The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) is contemplating a detailed study into the feasibility of using compressed natural gas (CNG) as a cheap alternative fuel to run its buses in view of hike in price of high speed diesel.
The exhaustive study is being planned as the KSRTC management is still sceptical about the Rs.100 crore CNG plant proposed by the Union Petroleum ministry for Kochi to overcome the crisis of having to pay market rates for HSD.
The loss-making State transport undertaking cannot afford to convert all buses into the CNG at one stretch as a minimum of Rs.4 lakh will be needed for each bus. The Corporation with a fleet strength of 6,000 will need at least Rs. 240 crore.
The project will be economically viable only if buses that are less than three years old are converted.
The life of a bus is 15 years and only then will the Corporation get back the Rs.4 lakh invested for conversion. Moreover, money has to be found for using twin fuel in case of an emergency situation.
A study carried out by the KSRTC when Mathew T. Thomas was the Transport Minister in 2006 has ruled out going after CNG as it was not financially viable. The preliminary assessment of the KSRTC management is that the CNG will not be suitable as the terrain in the State is undulating.
The repair, maintenance and the gas-storage capacity of the buses are what the corporation need to examine in detail in the proposed study.
Another factor is the short supply of natural gas in places such as Delhi where buses ply on CNG. The Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation, which bought 130 CNG buses at Rs. 20 lakh each in 2012, has converted 30 of them to run on diesel in view of the short supply of gas.
The corporation has put on hold its decision to convert 350 buses to run on CNG.
If at all the CNG plant is set up at Kochi, the corporation will have to provide space in its depots for setting up CNG stations.
At least one in each district is needed for the smooth running of the buses. The stations, gas dispensers, compressors, and related facilities all require investment.