Switching from polluting fossil fuel sources of energy to more environment-friendly renewable and other green energy sources is today, on paper at least, a major objective in most big cities, especially for public transport systems. Bengaluru’s city bus service, run by the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), is no exception. While on the one hand, BMTC is introducing more fuel and emission efficient BS-IV diesel buses, it seems to have decided to make a major switch to electric buses (e-buses).
Procurement of electric buses
BMTC has placed orders for over 900 electric bus orders from the Tata group, some months ago, and the latest order is for 390 new buses with JBM Auto, and Switch Mobility, a subsidiary of Ashok Leyland. The BMTC paid Rs 130 crores to JBM for the procurement of e-buses plus an investment of Rs 83 lakh per bus to Ashok Leyland.
Bengaluru has been trying to go the electric way with other forms of public transport too. Electric autos was introduced in the city in 2020, and now electric scooters and electric bike taxis are being tried out. Rental companies too are jumping into this electric vehicles (EV) trend by enabling people to hire electric scooters. But it is the city bus service that most Bangaloreans depend on. It is in this context that the importance of BMTC’s efforts to put more electric buses on the road, which it began in December 2021, cannot be overstated.
Though the numbers are modest, these buses are today a regular sight on Bengaluru roads.
A comfortable ride
Currently, BMTC is operating two models: a purple bus from Switch Mobility Ltd, which is owned by Ashok Leyland, and a green colour bus from JBM Auto. The green buses are the smaller of the two with a seating capacity of 30 while the purple buses can seat 40-45 people.
At present, there are approximately 390 e-buses in operation, 300 from Switch Mobility and 90 from JBM Auto. The drivers of these buses are mostly from the supplier company while the conductors are from BMTC. The e-buses operate from three depots: Yelahanka, Bidadi, and Attibele. There are 90 midi (smaller) e-buses operating from Yeshwanthpur, KR Puram and Kengeri depots, mainly on Metro Feeder (MF) routes. The rest are long-route buses. The charging stations for these are set up in depots at Kempegowda Bus Station (KBS), Kengeri, Yeshwanthpur, and Central Silk Board bus station.
E-buses easier to drive
Deciding to experience an e-bus ride, I boarded one from Central Silk Board bus station as it was the closest to my residence. Both the green and purple e-buses operate from the bus stand. I spoke to one of the drivers and the conductor of a purple bus.
Vinod, the driver of an e-bus, explains the difference between e-buses and regular buses and the special training they were given. “There is special training which lasts for 15 days,” says Vinod. “The training takes place in Yelahanka depot in Puttenahalli. They teach the ins and outs of the bus and how it’s different from the normal buses that ply on the roads. A training session is also there for the charging of the buses. At the end of 15 days, there is a trial of all the things that were taught and a road test is conducted. One has to clear this to get permission to drive the bus.”
The long route buses can run 150 kilometres in single charge, which, according to Vinod, takes only 40-50 minutes. An additional 75 kilometres can be achieved with opportunity charging (charging battery for short duration). The buses travel more than 180 kilometres each day.
“I prefer the electric one definitely as it is easier to drive,” adds Vinod. “The electric buses have no gear so it is easier to control.” When asked about ticket pricing, the conductor Sudeep, who has worked for over five years with BMTC, says rates are the same as normal buses and that the regular bus pass can be used for e-buses too. The minimum rate starts at Rs 5 with each subsequent stops being an additional Rs 5. His bus starts from Silk board and goes all the way to Hebbal.
I had boarded the bus to take a quick ride. Inside, it seemed almost like the Vayu Vajra AC buses, though smaller, without any difference in levels of seating arrangement. The bus had an electronic ramp for wheelchair access, a feature present in all the e-buses that operate in the city.
Experience of riding an e-bus
I bought a ticket to travel on an e-bus from Silk Board to Wipro gate, which is a 15-minute ride. The electric feature of the bus means a very quiet journey, unlike the Vayu Vajra buses. However, these buses are non-AC, which means the windows are open to outside noises. The journey made me feel like I was in the metro on uneven roads. The buses have emergency stop buttons on the handles plus CCTV cameras on the inside, and LED lights.
I got off at Wipro gate to finish a good public travel experience. Speaking about the introduction of more e-buses, a BMTC Public Relations Officer, who wished to stay anonymous, says that the services have “seen a positive response. BMTC wants to replace all the normal buses with these electric ones in the next 6-8 months.”
Centre’s push for e-buses
The centre is also planning an investment of $10 billion to procure 50,000 buses in the next couple of years to help states accelerate the switch to electric vehicles. The move comes under the National E-Bus Programme. The centre has floated a new tender to acquire 4675 e-buses bringing the total e-buses in the country to 16,590.
Under the FAME II scheme, various state governments have placed orders for 3538 e-buses, out of which 1716 have been deployed so far.