Mahesh Babu, India CEO, Switch Mobility, says double-deckers are extremely efficient. Compared to a 12 metre bus, they provide 41 percent more capacity.
India’s first double-decker electric bus has been officially launched
Remember the iconic double-decker best buses from Mumbai? Many of us have fond memories of double-decker buses. Switch Mobility, the all-electric subsidiary of Ashok Leyland, is all set to relive those memories for us. In a recent development, Switch Mobility has launched the new EiV 22 double decker bus in India. Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) through its subsidiary OHM Mobility has already placed an order for 200 EiV 22 double decker buses for public transport in Mumbai.
The open-top double-decker bus in question survived for a few more years, even doing a few bar crawls in South Mumbai, in which I participated. You’ll forgive me if I tell you that I don’t remember much of that night. But the double-decker quickly faded from memory in Mumbai and Kolkata and to a lesser extent in Delhi. Manufacturers, notably Ashok Leyland, had stopped producing them and public transport operators across India, swimming in a wave of debt, stopped buying them. An occasional double-decker is still seen at the depot, but none on the roads.
So when Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari recently unveiled a brand new double-decker in Mumbai, there was a lot of excitement on social media. Moreover, this new bus is an electric vehicle. The EV22 is being built by Ashok Leyland’s electric subsidiary Switch Mobility and the company expects to have 200 of these buses plying in Mumbai by the middle of next year, with the first deliveries starting in early 2023.
Mahesh Babu, Chief Executive Officer, Switch Mobility, India, said double-deckers may have gone out of fashion due to insufficient investment in buses by state transport bodies, but they are extremely capable vehicles. “In fact, they are only 9 metres long and while they take up to 81 percent of the footprint of a 12-metre bus, they support 41% extra capacity.”
Of course, there are additional costs for a double-decker but Babu also pointed out how such buses are iconic and imprinted on the memory: “People in Mumbai really want this bus to come because they have grown up sitting with double-deckers. A front seat on the upper deck with the wind in their hair,” said Babu. Since these buses are air-conditioned, the ‘wind in the hair’ factor will have to wait until the launch of the non-AC version, which will be available soon.
Babu said the bus covered 1,400 kilometres between Mumbai and Chennai on its own power, stopping to charge every couple of hundred kilometres. This was made possible by Switch Mobility’s implementation of a ‘double gun’ charging system, meaning that two chargers could be fitted to the bus at once to charge separate parts of the battery, making things run quite smoothly.
Regarding the overall design of the EiV 22, it is based on the EiV 12 and uses front and rear doors for easy and fast entry and exit for passengers. It has two staircases to access the upper deck. Switch Mobility said the chassis components of the buses will be manufactured at the Ennore plant, while the body for the buses will be manufactured in collaboration with partners on the outskirts of Mumbai.
But India has a severe shortage of public transport buses for both intracity and intercity transport. Most of the State Transport Corporations are saddled with massive debt. Think of Air India around the neck of every state government and in some cases multiple Air Indias. And electric buses are not cheap thanks to the high initial costs of batteries, which double the cost of diesel or CNG buses. Although operating costs are one-tenth that of internal combustion engines, India must find ownership and operation of new models if it is to increase the number of buses, which are around 1.2 per 1000 population, a pitifully low figure, compared to 8.6 per 1,000. 1000 in Thailand.
Babu believes that India will be able to dramatically increase the number of buses in its public transport to six buses per 1000 population by 2030. “We cannot build more roads in cities and although metro systems are very efficient, they are very expensive and still require buses for feeder service and last mile connectivity.”
Switch Mobility based the EV22 on their EV12 platform, which they launched a few months back and the initial batch of which is already running in Bangalore. In fact, Andy Palmer, Executive Vice President of Switch Mobility, in a tweet highlighted how one of these new electric buses successfully waded through water during the recent Bengaluru floods, which helped dispel the doubts many had about the safety of electric buses. , especially in light of recent fires in electric two-wheelers. “Established manufacturers like us have network operations centres where we monitor every bus and we know very quickly if there’s a problem with the battery pack.”
One of the Niti Aayog’s innovations, the Gross Cost Contract (GCC) model, which was one of the first public transport agencies to adopt, allows a system where a bus is owned and operated by a third party, often the manufacturer, with the state transport agency promising to pay a fixed operating cost per kilometre. Many states have now adopted this model, a version of public-private partnership.
Babu sees the future in net cost contract (NCC) models, especially in cities like Kolkata where there are a large number of private buses. In this case, the operator-owner pays the state a fixed amount per kilometre for operating the bus. “Financing electric buses is essential but the government has realised that it is an urgent need for India,” Babu pointed out.
Electric buses are transformative not only for air quality but also for travel comfort. And if buses are added in the numbers Mahesh Babu envisions, it may convince the odd car user to switch to buses. And that is the ultimate goal.