Electric vehicles are automobiles that run on electricity instead of conventional petrol or diesel. While electricity is also produced only after burning fossil fuels, its carbon footprint is much lower, and the air pollution occurs far away from big cities or crowded towns. Electric cars and buses use rechargeable batteries for storing electricity, while trams and trolley buses use overhead wire for the same purpose. With rising prices for petrol and diesel, the Indian Government as well the state governments are looking to switch over to electric vehicles to not only reduce transportation but also reduce the mineral oil import to India. The Government at the same time is looking towards new greener sources of electric power like solar, wind, and hydro which will further reduce India’s dependency on mineral oil.
One of the first revolutions in electric transportation is the e-rickshaw, also called toto. E-rickshaw has cheaper operation costs, thus have attracted the attention of auto-drivers. E-rickshaws have replaced conventional auto-rickshaws in most villages and some cities. However, they are functioning poorly in the cities due to pressure created by auto unions and some bad politics. E-rickshaws are increasingly becoming more popular among the passengers due to less jerk and comfort and hence have a bright future ahead.
Two-wheelers were the next target for a massive e-vehicle move. E-bikes are becoming increasingly popular as well as affordable to not only the rich but also the middle class. Electric vehicles have a very high initial cost which keeps away most riders preferring a cheaper vehicle. Moreover, low top speed and unavailability of charging places are some of the main reasons why e-bikes are still unpopular among the masses.
Electric cars are the future of our cars. But they are not going to replace motor cars in the streets of India anytime soon. Electric cars are worth several times that of motor cars, hence are unaffordable for most people. But with increased production, the cost can get lowered to a margin slightly above motor cars having similar features. Charging is a major problem for electric cars as charging a car takes a considerable amount of time, and are unreliable for long-distance travelling. The best option available outside India is battery swapping, which is widely gaining popularity. Similar to re-fueling, used car batteries are swapped with charged ones. This saves up a lot of time, saves employment of charging stations, and is also more convenient to use. Improving the top speed remains a priority for the engineers as electric cars have much lower top speed and hence will be unable to compete with highway vehicles. Electric cars are best used within towns and cities where huge traffic slows down vehicular speed.
Electric buses are a new addition to the fleet of public transportation in India. Electric buses ply largely along the streets of satellite towns and modern developed areas. Electric buses with AC do not charge greater than the AC motor buses, hence can be afforded by all. However, there is a clear difference in operational cost between non-AC electric and motor buses, hence non-AC electric buses are almost absent. Many State Governments are looking to switch their IC engine bus fleet to electrical by 2030 in large polluted cities.
Trams are operational in Kolkata though it a much smaller network. With constant apathy from the West Bengal Government, Kolkata tram is not looking at a bright future as a mode of urban transportation. More likely it will keep operating trams in some heritage routes as a tourist attraction. Mumbai monorail, after a poor start, is performing well as the corridors have reached crowded and busy junctions of the city. Light railway do not have an operational status in India though is at a planning stage in Delhi. Ropeway is hardly used anywhere in India as a public transportation despite having great potential. It is, and will still continue to be used only as a tourist attraction.
In conclusion, it can be drawn that except for e-rickshaw, most other vehicles will not go a transformation from IC engines to electric anytime soon. But the change will occur gradually in the long term. The Government needs to contribute a lot to bring about this change, like installing charging or battery swapping stations, reducing initial costs through subsidiaries, finding new forms of vehicles like e-buses, trolley buses, trams, and light railways. Only after switching a considerable fleet of public transportation to electric, we can expect a similar gradual switching in the private transportation sector.
Written by – Himadri Paul