The public transport system is the most effective way of reducing the number of vehicles as well as emissions

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently launched the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP), 2020 with an ambitious goal of shifting to electric propulsion for surface transport. This would reduce our dependence on diesel and petrol and lead to lower emission levels, including carbon-di-oxide emission, which is one of the major contributors to global warming and climate change. The charter also seeks to boost growth in the manufacturing sector, a positive contribution to the GDP growth.

While this is a necessary initiative, this alone might not be the ultimate solution towards a cleaner, greener transport system. To best harness the potential of such an initiative, it should be coupled with alternative/additional transport energy reduction strategies such as better urban planning and design and enhancing the public transport system and mass transit systems with seamless connectivity to safe, accessible non-motorised transit (NMT) systems, along with efficient traffic management and effective travel demand management measures.

So much so, the urban centres have clearly moved away from the less-energy intensive mobility options. If this trend continues, the dominance of private vehicle use with a decreased share of public transport is likely to prevail. Fuel diversification strategies like introduction of electric vehicles are necessary to achieve reduction in GHG emissions. However, alternative strategies which are comprehensive, equitable, inclusive and implementable with ease are required to reduce private vehicle usage.

Alternative strategies may include strong urban development policies focussing on accessibility, connectivity, and mixed land use to minimise vehicle trips, and Transit Oriented Development (TOD). This will help in lowering trip lengths, as well as the number of vehicular trips, and increasing the public transit usage.

Adequate public transit can reduce fuel usage up to 25% in bigger cities and about 19% in small cities. It is estimated to reduce emissions by 5-40% in various cities, whereas the Mission estimates that a 15 to 18% penetration of electric vehicles in the two-wheeler and four-wheeler segments respectively will reduce emissions by only 1.5%. Cars and two-wheelers are the major contributors to total emissions by all vehicles in Indian cities. The public transport system is the most effective way to reduce the number of vehicles as well as total emissions on the road.

For Indian cities, this means focus on adequate footpaths and an efficient bus route system, including route rationalisation and optimised timings, before embarking on a more capital intensive system. Any public transit system is incomplete without intermodal integration. This involves the development of feeder networks, and use of non-motorised modes on these routes. It also requires a seamless connectivity and accessibility to other NMT modes like cyclerickshaws, cycles, and walking as well as para-transit modes like autorickshaws. For efficiency in this public transit system, an integrated fare policy and ticketing along with the use Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) for transit information is necessary.

These alternative strategies become pertinent if we take into account the grid emissions2 for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and electric vehicles (EVs). PHEV buses have much more reduced tail-pipe emissions than conventional buses and EVs have zero tail-pipe emissions. The use of petroleum and coal-based resources for power generation results in increased emissions. Also, a low efficiency in transmission and distribution leads to increased emissions. The incorporation of EVs and PHEVs in the transport sector will result in an increased demand for electricity.

Assessment made by a joint government-industry study suggests that an additional generation capacity of up to 865 MW will be required to meet the targets of NEMMP 2020. If this increased need is met by conventional energy resources such as coal and petroleum, then it would lead to increased grid emissions, even though direct emission due to the vehicles themselves has decreased. Carbon emissions due to different conventional electricity generation range from 1000 g/kwh (coal) to 23-150 g/kwh for renewables. Currently, coal constitutes the majority of the India’s installed capacity at 57.4%, and renewables constitute a meagre 12.20% (including small hydro, biofuels, solar and wind).

Implementing the above alternative strategies will enable considerable reduced vehicle use, and fuel savings, with reduced emissions from the urban transport sector. This will help achieve the fuel savings envisaged by the NEMMP 2020, requiring less electric vehicle penetration (private vehicles).

An inter-sectoral approach for policy analysis is necessary. It is imperative to include a combination of strategies in planning to achieve inclusive and equitable growth. Specific actions for consideration are:

Maximise the impact of the alternative “low hanging” strategies, to establish compact urban development around high quality bus systems and mass transit systems and associated feeder and non-motorised infrastructure

Electric vehicles in the bus sector should be given priority over the private vehicles sector

In the short-term, industry should focus on capacity building and indigenisation of manufacturing and infrastructure for changing technologies and target the export market

Focus on a higher share of renewables in the energy mix, to maximise the benefits of penetration of electric vehicles. It is expected that the levelled cost of electricity from renewables would be comparable to that generated from fossil fuels in the near future.

(Sujaya Rathi is a principal research scientist and Anantha Lakshmi is a research engineer, Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), Bangalore)

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