E-cycling is the way forward for India to make the shift towards two-wheeler electrification as also to curb air pollution
India’s electric vehicle push — aimed at reducing hazardous levels of air pollution and curbing rising import bills on account of crude oil — needs to take into account the fact that one-third of the households own a two-wheeler and use it extensively for daily commute. In recent times, there has been a renewed focus on the development of an eco-system for manufacturers of electric and hybrid cars to replace gas-guzzling automobiles plying on roads.
Focus on two-wheelers: The Government has launched numerous policies around which original equipment manufacturers must be provided with an enabling environment to design and supply electric vehicle parts to the market. However, only 12 per cent of the urban and seven per cent of the rural population use four-wheelers. An overwhelming 54 per cent of the urban residents and 34 per cent of rural households possessed a two-wheeler in 2015-16. Because of this skewed distribution of vehicle ownership, scooters and bikes are the biggest contributors to air pollution.
Significant polluters: Two-stroke scooters and mopeds are major contributors to vehicular pollution. According to a study by researchers of Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, low-powered vehicles are a major source of toxic air pollutants such as particulate matters, secondary organic aerosols and aromatic hydrocarbons. Notably, dangerous particulate matter emissions are reduced by 80 per cent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 70 per cent in diesel vehicles under BS-VI as compared to BS-IV. Most cars and motorcycles in India run on old BS-IV. BS-VI compliance for vehicles will be mandatory from April 1, 2020. However, authorities must examine if faster implementation can be possible.
Step-up to curb pollution: Poor air quality is at unprecedented levels in most Indian cities. When winters approach, cold air depressions only add to the concentration of bad air. Because vehicular pollution is one of the biggest sources of pollution, emissions need to be curbed first. In practice, therefore, two-wheelers must be targetted f air quality levels have to be improved.
Difficult to disrupt current transport models: In a society overtly dependent on mobility, it is not possible to phase out petrol-driven motorcycles and scooters at one go. Given the massive dependence of trade, commerce and employment on these modes of transport, it is difficult to disrupt current functions and mindset to make the move towards electronic vehicle usage. But a viable alternative is to switch to e-bicycling as it is more sustainable. People are also increasingly facing health issues. Involving e-bicycles in daily life will enhance health and fitness, too.
Encouraging market signals: E-bicycles are the next stage in the evolution of the ordinary bicycle. Fitted as they are with a battery-powered motor that conveniently grants users the option of motorised pedaling in addition to pedaling by foot. In comparison to ordinary bicycles, distances that can be traveled on e-bikes are much longer. The time and effort taken to commute are significantly reduced, especially when negotiating uphill climbs or facing severe opposing winds. Already, e-bikes are a rage among health and fitness enthusiasts. It is estimated that the e-bike market will grow at a CAGR of 4.7 per cent globally between 2017 and 2022. E-bicycling is already driving the development of city infrastructure.
A viable alternative: At present most e-bikes available in the market offer speeds of up to 25 km/hr and batteries that last for 25-35 km on a single charge. If the battery gets drained, one has the option of peddling, which is very convenient for riders. On the other hand, e-bicycles are far cheaper to maintain, do not require licenses or cumbersome registration and go without the toxic emissions associated with petrol-run motorcycles and scooters. Further, e-bikes are being developed that could go up to 100 km without being recharged. The Government plans to install charging stations every few kms to promote e-vehicle usage.
The biggest advantage follows when multi-modal transport is utilised for commute. E-bikes are portable and some, even foldable, and offer distinct advantages over motorbikes when one needs to park the vehicle in a crowded zone. If one considers the wider discourse of ecological savings, import savings and congestion avoidance, e-bicycles make for a compelling alternative to combustion-engine-driven two-wheelers. Road safety is a challenging issue for pedestrians and bicyclists and has remained neglected for long. Whereas most European cities have dedicated lanes and traffic signals for cyclists, in India, even where dedicated lanes are present, they are trespassed upon by other vehicles, encroached upon, poorly lit and signaled. The Government needs to put more incentives in place for R&D for e-bike OEMs and help reduce production costs and enhance efficiency. Subsidising the price of e-bikes can also boost e-bike sales and usage.
(The writer is chairman and managing director of a leading cycle manufacturing company)