At a time when e-mobility is gaining traction across the globe, operators of private buses and autorickshaws, already hit hard by the steep fall in commuter patronage due to the pandemic, are looking up to CNG and LNG to cut fuel bills.
Approximately, 5,000 of the total 27,000 autorickshaws that operate in the Greater Kochi area rely on CNG as fuel, a shift from diesel and petrol autos that occurred over a three-year period, said Simon Edappally, board member of Ernakulam Jilla Autorickshaw Drivers Cooperative Society. “The advantage is that it costs ₹55 per kg, cheaper than diesel. CNG-run autos also cause much less air and noise pollution. That the number of CNG refilling stations has increased to seven in Kochi city has resulted in more takers for these autos,” he added.
The roll-out of e-autos in Kochi has been hit by the COVID-induced slowdown and inadequate number of recharging stations. The cooperative society had inked agreements with three manufacturers to procure 1,000 e-autos. Efforts are under way to ink pacts with State-owned Kerala Automobiles Ltd (KAL), Mr. Simon said.
Plan to go for e-buses withheld
Private bus operators have temporarily withheld plans to go for e-buses, considering the huge capital investment — of around ₹1.50 crore per bus. “Most operators are willing to retrofit CNG kits in buses, if the government gives a subsidy or considerably lessens road tax. But each kit costs ₹4 lakh, which operators are unwilling to invest, considering the uncertainty clouding the public transport sector,” said K.M. Navas, secretary, Kerala Bus Transport Association (KBTA).
The prohibitive cost of diesel and low passenger patronage due to the pandemic have resulted in only 200 of the total 1,000 buses that operated in the Greater Kochi area conducting services now. Proactive measures by the government will help in getting idling buses back on track. Retrofitting CNG kits will in itself lessen daily fuel expense by around ₹1,000. This will be in addition to the considerable fall in pollution levels, he said.
A city-based private bus operator installed a CNG kit in his bus earlier this year, while another bus is getting ready for the process, it is learnt.
LNG as fuel
In the long run, bus operators prefer LNG to CNG as a fuel source, considering that it is cheaper than CNG. The main advantage LNG has over CNG is that fuel efficiency increases by more than double. The operators of the LNG terminal at Puthuvype must open retail outlets in the city, so that buses can considerably bring down their fuel bills, Mr. Navas said.