It was the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. And Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation’s (BMTC) I-day gift to Bangaloreans was free rides on its buses for that one day. August 15th saw 61,47,323 passengers use BMTC buses, as compared to the average of 28 lakh passengers on other days when commuters have to pay for their bus ride.
For BMTC it was a double celebration, as announced by its chief traffic manager on August 18th. A record ridership and the corporation’s 25th birthday.
Perhaps there was cause for a triple celebration. As on that day, Tata Motors announced that it had won the tender for 921 electric buses for BMTC. For the corporation, it was a major step in expanding its green footprint over the city. Delivery of these low floor e-buses would start in September 2022.
The BMTC launched its green initiative by adding the first set of e-buses and BS (Bharat Stage) VI to its fleet in December 2021. The plan was to induct 300 e-buses, partly funded by the Central Government under its Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME-II) scheme, and 565 BS-VI diesel buses into the BMTC fleet. At the end of 2021, BMTC had included 40 e-buses and 150 BS-VI diesel buses.
All tenders released by the BMTC can be found here.
Easy to recommend, not so easy to do
Given that vehicular emissions are a major cause for the Bengaluru’s poor air quality, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) in its “Revised Action Plan for Control of Air Pollution” of 2019 had suggested the complete scrapping of BS-III diesel buses, which have not been procured since September 2011. As of August 24th, the BMTC had 2272 BS-III buses. The revised action plan had also recommended that BS-IV buses be scrapped in phases.
As promised in an affidavit (letter no. BMTC/CO/ME/404/2020-21 dated August 16th, 2021) presented before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the BMTC had scrapped 1033 BS-III buses by March 31st of this year. The affidavit added that another 550 BS-III buses would be scrapped by March 31, 2023 and 1,132 BS-III buses by March 31, 2024. The three phase scrapping process is based on how old the buses are.
The BMTC further reiterated its commitment to replace the BS-III with BS-VI or electric vehicles at an NGT hearing in December 2021. But added a rider in its affidavit which said “All the BS-III buses will be replaced by electric and BS-VI model buses only if funds are provided by Government of Karnataka for purchase of new buses and vehicles ply & assured kilometres are achieved.”
As per data obtained from BMTC, as of August 24th, the fleet comprised 6762 buses of which 165 are e-buses. Under the Smart City project, the corporation has procured 90 e-buses and though under the centre’s FAME-II Project the BMTC was promised 300 e-Buses, the corporation has received only 75 so far.
Currently, besides the 2272 BS-III buses, BMTC has 3794 BS-IV buses and 565 BS-VI buses. The corporation will soon scrap 10 BS-IV buses and 50% of its BS-III buses.
Cost and infra issues
The Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy had published a report in 2018 titled “Implementation Plan for Electrification of Public Bus Transport in Bengaluru”. Yet the introduction of EVs in India in general and Bengaluru, in particular, has been a glacial process. The main reasons being the high cost of the vehicles and more importantly the lack of adequate EV-related infrastructure and technology. Robust deployment of EVs in Bengaluru would mean coordinated planning among three crucial sectors: BMTC, urban planning department and the power distributor BESCOM.
Commenting on the Tatas winning the bus tender, BMTC Managing Director G Sathyavathi said: “This order is paramount for Bengaluru’s growing need for clean, sustainable urban mass mobility. BMTC is happy to induct modern electric buses that will attract maximum ridership for eco-friendly public transport.”
According to the agreement, Tata Motors, which has won big e-bus orders from the Delhi and Calcutta transport corporations, will not just deliver 12-meter, air-conditioned e-buses, but would also supply, operate and maintain them for 12 years.
The question of charging infrastructure still remains a big question. In Bengaluru, the BMTC has so far set up just 10 EV charging stations. Of these only six stations are fully functional with power supply of 500KVA, 1000 KVA and 3330 KVA at present. Charging stations at Silk Board junction, which is soon to be made operational, Bidadi, Yeshwanthpura, Kengeri, and Chandapura are in progress.
BMTC remains only viable choice
In 2022, the Global Liveability Index prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranked Bengaluru to be among the least liveable cities. Of the 173 global cities surveyed, the city ranked at 146 position.
Three sectors on which the city scored poorly were quality of roads, public transport and healthcare.
Endless studies prove that getting more people to use public transit would substantially contribute to reduction in air pollution. Health Minister K Sudhakar on August 23rd, at the inauguration of the India Clean Air Summit organised by the Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) too had emphasised the importance of getting people to opt for public transport to curb air pollution.
Nothing however was said about the high cost of taking a city bus ride in Bengaluru. True, BMTC is facing a severe cash crunch and needs a huge bailout from the government. But if the Independence day ridership numbers have any lesson, it is that a big reduction in bus fares, if not making it free as is being considered in countries like Germany, is needed if more people are to opt for public transport.