Electrifying Delhi roads
Gadkari’s plan to turn Delhi’s bus fleet all-electric deserves support
Roadways and Transportation Minister Nitin Gadkari intends for all of the buses in Delhi to go electric, in fact, the city which has suffered due to a crippling shortage of buses will get a fleet of 11,000 electric and bio-fuel buses in the next few years. Inspired after his meeting with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Gadkari wants to work with London Transport to improve the state of transportation in India’s capital. Delhi and the urban agglomeration that surrounds the city, most of it within the National Capital Region (NCR) has displaced Mumbai as India’s economic hub with close to 50 million residents in the area, and transportation has struggled to keep up. There are an estimated 10 million private vehicles registered in Delhi alone, two-thirds of them being two-wheelers and the remainder cars.
Gadkari says that at the current rate of growth, a new lane will need to be added to Delhi arterial roads every three years. He also rightly says that urban infrastructure development cannot revolve around private vehicles. Indian cities are choking not just thanks to vehicular pollution but also congestion, with no traffic management and bovines freely roaming on city roads across the country. Indian cities are victims of their own success and unfortunately with most Indian politicians still geared to rural voters and the mythical, homogenous ‘kisan’ even in the face of rapid urbanization; as a consequence, cities have suffered. Public Transportation has been an afterthought and despite a rush to build rapid transit systems across India after the inevitable success of the Delhi Metro, such expensive systems can hardly be the only answer. At the same time, many alternatives including buses are highly polluting and badly driven. But are electric buses a good answer?
A large number of electric buses across different sizes will aid in getting cars and bikes off the road leading to lower pollution and less congestion. In addition, if the Roadways and Finance Ministries can formulate a sensible policy for electric cars and two-wheelers they would take a giant leap towards reducing pollution. Unfortunately, policies and incentives are not in line right now and on that front maybe India can draw some inspiration from Norway. But the main question about this major push towards electrification on Indian roads is not the big issue in the West, which is ‘Range Anxiety’ but the lack of reliable grid power. Out of India’s top fifty cities possibly only ten can claim access to constant, reliable grid electricity. In a country where every household still does not have electricity, an electric vehicle fleet is a very ambitious move but things are changing and India is taking a lead in low-carbon generation. But there is no doubt it needs to be done. Much like the Bullet Train, this may invite criticism right now but we believe like Gadkari does that change has to mapped out right now. We hope his political rivals do too.
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