India's e-mobility transition has been off to a great start, accelerated largely due to adequate policy support under the national policy Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME II) and various state EV policies. These provide generous top-down subsidies to make electric vehicles affordable, which has heralded the transition towards e-mobility, especially in the two wheeler segment. As of December 2022, electric two wheelers comprise over 5.7% of sales of all two wheelers in the country.

The market too has contributed. The Auto Expo 2023 in the national capital witnessed more than 45 new EV product launches by close to 20 automakers, signaling a clear shift in the industry towards e-mobility.  Despite the FAME II policy not subsidizing privately owned four wheelers, data from Tata Motors, the country’s leading electric four wheeler OEM, indicates that demand seems to be robust. A similar transition appears to be playing out in the three wheelers segment. Electric  three wheelers sales were up from 21% in November 2021 to 34% in November 2022. This indicates that subsidies, coupled with improving availability of choice and volatile fuel prices is quickly shifting several consumers to adopt electric vehicles. Clearly the top down thrust is paying off.

A new vision for e-mobility that improves livability in cities

The transition to electric mobility will have many benefits, key among them will be the reduction in air pollution, which is among the top three public health risks in India today. However, India’s vision for e-mobility should also include, in the long run, improving liveability in our cities, which will come from improvements in sustainable public transport and shared mobility. By 2035, more than 40% of India’s vast population will be living in cities, and the growth in private vehicle ownership will add significantly to the already difficult problem of traffic congestion.

NITI Aayog estimates that the economic loss due to traffic congestion is roughly $ 20 billion in four cities - Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata. This, of course, does not take into account the loss of livability, especially for older people who find it exceedingly difficult to navigate traffic.

Electric mobility efforts can play a key role in building sustainable cities, by focusing on providing different forms of shared mobility, including mass transit options like e-buses, metros and trains, ride hailing services and other ways that reduce personal vehicle use over time. India simply cannot afford to add more vehicles on the road, especially in major cities. The transition to e-mobility should not look at merely replacing petrol and diesel vehicles with electric ones. There are two important aspects that may be considered in a holistic e-mobility transition approach.

One, what is needed is city level comprehensive mobility plans that focus on decongesting roads by improving sustainable public mobility options and shared mobility that is mandated to be electric. Several cities in India have already come out with such plans (for example, Bangalore) or at any rate are in the process of forming one. People living in cities best understand where, when and how traffic bottlenecks are created. They also have a deeper understanding of the major roads and differential mobility needs of various sections of society. National governments simply do not have access to this kind of knowledge that is very specific to its citizens. This is where the Central Government could use the country’s national e-mobility vision to help cities and perhaps even communities to transition towards e-mobility. The very word, E-mobility could come to mean two things - electric mobility and ease-of- mobility. Top down thrusts could include an agency like NITI Aayog in coordination with various stakeholders to come up with a template that cities could use to involve its citizens in developing such integrated options. Local NGOs and citizens groups can work with research organizations and the local governments to formulate such plans by involving its citizens - for no plan can work if citizens do not wholeheartedly participate.

Fig 1 - Hong Kong has the best and most sustainable public transport network in the world, and supports 90% of all daily journeys made by its citizens. It offers metro, taxis, ferries, trams and electric buses, thereby significantly reducing personal vehicle use.

Second, there is an urgent need to bring in private investment into public infrastructure. Private companies can bring in technologies that can make it easier for citizens to use public transit (the ease of mobility argument). Take for instance Bangalore’s 6,000 buses. There is no way for a user to know when the bus arrives, or for that matter where the nearest stop is. Nor can a ticket be bought in advance. When we have managed to allow external parties to book railway tickets, this seems to be a small step - given that Bangalore is at the heart of the IT revolution in India. Imagine an integrated service where one could enter the source and destination and get a plethora of options at various comfort levels and cost points. Do you need to get to the airport in the fastest possible manner? Then you can choose an app based taxi. Do you want the cheapest ride? Then one could book the electric bus service. Do you want it to be cheap and yet an AC service? You could book the special ‘Vajra’ service to the airport. We have all the technology required today to implement this. All that is needed is to fit buses with GPS trackers (some buses already do have them), implement a billing and payment scheme and integrate all services. I see a range of entrepreneurs coming up who are ready to provide such services. Such efforts can go a long way in making public transport convenient so that citizens begin to adopt them.

The e-mobility revolution that we see unfolding in India today presents a great opportunity to rethink mobility and our city spaces. We can use this opportunity to shift mobility towards electric options, but also to improve the ease of mobility through improved public and shared transit options.

Akhilesh Magal is the Founder and Director of Climate Dot - a think tank and research organisation committed to accelerate the transition to clean energy.