Did you know that for many Indians buses remain the most affordable and in many cases the easiest and quickest way to travel
The overall size of the intercity bus transport market is estimated at over $15-20 Bn in India and with significant investments in highway expansion is growing at a 10% CAGR
Once the charging infrastructure is established using the captive demand for EV buses, the same can remove range anxiety for other EV form factors
Electric Vehicles and India’s path towards adopting them have been making headlines for all the right reasons lately. The ‘will he or won’t he’ saga surrounding Elon Musk and Tesla’s plans for India has been taking up a lot of the headlines as we continue to speculate on their India plans.
That is unfortunate at one level because there is so much more happening in the EV space. Recently, Mumbai saw the first electric double-decker bus in India from Switch Mobility come onto its streets powered by the Chalo platform. And not just double-deckers, we see public transportation in cities across India getting electrified with almost 2,000 electric buses sold in FY23.
Not just electric buses, but electric three-wheelers and now even electric two-wheeler taxis. The massive advantages of operating an electric fleet over a fleet of aging and polluting internal combustion engine vehicles are manifold, from not just reduced operating costs but lower maintenance as well.
Most, importantly, this has given state-run public transport corporations the ability to explore new models of operations that benefit both consumers and the state. And with the ongoing funding winter, shared mobility companies are focusing on profitability instead of just growth, and EV’s are playing a major role.
But What About Intercity Travel?
While many of you reading this would have noticed the growth of Indian aviation and the railways with the massive investments in infrastructure including the Vande Bharat Express trains, did you know that for many Indians buses remain the most affordable and in many cases the easiest and quickest way to travel.
The overall size of the intercity bus transport market is estimated at over $15-20 Bn in India and with significant investments in highway expansion is growing at a 10% CAGR. But it has also been woefully ignored in terms of investment and technology innovation. This is why you hear of tragic accidents involving such buses far too often.
A clear change that can be driven is the electrification of intercity bus transport, these buses will not only be cheaper to run, but because of the in-built safety features of these buses, which could include multiple advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), it would also make intercity buses safer to run.
Is High Capital Cost A Deal Breaker?
Of course, there are valid questions to be asked about the large capital costs of electric buses and also the charging ecosystem. The latter issue is being addressed rapidly, those double-decker buses for Mumbai, they are actually being driven down from the Switch Mobility factory in Tamil Nadu to Mumbai and being charged multiple times along the way.
Particularly in the south and the west of India, networks of high-speed commercial Direct Current (DC) chargers are being established and this trend should also move to the north of the country soon.
As such buses often take breaks every 250 km or so and a network of fast chargers, along with systems like ‘double gun’ chargers – that is the ability to charge from two separate points at once – will make it possible to re-charge a bus rapidly during a meal or comfort break.
Adoption of these new electric buses will also help operators reduce their operating costs and stay clear of the expenditure on fuel and lubricating oils for periodic maintaince. Using new models encouraged by urban public transport, private operators and the state transport corporations can collaborate on capital investments and streamline operations.
In cases where states run intercity buses, they can collaborate with technology-driven private operators to run these services for them, with private players taking on the capital costs for setting up the infrastructure.
By privatising the system, innovative financing models can be trialled for the electric bus ecosystem with manufacturers, private equity and traditional financial institutions working together. After all, state-run transport corporations are almost as indebted as state-run power distributions according to an Observer Research Foundation (ORF) report.
We should not waste time, as there is an urgent need to revolutionalise India’s intercity bus ecosystem and going electricity can be the answer. It can help cut costs, emit less pollution on the ground, but most importantly also offer a safer and more reliable service for customers.
Once the charging infrastructure is established using the captive demand for EV buses, the same can remove range anxiety for other EV form factors including personal cars & bikes, commercial vehicles etc. A true revolution in ending ICE age is happening.