E-buses are not a good idea for India

With a commitment to net zero emissions by 2070, India is on a war footing to reduce its carbon footprint across all sectors of the economy.

As the transport sector is a major emitter of GHG emissions due to our greater reliance on fossil-based vehicles, efforts are being made to find alternative fuel sources for the transport sector. All the major urban transport corporations are now in a hurry to convert their fleet of buses originating from GHG to cleaner ones.

NITI Aayog has given a major thrust towards battery-operated electric vehicles for both private transport as well as public transport. Thus, we see that most of the urban transport corporations are now going for battery operated buses to replace diesel based buses as the mainstay of the urban transport system. CNG buses prevalent in many big cities are no longer being promoted. Battery-powered buses seem to be the vehicles of the future. Of course, now metros are being constructed in many more cities including Tier 2 cities to make commuter move faster and non-polluting.

However, one must understand that urban transport systems based on battery-powered electric buses (EVs) have several inherent disadvantages.


First, battery-powered EVs cost a lot more than fossil-based buses. Also, as the batteries do not last long enough for a full day’s work, buses have to be swapped in and out of service. To run the same frequency that was provided with CNG/Diesel buses, an urban transport corporation has to maintain almost twice the number of CNG/Diesel buses.

Since the battery life is limited, the life of such vehicle is less than that of CNG/Diesel buses. In addition, disposal of used batteries is a problem because it is a hazardous material. This aspect has not received much attention while pushing for electric vehicles.

Lastly, there have been several corporate players that have a stake in battery-powered EV buses. Undoubtedly, they are lobbying vigorously with the government for this transition. However, once we turn our gaze to the rest of the world, there isn’t much evidence to show that a battery-powered electric bus is the preferred choice for an urban transportation system.

Light railway systems or trams are part of the urban transport system in most major cities of the world. Of course, in India, trams currently operate in Kolkata on a limited scale. The trolley bus system operates in 280 cities around the world and is on a growing trend. In India, it operated in Mumbai, but was discontinued in the early 1970s.

Trolley buses are cheaper to install than trams and do not require laying of lines or dedicated corridors. Since a trolleybus runs on rubber pneumatics (unlike a tram) which cannot close a circuit, its electrical power supply must be insured by two trolley poles which are under direct voltage with a constant connection of two contact conductors (+ and -). are in touch.

The trolleys are mounted on the roof of the trolleybus and are generally about 6 m in length, leaving the trolleybus up to 4.5 m of lateral motion freedom. Thus unlike a tram, it does not add to traffic congestion and operates more like a normal bus.

mileage trolleybus

Modern electric trolley buses are clean, reliable and relatively inexpensive to maintain. India should adopt it for several reasons.

These are proven technologies and are useful for a longer period of time than any battery electric bus.

Therefore, a trolley bus system is cheap enough to run even factoring in overhead wiring maintenance. Electric trolley buses currently have advantages in terms of capacity, proven lifecycle performance, daily performance for high volumes and high frequency routes.

Since, electric trolley buses don’t have large bulky batteries, they provide extra seating capacity that makes a big difference on routes with high demand.

Finally, battery buses require additional time to recharge (fast charging technology remains in a sub-phase) and tend to get far fewer real-world miles than advertised, meaning that buses Can’t complete many runs in a day.

As a result, transit agencies have found that they have to purchase additional battery electric buses to run the same service, while they need electric trolley buses.

Thus buying battery electric buses is not an operationally sensible idea. Apart from this, the cost of battery operated electric bus is higher than that of trolley bus. Also since India is dependent on imported batteries for vehicles, the trolley bus system is a better bet for Atmanirbhar Bharat. On top of this, the disposal of used batteries is an issue that needs attention when making policy decisions.

Recently, a significant innovation occurred which added the flexibility of moving without trolley wires and the reliability of trolleybuses called in-motion charging. Current trolley buses have small batteries designed to allow the bus to go off-wire for a fraction of a mile to get around obstacles.

In-motion charging expands this concept by equipping the bus with enough batteries for approximately five miles of off-wire travel. This technology is becoming increasingly popular in smaller Central European cities as it allows for all the benefits of trolley wire while also allowing to avoid the most difficult (and expensive) points of installation and maintenance (i.e., intersections, rotary and low underpasses). gives.

In view of these many advantages, there is a need for India to adopt trolley bus system for urban transport system.

The author is at NCAER, Delhi. views expressed are personal