By Mahesh Babu
In a developed country, public transport should be the primary and affordable means of commuting. India is the world’s second biggest bus market after China, with over 1 million registered buses in the country. However, India has only 1.2 buses per 1,000 people, which is lower than that of most developing nations. With India’s urban population expected to grow to 590 million in 2030, the need for robust sustainable public transportation is the need of the hour.
India’s EV adoption is at a very nascent stage in the bus segment. To accelerate EV adoption, the Government of India has taken numerous steps to push for greener mobility through diverse incentives and schemes, like FAME-II, [Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles], boosting domestic manufacturing capabilities for electric vehicles through PLIs and ensuring a roadmap for development of charging infrastructure.
The progression of electric bus market
The electric bus market has seen exponential growth over the years, with FY22 ending at almost 1200 electric buses, and this growth is expected to double in the next year and become 10x in the next five years. Given this significant growth, the electric bus market penetration forecast in India shows that the country may have up to 12% EV share by 2025.
E-bus infrastructure and services
The Indian bus market is driven by the private sector which accounts for 80% of the share, while the State Transport Undertakings (STUs) account for only about 20%. However, STUs are the torchbearers for adopting e-buses on account of the FAME Subsidy and government’s focus on transforming the public transportation space. One of the latest initiatives on this front has been the Convergence Energy Services Ltd (CESL)’s USD 10-billion tender for 50,000 electric buses to drive India’s plans to decarbonize public transport and help meet its goals for net zero emissions.
Given the change in business model and technology for e-buses, depot and route selection are critical precursors to cost-effective and efficient operations. There is a need for ensuring requisite groundwork, building proficient capacities and charging infrastructure, and training programmes and resources for stakeholders to minimize cost and improve operational performance.
Companies like Switch Mobility are working with STUs in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad and Patna to supply, operate and maintain electric buses and charging infrastructure. For instance, since Karnataka is one of the largest producers of solar power in the country, Switch Mobility is leveraging this space in partnership with the Hinduja group, and intends to charge its buses with 87% renewable energy.
In order to transform the urban mobility landscape in terms of sustainability and footprint, Switch recently launched India’s first electric double decker, Switch EiV 22, where 200 buses will be seen soon on Mumbai roads. This will contribute to significant carbon savings of over 14,000 tonnes equivalent to planting over 86,000 trees, and fuel savings of 26 million litres of diesel annually. The electric double deckers also contribute to 41% less space on the road, offering higher passenger capacity per footprint, with 86% more passengers for only a 18% increase in weight, and 36% less energy consumed per passenger. These positive impacts on urban commute are encouraging STUs to induct electric double deckers in their fleet.
Private players catch up with the trend
In terms of the private e-bus market, the pace is picking-up, with private operators showing keen interest in electric buses, given lower total cost of operations and sustainability commitments. The future for the private electric bus market looks promising, as 2025 and beyond, the market share for the private e-bus orders is expected to be about 70%.
As companies look at staff transportation with electric buses as part of their shift to sustainable transportation in the near-term, employee movement will drive the growth for e-buses in the private segment. Private strategic collaborations for deployment of electric buses across India will accelerate the adoption of clean, sustainable electric transportation solutions.
To be part of such an exciting growth journey, it is imperative to have a clear mission to enrich lives through green mobility. Green mobility is more than zero tailpipe emissions. India has committed to become net zero by 2070.
One of the key challenges in India’s mobility transition is mobilising investments to finance OEMs, battery manufacturers, charging stations, and end-consumers. This will require shifts in financial structuring. Owing to the nascent stage of the industry and the absence of prior experience in such lending, institutions are taking higher risk. For example, financing for long-term contracts for 10-15 years isn’t available.
However, the future is promising, with the overall EV sales picking up, including investments, where PE/VC investors poured in around USD 1.7 billion in 2021. This number has already crossed USD 666 million in 2022. However, financing for the end-consumer is a challenge and still needs to be addressed.
By 2030, the Indian economy is expected to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world, coupled with a growing population and one of the lowest bus fleets per capita in the world. Sustainable public transportation through E-buses will be the need of the hour.
The switch to e-bus presents the opportunity to convert the maximum passenger kilometre of travel to zero-emission transport in Indian cities and has the potential to yield a variety of benefits. They include improved energy efficiency and air quality, along with longer-term climate change mitigation benefits. Electric double decker buses will also contribute with reduced urban space footprint and will help cities grow, in a sustainable way.
(Disclaimer: Mahesh Babu is CEO, Switch Mobility India, and COO, Switch Mobility, Views are personal)