can completely revolutionise the situation, and usher in a new era of safe, comfortable, and non-polluting public transport. So why don’t you go and see what your city’s situation is regarding electric buses?