The Telegraph
Sunday , June 30 , 2013
 
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Hybrid buses to roll out

New Delhi, June 29: London has it, several cities in America have them and so do Singapore and China closer home. Now hybrid electric buses are set to ply on Indian roads too in a big way.

The urban development ministry plans to fund hybrid buses — that use a combination of electric battery and diesel engine — as part of the next lot of buses under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).

During the budget session, finance minister P. Chidambaram had announced that the Centre would fund 10,000 buses under the mission. The ministry has not put a cap on the number of hybrid buses, as it will depend on proposals coming from states, but officials said they may not exceed 50.

While normal low-floor buses cost between Rs 60 lakh and Rs 70 lakh, hybrid buses — which are more fuel-efficient than normal buses — cost around Rs 1.25 crore.

The urban development ministry had proposed that there should be additional financial assistance for hybrid buses.

“We had suggested that since hybrid buses are expensive but at the same time we want to promote them for their fuel efficiency, we should give state governments 10 per cent additional financial assistance,” said a senior official.

However, last week, the expenditure finance committee, while sanctioning Rs 4,900 crore for the project, rejected the idea of additional monetary help.

“The hybrid buses are mostly meant for big metropolitan cities. While we give 90 per cent financial help for the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir, the rest of the states get 35 per cent funding,” the official added.

Apart from being fuel efficient, hybrid buses require less maintenance and have reduced diesel exhaust odour and vehicle noise. “Hybrid buses are at least 30 per cent more fuel efficient. Fuel bills account for one of the biggest chunks of expenditure in running public transport. While they (hybrid buses) are good, we also need to have a clean diesel strategy for reducing toxicity,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment.

In India, hybrid buses are now manufactured only by the Tatas. The group had lent the Delhi government four hybrid buses during the 2010 Commonwealth Games. But the buses no longer ply on the capital’s roads. In February 2011, Mumbai’s BEST bus service started operating two such buses. No other Indian city now runs these buses.

London had introduced hybrid buses in March 2006 and, by 2013, there should be nearly 400 of them on the streets of the British capital.

Apart from funding the 10,000 JNNURM buses, the central aid is also for transport infrastructure such as bus stands and depots. The proposal now needs a final nod from the cabinet.

Officials said the emphasis this time would also be on smaller cities and hill towns that practically don’t have any organised bus service.