Round Table meet held on challenges of E-Buses

Availability of renewable energy at local level and battery life – A big challenge

In line with the announcements made by the government of India of phasing out internal combustion engines, states and cities across the country are promoting an accelerated transition to electric public buses. Waatavaran and Purpose jointly hosted a stakeholder meet with an aim to develop a plan around Mumbai’s electric buses and public transport, highlighting the aesthetic, environmental, economic and overall sustainability of renewable powered Electric Buses (E-buses). The meet was held at The Ambassador Hotel, Churchgate. ‘Newsband’ participated as one of the stakeholders from Navi Mumbai.

Bhagwan Keshbhat, Founder CEO, Waatavaran Foundation welcoming the participants expressed, “This is a primary stage and at this very moment the discussion on the issue of adoption and practical aspects will help to enhance the penetration of renewable powered electrical buses and how it can meet the goals of efficient, reliable and clean transportation. This consultation will work as a tool for providing support in shaping up the right future for Mumbaikar via better public transportation system, clean energy and to put an air pollution free Mumbai and its outskirt on the global map.”

Sandeep Dahiya, a campaigner at Purpose said, “Mumbai today is facing an acute problem of clean and affordable public buses which often leads to other problems: traffic congestion, high fossil fuel consumption, loss of productivity, vehicular parking shortages, and deterioration of air and environment. While the city has a formal public transport system in place, there has been a steep increase in the number of private vehicles in the last two decades, in the absence of strong, clean & well-connected public infrastructure.”

Sudhir Badami, Independent Transportation analyst expressed, “Currently there is less than a third of the required number of buses on the roads. Undertakings like BEST, NMMT etc. have been working towards procuring new buses and mitigating the unsustainable vehicular growth in the city, but the efforts need much more urgency. However, it is important that we address this urgently and look at innovative and adaptable solutions. Short route Ten Seat buses are having big scope as they are the alternatives to rising Auto Rickshaws in the city.”

He also emphasized that bus stops must be designed keeping in mind the visually and physically challenged commuters.

Sunil Dahiya, senior Campaigner, Greenpeace stated, “Electric Mobility can proved a solution to air pollution and clean energy transition, which needs to be studied in depth and proper actions must be taken to resolve the challenges that are presently faced.”

Amit Bhatt, Director, Integrated Urban Transport at WRI India speaking about the experience of Ahmedabad stated, “E-Buses are being launched in the city and the first buyers are mostly Public Transporters. The buyers of E-Buses are presently still operating it on an experimental practices with respect to batteries being used. There are two major Batteries being utilized- one is Swapping Batteries and the second is Charging Batteries. One must not be shocked to know that 90 percent of the Electric Buses are dominated by China made batteries and buses globally.”

Explaining the challenges of Swapping Battery, Dr. Surendrakumar Bagde, General Manager of BEST Undertaking said, “In the swapping batteries process the dried batteries are replaced with charged batteries at the charging station by means of a plug-in connector solution and robot system. On an average one E-Bus will need to move to charging station atleast 2-3 times a day. Even if it is said, that it takes a mere 7 minutes, on a practical note it takes around 15 – 20 minutes of process time”

He further informed, “On an average an E-Bus with a swapping battery, if it leaves the depot at 6 am, by 9 am it completes 30 km of distance. And then as the battery gets discharged, the Bus has to come back to the Charging Station to swap the battery. The question is, whether my Bus driver has to bring the commuters along with him and make them wait for 15 minutes? Or must he/she ask the passengers get down and wait for another Bus.”

Informing about the Charging Battery he expressed, “In the charging battery option we have to charge overnight only. On an average one single Bus runs around 135 km. But considering the civil condition of the city, the battery consumption will be more. This again raises a question, what if the bus battery gets dried in the midway. Surely it has an automate system to inform early about the status. But then, the driver has to serve the people and cannot say that the battery is getting dried up and needs to be charged and go off the road. After all we are not private transporters, we are public servants and are answerable”

He concluded stating, “There is a need for substantial solution and it has to be the responsibility of the manufacturers to provide proper solution.”

Speaking about the availability of spaces for charging and energy source, Victor Nagaonkar OSD, BEST informed, “The BEST is going to have around 600 E-Buses and all will be charged mostly overnight in our 27 Depots. However the energy source will be different at different locations. In island we have 6 Depots, here we have our own power, but rest 21 are in Suburbans, the utilization will be based on the service providing agencies.”

He also expressed that, “As a transporter for us Diesel was the most comfort, CNG is bit discomfort, but Electricity is presently a big discomfort. The reason is we are not used to it. Actually we have skipped one section that is Hybrid. It is like jumping from Pager to Mobile. Before understanding the basic technology we have gone to higher technology. And hence we will have to learn from our experiences.”

Abhishek Kumar Pratap, Senior Researcher at Asar shared the scope of renewable-powered electric buses and experience of Delhi based ESL Charging Kiosks that helps in saving time.

Polash Mukerjee, from Lead – Clean Air, NRDC expressed the proper need of creating National Electric Vehicle Policies and City transport. He also expressed that there is a need to understand the Gross Cost the transporter is going to face.

Chirag Gajjar, Senior Manager, Climate & Lead- Mitigation, WRI India spoke on the Integration of decentralised renewable energy to power electric buses. He also shared the experience of Portland E-Buses, he said, “In Portland the E-Buses have two batteries, one with standard charging that runs for around 120 km and second is fast charging batteries that run for 80 km and all are charged through Wind power.”

Hussain Indoriwala, Asst. Professor, Kamla Raheja Institute of Architecture gave a briefing on the transformation of the Public Transportation from Animal based Carts to Trains, Buses, Metros and the Private vehicles and the challenges ahead.

Discussion was also made on the vision to have 100% clean public transport while it is on the roads and its source of energy. In the Association of State Road Transport Undertakings, government of India and their vision for all State Transport buses to be electric by 2030. And how to ensure these electric vehicles are powered by clean and renewable energy.

The other big challenge discussed was to increase ridership, Jaspal Singh Naol of Newsband Newspaper and a Campaigner of Green Society Forum shared the experience of organizing NMMT Bus Day in Navi Mumbai for behavioural change and to increase the ridership.

The stakeholders present on the occasion included, Sharmila Deo, Prasar Pune, Debi Goenka, Conservation action Team, Nirja Bhatnagar, Action Aid, Shikha,, Rasika, Regularity Assistance Project, Rahul Kadri, Principal Architect and Partner at IM Kadri Associates, Jayendra Wadhankar, MEDA, Meghna Y, WRI, Sangeeta Kharat, Shrushtidnyan, Virochan Raate, Nirmala Niketan College of Social Worker, Evita Das, IGSSS.