How shared electric mobility can benefit Indiahttps://indianexpress.com/article/technology/opinion-technology/how-shared-electric-mobility-can-benefit-india-5593408/

How shared electric mobility can benefit India

As private cars are utilised at a mere 5 per cent, shifting consumers’ focus from ownership to shared access of products and services can usher in a change.

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Facilitating shared mobility services through cyber-physical systems and IoT can transform the way India travels. (Image: Bloomberg)

By Nitish Arora and Aishwarya Raman

It took close to 60 years for the number of registered vehicles in India to grow from 0.3 million in 1951 to 105 million in 2008. But it took only six years from 2009 to 2015 to add another 105 million vehicles on the road. This alarming growth has imposed huge socio-economic costs on Indians.

The transport sector is one of the largest and most consistently contributing sources to PM10 and PM2.5 emissions in megacities. Private automobiles are especially notorious for contributing to 20 per cent passenger transport emissions while supporting only 4 per cent of total passenger transit activity in Indian cities.

Moreover, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) estimates that air pollution is responsible for 30 per cent of premature deaths in India, marking a veritable public health emergency. Add to it poor road conditions, frequent halts, dismal average speeds of 17 km/hr and high levels of congestions cause delays, loss of productivity and excessive fuel consumption; accounting to an economic loss of over $22 billion annually in top four metros alone.

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With 14 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities being in India, there is a pressing need to adopt, augment, and harness a fresh perspective.

The silver lining? The wave of shared mobility through organised services has just begun in India. Once it reaches the peak, its role in decongesting cities would become more evident, making mobility affordable, accessible, safer and greener. Given the low per capita car ownership of 22 per 1000 citizens compared to 980 in the US and 850 in the UK, it’s an opportune time for India to embrace sustainable mobility solutions for a green and prosperous future.

As private cars are utilised at a mere 5 per cent, shifting consumers’ focus from ownership to shared access of products and services can usher in a change.

Facilitating shared mobility services through cyber-physical systems and IoT can transform the way India travels. Since inception in 2015, shared rides have saved over 37 million litres of fuel and reduced CO2 emissions by over 63 million kgs on a single mobility platform like Ola.

NITI Aayog estimates that shared vehicles could reduce annual mobility demand by nearly 1,800 billion vehicle km in 2035 by improving asset utilisation with high adoption of ride-sharing and public transit.

The Nagpur project

The breakthrough in decarbonising transport, though, comes in the form of India’s first multimodal electric mobility project in Nagpur. Involving a demand-responsive fleet of e-cabs, e-autos, and e-rickshaws, the project has achieved staggering numbers in one and half years:

  • Served over 300,000 customers
  • Completed over 60 lakh clean kms
  • Saved approximately 3 lakh litres of fossil fuel
  • Cut CO2 emission by over 600 tonnes

The pilot has unequivocally demonstrated that widespread adoption of Electric Vehicles will rely on shared mobility. It offers immense learning in operationalising e-mobility in a country with extreme climatic conditions. All it needs is the right business models and enabling policy-regulatory environment to foster sustainable mobility solutions at scale.

Fleet operators can lead the e-mobility revolution

On one hand, high upfront costs, lack of charging infrastructure and uncertain performance of a battery-powered vehicle may hold back rapid adoption of e-mobility. On the other hand, fleet operators cite a ray of hope thanks to low operational costs.

They are likely to lead and accelerate the EV penetration as they put in more kms on their vehicles each year. It could be more feasible for them to withstand high upfront costs, considering a shorter payback time-frame, despite a higher total cost of ownership (TCO)* per km.

At current crude prices and electricity tariffs, an electric four-wheeler provides operational savings of Rs 3.07/km and Rs 4.57/km over ICE for fleet operators and private owners respectively. The high upfront costs get recovered in five years for a fleet operator, which takes almost 11.5 years when driven for private use.

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[*TCO uncovers hidden costs over a lifecycle of an asset, incorporating direct and indirect expenses]
Even at a delivered cost of electricity at Rs 6 per kWh, TCO remains relatively high on account of infrastructure cost.

Hence for TCO economics to work for a fleet operator, the delivered cost of electricity for charging stations, that is, inclusive of wheeling chargers, surchargers, etc needs to be around Rs 4.5 – 5 per unit. Further, a lock-in period of 4-5 years for this special EV tariff may offer the necessary boost to make e-mobility projects financially viable across states.

The success, sustainability, and scalability of electric shared mobility largely depend on charging infrastructure. Fortunately, fleet operators offer the desired scale to answer the classic chicken v/s egg scenario of what comes first. It’s now up to the Government and other stakeholders to grab this ‘Make in India’ opportunity.

While the government is keen to incentivise shared mobility, a regulatory environment can facilitate the operation of shared-electric fleets. On-demand mobility complements transit agency efforts to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. This can further pave the way for multimodal sustainable mobility by providing first-and last-mile connectivity.

OEMs should adopt mobility as a service ethos and redesign their components to meet the operating needs of fleet operators. Charging infrastructure providers should partner with smart city planners and fleet operators to plan, finance, and implement the right charging infrastructure that minimises operating complexity.

Government support in allowing corporate ownership of vehicles, ease of permit license, dedicated points for pick-up and drop for shared mobility services, and viability gap funding for land needed to set up the required infrastructure, can accelerate EV penetration for shared-use mobility programs.

Shared Electric Mobility, if planned and implemented well, will amplify environmental benefits besides yielding significant monetary savings for all stakeholders involved. Right from the country as a whole to the manufacturer, fleet operator, charging infrastructure provider, driver of EV and the urban commuter, this road could finally lead to a better India.

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Nitish Arora is a Researcher with the Ola Mobility Institute and with expertise in electric mobility, sustainability, energy and environment. Aishwarya Raman is a postgraduate in Sociology from the University of Oxford and Associate Director of the Ola Mobility Institute.