A New Plan For Better Public Transport For Mumbai

Approximately two weeks ago, the Mayor of Mumbai, Principal Vishwanath Mahadeshwar, flagged off Mumbai's first fully electric buses. That moment was something I will cherish for life. A process of a mindset change we initiated two years ago had now brought four electric buses to Mumbai. Although only four to begin with in a fleet of thousands, this move is a major game-changer for our city.

When the Standing Committee of the BMC allocated a token amount for this on my request in 2015, not many were aware of the fully electric buses. Among the few aware of their existence, not many believed in the proposal and it drew some strange criticism.

As I inaugurated it, I took full ownership of the dream to go electric if something goes wrong. However, if it succeeds, the entire credit would go to those political leaders in the BMC, BEST and the officers who believed in it and more so, who were possibly pushed to a point of frustration by me asking about the arrival of the electric buses!

These buses are fully electric (which means they use no fossil fuel whatsoever), zero noise, zero harmful emissions and automatic transmission (which makes driving easier in cities with extreme high-density traffic).

Having seen the importance of these buses and our necessity, not in the future but starting today, I have embarked on a personal, selfish mission: to convert the maximum bulk of our public transport to electric.

I strongly believe it's a goal that is achievable, primarily because

- Public transport is fully under government control.

- It is a means of mass transport, effectively transporting lakhs of people

- Pollution control in buses is something we haven't fully achieved in India, especially State Transport buses, as they aren't Euro IV etc compliant

- Cleaner, greener public transport means a large chunk of our transport sector used by everyone gets clean.

Most of this mission is a personal endeavour with a passion to better our environment. I do not want to risk sounding like an expert or a tech know-how guy, because I'm not one. I want to bring about effective policy changes and its implementation.

Hence, I had a brief meet with the Maharashtra Transport Minister, Diwakar Raote, for his support in building an effective policy for electric mobility, especially in the public sector.

I realised after conversations with four mayors of four cities that we also need to expand beyond just our cities to the interiors. It is often the old rickety buses of the interiors that leave the people traveling in it coughing, along with a trail of black smoke.

While the transport policy for electric mobility might come to fruitition soon and financial incentives to produce it and buy it might be offered by the government, the real change will only happen with the Transport and Energy sector create an ecosystem for electric mobility. The synergy must begin soon.

As for Maharashtra, we need more power production, a boost and support to renewable energy to make it economically sustainable. Perhaps we can work for this with a greater partnership between private players, distribution companies, the MEDA and agreements that are honoured and implemented by all. One of Maharashtra's biggest sources of solar energy, as seen by a pure passionate novice (in this field) like me, could come from solar energy farms along side the Mumbai-Pune Highway and the proposed Mumbai-Nagpur Highway.

Furthermore, to make it economically viable, like we have rates for electricity adjusted for commercial units, citizens, etc., we must have a lower rate for electric mobility. This would largely help the sector grow, increase efficiency and convert more people into users of efficient, clean public transport.

Changing technology, mass production, bettering techniques like rechargeable batteries, replaceable batteries, etc will bring about massive change.

From the government, what we need is

- A firm and progressive energy policy, especially for renewable energy

- Economically viable schemes to promote renewable energy to support electric mobility

- A firm desire and political will to convert all our State Transport and Municipal Corporation fleet over the next five years to fully electric, zero noise, zero emission buses and mini buses.

This sounds like quite a task, and an investment today. It sure is. We are investing in saving our planet and our future generations by taking this historic step.

(Aaditya Thackeray is the president of Yuva Sena, the youth wing of Shiv Sena)

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