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Nagpur takes first step in embracing e-mobility

Brian de Souza | Updated on January 11, 2018

Electric revolution Ola has joined hands with M&M to press into service the first tranche of 100 EVs

Orange City keen on enhancing its green footprint with a slew of mobility options

The city of oranges is now on a clean air drive. Outside Nagpur’s main railway station, a hoarding put up by a local automotive dealer urges prospective car buyers to test drive the Mahindra e2o Plus electric car.

Launched a few years ago, it did not make the impact because of high price tag and lack of charging infrastructure to an expensive battery, which was a deterrent for customers. The e2o Plus is now back and part of a grand plan to make Nagpur a pioneer in making electric vehicles (EVs) a way of life for the aam aadmi if a pilot that kicked off in June succeeds.

The results of this experiment will be watched carefully by the likes of NITI Aayog, the Centre’s think tank, that has drawn up 2032 as the deadline for all cars to be electrified. The Nagpur pilot can also be seen as supplementing the Centre’s ambitious solar energy plans, which again is a part of the overall cleanup exercise. For a country that barely has 1,200 days to transit to Bharat Stage VI emission norms, each of these experiments will bolster its green credentials considerably across the world.

Home to Nitin Gadkari, Road Transport and Highways Minister, Nagpur plans to radically alter its entire transport system. Officials at the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) says they want to do all they can to support the emerging electric revolution. In fact, approvals have just been given for a 40-seater electric bus that will operate from the airport to the heart of the city, a distance of 19 kilometres. The NMC is waiting for a charging station to be fully operational before services begin.

What has already been set in motion is the first phase of an e-vehicle project with Ola, the home-grown taxi aggregator that has joined hands with M&M to press into service the first tranche of 100 EVs. So far, 65 are on Nagpur’s roads and Ola is in the process of appointing drivers for the entire EV fleet.

What is unique about this eco-friendly experiment is the fact that the cab aggregator is playing a key role in establishing a viable charging infrastructure that can be used by both buses and taxis. Ola did not respond to mails seeking more details.

Changing lives

At the ground level, there are some interesting changes happening to people’s lives. For instance, 35-year-old Sunil Gurav has been driving his e20 Plus for just over two weeks and loves the excitement of this brand new phase in his life. He had moved to Nagpur from his native Nashik six years ago to expand his cut flowers business.

A year ago, Gurav had signed up with Ola and kicked off his new life on wheels with a Tata Bolt. “My flower business keeps me busy most mornings and I opted to join Ola to make use of my spare time,” he says. When the service provider asked him if he would like to be part of the e-vehicle project, Gurav jumped at the opportunity. In his view, an e-vehicle is good for the environment and “we can save our precious foreign exchange by cutting oil imports”.

Many of his customers are youngsters who like a clean vehicle accompanied by an entertainment system. Gurav did not have to make a down payment for the vehicle but forks out ₹25,000 every month to square up his dues. He targets making at least ₹1,000 everyday and has managed this without a fuss thus far.

Gurav is keen to be a part of Gadkari’s vision for Nagpur, which is to have 70 per cent of vehicles run on battery power. He says he was chosen for the EV project because of his good track record as an Ola driver. The Bolt, meanwhile, still continues with another driver that Gurav has employed while he zips around in his e20 Plus.

Towards a cleaner Nagpur

Moving on, NMC plans to enhance the number of ethanol-mix fuel buses in the city based on a successful pilot with a bus made by Scania India conducted a year ago. A minimal count of a 5-bus fleet is planned that can make about 50 trips a day.

Gadkari is categorical that EVs are top priority, and in Nagpur, the government’s ambitious plans also include e-rickshaws and bikes. Apart from M&M, companies such as Tata Motors and Kinetic will be part of its clean air drive.

The Nagpur pilot is the third major e-mobility project after the 2015 initiative, FAME, and the earlier National Mission on EVs aimed at having 6-7 million vehicles on India’s roads by 2020. Nagpur has a population of 26 lakh people and a vehicle population of 12.86 lakh as per an RTI report. The vehicular population includes over 10 lakh two-wheelers, one lakh cars, 30,000 jeeps and 8,000 autos with 35 vehicles added everyday, says the report.

Some years ago, the Nagpur Improvement Trust had prepared a 200-page draft document for a comprehensive restructuring of mobility options in the city. The EV project, once stabilised, can make a key contribution to the new mobility paradigm. If it does take off, it will represent a dramatic shift towards green cars in one of the world’s fastest growing car markets.

The writer is a Goa-based freelance journalist

Published on July 13, 2017

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