Kerala KSRTC Starts Regular Electric Bus Services

The Kerala State Road Transportation Corporation (KSRTC) has announced that it will start regular services of electric buses (powered by a rechargeable battery) on both urban and inter-city routes within the state from Monday, February 25, 2019. KSRTC is only the third state transport unit (STU) in the country after WBSRTC and HPTC and the first in south India to operate electric buses on regular routes on scheduled timetables. Bangalore’s BMTC had trialled BYD’s K9 electric buses four years ago but didn’t induct them into the fleet. TSRTC had been trialling the buses for around four months as well but they haven’t been inducted fullly. KSRTC’s electric buses are 10 numbers of the Olectra-BYD K7e-Buzz model. However, this is not the real beginning of KSRTC’s electric story. A total of 10 fully-airconditioned BYD K7s were flagged off on November 15, 2018, marking the first time in history that electric buses were used by KSRTC. These buses were used to operate chain services on the Nilakkal-Pamba route during the Sabarimala pilgrimage season and were running as special services. The buses will now be deployed on longer, regular routes. They are numbered from TL11 to TL20 (TL stands for Temporary Lease).

KSRTC Electric Buses Inaugural Routes and Schedules

The details of services (routes, timings) being operated by KSRTC’s electric buses are given below (details are subject to change). The ticket price will be the same that is charged for Low Floor Volvo buses.

Ernakulam – Thiruvananthapuram – Ernakulam (via Alappuzha, Kollam)

Services start at the same time from both ends. Timings: 0400, 0430, 0500, 0530, 0600, 0630, 1700, 1800, 1900, 2000, 2100 | Ticket charge (EKM-TVM/TVM-EKM): Rs.357 | Stops: Vyttila, Cherthala, Alappuzha, Harippad, Kollam, Kazhakoottam (though they will stop at all SF stops if you ask nicely).

The buses are branded “Electric Chill Bus” (the AC Volvos on the same route are called “Chill Bus”. Seat reservation for these buses available from the KSRTC website.

Ernakulam City and Suburban Services

Fort Kochi – Mattancherry – Jetty – Menaka – Aluva – Nedumbasserry Airport

Angamali – Aluva – Bypass – Vyttila – Kundannur – Aroor

Ernakulam South – Kolencherry – Muvattupuzha

Thiruvananthapuram City and Suburban

East Fort – Statue – Petta – Chaaka – Bypass – Technopark- Kazhakoottam – Pothencode – Venjaramood

East Fort – Statue – Museum – Vellayambalam – Peroorkada – Nedumangad

East Fort – Thampanoor – Karamana – Neyyattinkara – Parassala – Kaliyikkavila

East Fort – Statue – Pattom – Kesavadasapuram – Ulloor – Sreekaryam – Technopark – Kazhakoottam – Mangalapuram – Attingal.

The Olectra-BYD K7e-Buzz

BYD of China is the world’s largest manufacturer of electric vehilces of any kind, including cars, buses and trucks. They have 60000 K7s already operational across the world with more than 100 of them running in India. The Olectra-BYD K7e-Buzz is a pure-electric (battery) bus runs with its wheels powered by four individual DC motors with current from an on-board rechargeable battery pack. The bus is an 8.9 metres long low-floor commuter model that can seat 33 passengers. It has all the usual doodads like CCTV, GPS, rear camera, passenger information system, fire extinguisher etc. The K7 puts out 240 bhp (180 kW) of power and 800 nm torque, and can attain a top speed of 120 kph. It features power steering, automatic transmission, all-around disc brakes with ABS and full air suspension on both axles. The Lithium-ion Phosphate battery pack is shock and fire proof and has a cooling system, dedicated fire protection, leakage and temperature sensor and warning systems. The battery is charged using a 380/440 V AC dedicated charging system which will take around 3 hours to fully charge the bus. It can run 200 kilometres on one charge. Charging units have been set up at Ernakulam, Thiruvananthapuram and Harippad.

The 10 BYD K7 buses are operated by KSRTC on a wet lease system. The buses are owned by an external company (Maha Voyage LLP) and are operated by KSRTC on a kilometre-charge basis. The corporation will pay Rs.43.2 to the owning company per kilometre run by the bus. In addition the electricity and conductor have to be supplied by KSRTC, while the driver and maintenance will be taken care of by the owning company. KSRTC has previously procured 10 Scania MetroLink 13.7 HD multi-axle coach buses for long-distance services under the same system and are running well. On the Ernakulam – Trivandrum route the rent for the bus will work out to around Rs.9500 and cost of electricity to around Rs.800. With an average earning of around Rs.20000 per trip for a Low Floor Volvo even during lean hours, a good return on investment is expected.

The major goal of this ambitious move is to of course protect the environment by reduced emissions and promote the use of efficient and comfortable public transport using renewable energy sources, especially in the car-crazy state of Kerala where the influence of Middle East culture and easy credit lines have in recent years caused an explosion in the number of private cars. It will also help to raise awareness about electric vehicles and their advantages, as this sector is not at all well-known in India at all. Electric buses and vehicles overall are smoother, silent, faster (especially in terms of acceleration) and hence much more comfortable compared to their fossil-fuel counterparts, in addition to being infinitely cleaner and greener. They have almost little or no maintenance costs as they have no moving parts like an engine or transmission. When it costs Rs.31 to run a diesel bus for a kilometre, an electric bus costs only Rs.4. One possible hitch that could happen is one caused by a policy that KSRTC is famous for. This is running city buses on long-distance routes. The K7 is a city bus and running it long-distance is not really feasible.

More STUs opting for electric buses over the years could bring about a revolution in public transport in the country. Given their low costs of operation e-buses can both reduce emissions overall while also making public transport massively cheaper. Along with possible government subsidies it could then ignite a virtuous cycle making more operators to opt for electric vehicles and more manufacturers to come in, further reducing prices. However, it possibly will not get posh car owners leave their vehicles and take the bus, especially as the status and standing of a person in Kerala society is today heavily dependant on the “act” of driving the vehicle itself. the places and distance covered in a day, and not just owning it.

The government of Kerala had declared an ambitious plan for KSRTC to obtain a thousand (one-sixth of its fleet strength) electric buses and to convert all buses in Trivandrum city to electric by 2022. This is said to be the first step towards that goal. How effective it will be, if at all it will succeed, given KSRTC’s ways of working and the general pessimism and cynicism about such things to succeed in Kerala, remains to be seen.

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