Wouldn’t it be great if you got up one day to go to your school/college/office and decide not to take the car? The car is meant for going on long holidays only. Instead, you go to the bus stop. You wait for a while at the community center; a stop that has come into being because everyone comes here. You didn’t even hear the silent coach arrive, and when you sat inside, there was no vibration; no noise to disturb your peaceful morning.
This is a dream for a lot of us who are not morning people, and the sight of a rumbling, groaning, steaming monster of a machine early in the morning gives us the jitters. Why do we have to be subjected to this? We are now in 2020, and aside from a slightly problematic start to the year, it still is confounding that the world does not have more electric buses.
Yes, forget flying cars and transparent displays, electric mobility is what we were actually excited about for the future, indeed promised, and now that we are metaphorically here, there is not a single electric car to be seen, except for that horrible Reva car and the Tesla that Indians will never see. The lack of electric cars in my life is something I’m incensed about, and I’m not the only one, coming from a generation that has deep-seated worries, nay fears, about the impending ‘climate doom’ that awaits us after this nightmare of a year gets over, unless we do something.
Maybe everyone wanting to buy an electric car has a far-fetched thought, but there could be other ways to solve this! India makes 7% of all the commercial vehicles in the world, and presumably, a majority of these are black, smoke spouting diesel vehicles, the cheapest, and most efficient. Furthermore, three-wheelers make up 83% of all electric vehicles in India. You know those dumb totos that are around most cities nowadays, trying to do their best auto-rickhaw impression? Those.
I would like my cities to have better representatives of electric vehicles, and so, I wondered why there aren’t more electric buses in our cities. Their advantages, on paper, seem absolutely wonderful: quiet, easy to maintain, no vibrations and extremely cheap running costs. It should be a boon for transport authorities! But the truth is difficult, for now, at least. 17 percent of the world’s buses are electric today, but 99 percent of those are in China, a country which has had to mandate laws requiring a certain number of electric vehicles on the road because of their deadly air quality problems at present. No country should have to wait for such a terrifying reality to enact such changes, but the problems are immense.
Firstly, the technology just isn’t at the level that is needed at the moment. Electric bus range is often limited to around 350 kilometers, which is laughable compared to the ranges of conventional diesel buses. Furthermore, conventional mechanics need to be trained to maintain electric power units, another cost. Other costs which cities deal with include the problem of charging stations, the limited space in bus depots as well as disposing off of old buses in an efficient manner. Even with all these issues, many cities have tried to implement electric bus fleets en masse, but, running into several problems like shoddy build quality and dangerous safety errors. An example in India is the Manali-Rohtang electric bus line which often faces problems with range because batteries work differently in colder climates.
It would only be a positive step for the government to pursue the electrification of most public transportation, especially buses, which are responsible for a large portion of emissions from vehicles on the road. However, their initiative has to expand beyond pilot projects and order, and instead, develop a hands-on role in conjunction with vehicle manufacturers in the research and development of better forms of these technologies. With global players like Tata and Mahindra (who also have technology from their Formula E team to rely on), the necessary expertise is available too. The advantages of an electric bus fleet in cities, and further along in rural areas also, would be a fantastic way to advertise India to the world as a world leader in technology and manufacturing.
The future ahead of us is electric, there is no doubt about that. But how long it takes us to get there, and whether it will be too late by then, is still to be seen. I still remain hopeful of having a reality, one day, where owning a car is a lifestyle decision, not a necessity, because of the swanky new electric buses.
-Written By: Trayambak Chakravarty