NGO News Desk (New Delhi, October 9, 2013) :: The Union petroleum minister Veerappa Moily’s gesture of taking a public transport to work today is a step in the right direction, says Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in a congratulatory message to the minister. “Mr Moily, make public transport a serious business for all – the rich and the poor — to save fuel, pollution and human lives. This is a good gesture, but the intent of it must not get reduced to a gimmick. It should catalyse significant change in the commuting practices in the city,” says CSE.
The minister had earlier announced that as part of a fuel conservation drive to save US $5 billion in oil import bill, he and his officials will travel by public transport every Wednesday. A circular was also issued asking officers in the ministry as well as 14 public sector firms under the ministry to take public transport every Wednesday. So, true to his word, Mr Moily travelled to work in the Delhi Metro today.
Said Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director-research and advocacy and head of its air pollution control team: “Fuel guzzling in the transportation sector can seriously upset energy security and undermine the vision of energy independence set by the government of India. If energy guzzling in the transportation sector continues unabated, it can virtually wipe out gains of fuel savings from all other steps. More than 40 per cent of oil and oil products in the country go into running vehicles.”
She added: “The country faces the serious challenge of importing 94 per cent of its crude oil by 2030. Our oil import bill is already close to 7 per cent of the GDP. This has made India vulnerable to oil price shocks. At the same time, the ministry of environment and forests inventory shows that the transportation sector is the 4th largest emitter of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions in India. In Delhi, the transport sector is responsible for close to half of all carbon dioxide emissions.
What can be done
- Arrest the slide in public transport ridership: Changing modal share will affect fuel consumption in the transportation sector in the future. A 2008 RITES survey in Delhi shows that during 2001 to 2007-08, bus ridership has fallen from 60 per cent to 41 per cent of the total modal share. An asessment from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur shows that on an average, by 2030, Indians will travel thrice as many kilometers as they traveled during 2000-01. If neglected, the national modal share of public transport may drop from an impressive 75.7 per cent in 2001-02 to 44.7 per cent in 2030-31.
- Public transport can make a difference: While the metro rail is shaping up in a few cities, bus system is more common as a primary mover of people. A bus occupies twice the road space taken by a car, but carries 40 times the number of passengers. Buses can displace anywhere between five and 50 other vehicles and allow enormous oil and pollution savings. The International Energy Agency estimates a 100 per cent difference in oil use in Delhi in a scenario dominated by high quality bus systems. An earlier study by the Asian Development Bank had estimated for Bengaluru that an increase in bus share to 80 per cent leads to fuel savings equal to 21 per cent of the fuel consumed in the current scenario. It also leads to 23 per cent reduction in total vehicles and frees up road space equivalent to taking off nearly 418,210 cars from roads. CO2 emissions can drop by 13 per cent, PM by 29 per cent and NOx by 6 per cent. Cities need well managed, well organised modern buses that deliver efficient public transport services at affordable rates.
- Encouraging results on pollution saving from ‘bus days’ practised in Indian cities: When the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) initiated a ‘Bus Day’ to promote bus transport and encourage citizens of Bengaluru to use bus transport on the 4th of every month, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board assessed the impact of this move on ambient air quality – and found that air pollution levels had declined. On the ‘Bus Day’, levels of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, PM10, carbon monoxide and ozone decreased by 8.2 per cent, 4.8 per cent, 3.6 per cent, 11.7 per cent and 4 per cent respectively. The day after, the levels increased again.
- CSE analysis shows increase in public transport ridership in some cities – this needs aggressive policy support: As cities have begun to invest in bus transport, the turnaround has been noticed in a few cities. Delhi has increased its bus ridership by 25 per cent since 2009, while Bengaluru did it by 65 per cent since 2005 and 9 per cent since 2009; Ahmedabad has increased its public transport ridership from 10 per cent in 2004 to 16 per cent now. The small city of Tumkur in Karnataka that started its bus service in 2011 has already witnessed a 20 per cent modal shift from other modes of transport. If supported well, a bus system can engineer the big change in cities.
Yet too many odds against buses…
- Fuel costs cripples bus operations: In Delhi and Mumbai, the costs are comparatively lower because of lower CNG prices. But the CNG cost has also increased threefold since 2002 in Delhi. For Madras Transport Corporation Ltd, fuel costs are almost 30 per cent of all costs and 54 per cent of operational costs. For the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation, this is close to 65 per cent of operational costs and around 38 per cent of all costs. With the practice of automatic fare revision in several states, bus fares now increase every time the input costs like that of fuel increases. Increase in bus fares will lead to steady erosion of ridership to two-wheelers whose operational cost is as low as Re 1 to Rs 2 per km.
- Why buses pay more taxes than cars: While withdrawing the fuel subsidy the government could have taken additional steps to reduce the overall tax burden on buses – at both state and central levels. It is is damning that the Indian cities treat bus transport as commercial operation and tax it high for carrying more people. The World Bank has already crunched the numbers to show that the total tax burden per vehicle km is 2.6 times higher for the buses than cars in India. Information from all states shows that cars and two-wheelers pay a miniscule amount as lifetime motor vehicle taxes whereas buses pay hefty annual taxes. The working group for 12th Five Year Plan has estimated that total taxation on buses can sometimes be as much as quarter of the total costs of bus operations. Revenue losses from tax cut on buses can be easily off set by increasing taxes on cars.
- Why buses pay more taxes than Metro: It is ironical that despite providing the same public service, buses are paying more central and state taxes than the Metro rail. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation for instance is exempted from property tax, sales tax, capital gains tax, custom, excise, income tax and more. But bus pays property tax, octroi, excise, entry tax, VAT, central excise, custom duty, excise duty on consumption, excise and VAT on spare parts, motor vehicle tax, advertisement tax and more. This is mindless.
- Why no fuel economy regulations for buses and other vehicles? India is the only vehicle producing region that does not fuel economy regulations for vehicles to improve fuel savings. Without this, it will be difficult to meet the fuel saving targets of the ministry of petroleum and natural gas. The 2009 McKinsey report on India has estimated that if India improves fuel economy or fuel efficiency of the vehicles by even 15 per cent by 2015 then India will save 29 million tones of CO2 in 2030. This translates into 10.3 million tons of oil equivalent which at US $100 per barrel works out to be US $7.8 billion of savings in 2030 alone. If this fuel savings is linearly increased from 2010-2030, the total fuel savings can be approximately 100 million tonne of oil equivalent, and the cumulative dollar savings around US $78 billion.
- Fuel economy penalty in buses: Nearly all bus transport corporations are reporting either stagnation or decline in fuel economy of their bus fleet. In Delhi the fuel economy of the CNG buses is stagnating. Though there has been significant renewal of bus fleet in the key bus corporations of Delhi and Bengaluru, fleet fuel economy has worsened. The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation’s analysis shows fuel economy penalty while moving from Euro II to Euro III and Euro IV technologies. Buses are bigger, more powerful with higher torque and there is no fuel economy standard for them. This costs huge money to the bus companies.
- Take away diesel subsidy from cars: If fuel subsidy is being taken away, take steps to reduce other costs for buses. Stop misuse of diesel subsidy by the more undeserving customers – the cars and SUVs. If the buses that provide public transport services for the larger good are not entitled to fuel subsidy then why diesel cars meant for exclusive individual mobility with very high pollution and health costs are allowed to enjoy the subsidy for indefinite period.
Time to act now as rapid motorization will worsen energy security: Transport demand has grown at 1.2 times the GDP growth rate. Studies by Asian Development Bank shows that under business as usual scenario the active population of cars and SUVs in India can increase to 80 million in 2035 and the total fuel consumption of on-road vehicles in India can grow six times over that of 2005 level over the next 30 years until 2035. Policies should maximise fuel savings in this sector at the earliest. The rolling stock of vehicles continuously locks up huge amount of energy and carbon. Both economic and environment cost of this energy lock up is unsustainable.
The country needs serious measures:
- To reform the public transport and promote infrastructure non-motorised transport
- Reduce tax burden on buses and cycles
- Implement effective fuel efficiency standards for buses and other vehicles
- Develop employer and employee based incentive programmes to encourage public transport usage