The viability of EVs hinges on deregulation of the transport sector

The last two months have been very eventful for electric vehicles in India. Starting with Nagpur’s Electric Mass Transit Project, the sector has been abuzz with various entries into the electric vehicle (EV) scene. With Ola Cabs calling the shots in Nagpur, two Munjal family ventures– Hero Future Energies and Hero MotoCorp announced their foray into the charging infra sector, while public-sector NTPC Limited set up charging stations in the National Capital Region (NCR). Further, it was also announced that the Centre was reportedly in talks with Japanese investment major Softbank to procure two lakh electric buses.

Given Piyush Goyal’s announcement that India would sell only EVs by 2030, this might sound like things are on track, but are they?

Arguably, the question that arose after this statement was whether this would be feasible or not. At this juncture it is crucial to look at Goyal’s words. The target, according to what Goyal to PTI reporters was to ensure that only EVs are sold. Going by this, it would be possible to ensure that fuel-based vehicles are not sold, either through taxation or emission-based policies. There is no doubt about that. However, whether electric vehicles would be practical is something with a bigger question mark at the end of it.

So, are electric vehicles really that viable from a practical view?

Possibly not, at least not yet. The market is still not open enough for demand and supply economics to take over.

Start deregulating the market

Governments across the country have stopped private operators from plying legally. Of course, this doesn’t stop many of them from plying illegally, like the ones commonly seen on Bangalore’s roads. When the Government of Maharashtra is partnering with Ola Cabs to provide electric cabs in Nagpur, why can’t it allow Ola to operate electric buses? Private players will be able to raise the capital required for electric buses faster than government bodies and given the stark contrast between the two in terms of operations and quality of service, they would operate them better too.

Services like Ola Shuttle, CityFlo and ZipGo appeal to the middle-class by offering services such as a reserved seat, free wi-fi, cashless payments and convenient timings. If the government cannot offer these services, which it evidently seems unable to do so, let the markets take over.

Some manufacturers like Volvo Buses are even offering their buses on a turnkey basis where the operator need not buy the bus, but just pay the company who will lease out the buses. Public sector agencies may not go in for these for various reasons, but the private sector surely will.

 

Charging Points Need Deregulation Too

From all the investment that we have seen so far in charging spaces, there is a clear trend visible. Charging infrastructure is entirely in the hands of a few large bodies establishments that have money. While it is perfectly reasonable to expect the government to provide charging points as a means of garnering additional revenue, it is not desirable for the government to either be involved in, or control the entire system.

As we move towards a more market-oriented economy, we need to understand that EVs, like any other commodity needs to be deregulated massively.

To start this, we need to enable individuals to lease out parking spaces for those looking for them. Not every major provider will have a charging point in the vicinity, and not every vehicle might have enough battery power to go up to a charging point. If an individual has a vacant parking lot with a charging point, they can then choose to lease it out to someone. Leasing out vacant spaces as parking is not exactly legal in India and the closest we have come to legalising this was in 2016 when the Gurgaon Municipal Corporation proposed to make amendments in the local laws to allow people to do so.

Outside of India, leasing out vacant lands as parking spaces is quite common with several countries even having an app for it. If the sector was deregulated, this would solve a lot of problems for us, from congestion to charging and would in many ways make commuting easier. It might even encourage people to take up public transport for part of their journey while leaving their vehicles to charge at some parking space. This system of ad-hoc charging spots will answer a lot of demand and supply questions similar to how platforms like Airbnb helped make living spaces more affordable.

Unlike fuel, electricity as a commodity is a lot more flexible. In this scenario, electricity is not being resold– only the parking space is being leased out. Electricity is another commodity being consumed by a tenant who in turn pays for it. Further, similar to concept of peak pricing followed in the hospitality and transport sector, such pricing can be applied here too. Since most distribution companies charge different rates based on the total electricity consumption, owners can change price brackets as and when their consumption goes up.

Local bodies also could provide incentives or tax rebates to builders who provide charging spaces in residential complexes. Since many commercial and industrial complexes have charging points, it shouldn’t be much of a problem to have this emulated across all sectors.

The government needs to ponder about deregulating the transport sector heavily, if it intends for a complete EV scene by 2030.

Note: This article was written on 13 June 2017, after reading an article titled A misguided push towards electric vehicles. For some reason, I thought it would be a great idea to send this article across to Mint, which was stupid on my part. The Mint team did respond to me, but then practically sat on this article for over a month, making it evident that they had rejected the article but had failed to inform me about it.

132 total views, 8 views today

Flattr this!

How can we reduce the time taken to cross Toll Plazas?

Ever sat in a 505Ltd at the Vashi Toll Naka wondering when the bus would cross?

Recently, word spread that people would not have to pay if they waited for longer than two minutes and 50 seconds in the queue at a toll plaza. While the original report stating this was later on rectified, stating that the three minute window was valid at the counter only and that too only in the state of Punjab, it did leave a lot of people wondering­ – How much longer do we have to wait to cross this toll plaza?

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) did clarify back in April that there was no provision for exemption from toll due to time delays.

In 2015, it was reported that delays at toll plazas cost the country Rs 60,000 crore a year in terms of productivity.

 

So, how do we fix this problem?

The first of them is ostensibly, the FASTag. As I had mentioned earlier, FASTag could solve nearly all the problems caused due to time delays at toll plazas. However, the issue is that it would solve nearly all the problems and not all of them.

Delays due to non FASTag users as well as the large queue of vehicles before reaching the counter need to be tackled, albeit separately.

Round fares

Toll rates need to be rounded off to the nearest multiple of Rs 10. Some toll plazas, such as the Thoppur toll plaza in Tamil Nadu are notorious for having fares such as Rs 83 or Rs 292 which cause delays due to returning change. When change is not available, operators resort to giving toffees to the driver. Rounded fares would make it easier and more efficient to pay and will plug revenue leaks. It also reduces the time taken to pull out change, count it and hand it back.

Exact Change Lanes

The exact change lane, pioneered by the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey is an automated lane where the user has to pay the exact amount. The system uses a basket where coins are thrown in by users and then mechanically counted by a machine. A photograph of the vehicle and its registration is also taken and the gates open. While the exact same method cannot be replicated in India – toll rates on the Parkway don’t cross $1.50 – a system that accepts notes, similar to those seen at Metro stations can be replicated. The only possible issue that could arise out of this is the damage to the machines. We have all seen how dysfunctional touch-screen machines and ATMs across the country get because people are not too sure how to use it.

Lane Discipline

The lack of lane discipline is undoubtedly the largest cause of delays at toll plazas. Impatient drivers cut lanes and try to fit themselves between two cars when they see another lane moving faster. Often, a driver might see an empty gap between two lanes and drive into that gap, followed by others, thus creating a new lane where none existed. At the toll plaza itself, when it becomes clear that no lane existed there, they then force themselves into existing lanes. Since the level of impatience is common across both lanes, nobody allows another to join in, thus resulting in more delays.

While enforcing lane discipline is the duty of the Regional Transport Authority (RTA) while issuing driving licences and the traffic police, these are long term changes. At the toll plaza, different approaches need to be made to enforce lane discipline. In order to solve lane discipline, physical changes need to be made.

Lane separators

Lanes at toll plazas need physical barriers separating them from one another. These barriers which are usually not very long need to be at least 100 metres long so to prevent lane switching and ensuring smoother flow. Further, they need to be removable so that in case a lane shuts down due to a technical glitch, they can be shifted to another lane.

Reversible lanes

The concept of reversible lanes has been in use in India, most notably at the two toll plazas along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Reversible lanes refer to lanes that can be used in either direction. At toll plazas, depending on the volume of traffic per direction, certain lanes on the side with lesser traffic can be “reversed” and the side with more traffic. Therefore, depending on the volume of traffic, lanes can be reversed accordingly and more vehicles can be accommodated in the same space.

Staggered toll plazas

Another concept that has slowly seen implementation in India, at several locations, staggered toll plazas are toll plazas where some lanes in the same direction cross the main toll plaza and then have a separate set of counters of their own.

(can insert a Google map screeny here)

This system was referred to by Ralph E Gomory as the addition of lanes ‘upstream’ or ‘downstream’ of a toll plaza and has been use in New York City where it was reported to have reduced congestion.

 

Reducing delays at toll plazas can greatly reduce travel times, increase productivity and ensure faster shipment of goods and services across the country. It just remains to be seen if government agencies and concessionaires are willing to go the extra mile and implement some measures to reduce the waiting time at toll plazas. Toll plazas cannot be eliminated, but the delays can be.

Now for buses: The only time I’ve seen government buses use any non-cash form of payment is on the AC Express series on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. Otherwise, while they are generally exempted in several areas such as the MEP toll plazas, they still have to stand in line.

The solution is simple. Get FASTag. Enforce FASTag lanes. That way, these buses won’t have to stand with the rest of the vehicles and can go through without any hiccups. All state-owned buses too should get them. It would make things a lot easier, wouldn’t it?

48 total views, 4 views today

Flattr this!