CNG Conversion can Put KSRTC Back in Driver’s Seat
The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation has been driving down a bumpy road for the past several years. An aging, poorly maintained fleet combined with the rising price of high speed diesel have badly affected the performance of this public utility. As its losses continue to mount, some experts have suggested that perhaps the way for KSRTC to get out of the rut would be to follow the Delhi example of converting its fleet from diesel to CNG.
Several countries across the world now run their public transport bus fleets on CNG. This is because CNG emits much lesser pollutants as compared to diesel and is therefore a better environment option. In the case of India, the difference between the price of diesel and CNG makes it much more economical to run natural gas vehicles. With the steady removal of subsidies, the prices of diesel and petrol are likely to see an upward trend, creating more financial problems for KSRTC.
The move to convert the KSRTC fleet was given wing by the setting up of the Kerala Gail Gas Limited, a joint venture between KSIDC and Gail Gas. The Kerala Gail Gas Limited project envisages the setting up of CNG stations at bus depots, giving KSRTC easy access to cheap and clean CNG.
Financial Efficiency: The critics of the CNG conversion proposal are of the view that it is financially unviable. They point out that KSRTC has a 6000-strong fleet and the minimum cost required to convert each diesel run bus to CNG would be Rs 4 lakh. The argument is that a cash-strapped KSRTC would find it difficult to fork out such huge sums.
However, it is time for Kerala to take a long term view. Even the critics agree that the CNG conversion will benefit KSRTC in the long run. The conversion costs may be high, but the Central Government has already stated that it will provide a grant of Rs 100 crore to set up the CNG plant. In addition, the environment audit seems to be in favour of CNG conversion. CNG is the cleanest fuel. Its use in public transport will lead to a healthier population with a better sense of well being. The long term financial benefits brought about by lesser spending on health and better productivity cannot be discounted.
Performance Efficiency: Vehicles run on natural gas like CNG perform as efficiently as vehicles which run on diesel or petrol. According to information released by Associated Renewable Inc, an energy consulting firm in New York, similar models of natural-gas and diesel-powered vehicles get the same mileage. However, money spent on fuel is a lot lesser as CNG is cheaper.
Maintenance costs are also low as CNG is a cleaner-burning fuel. For example, a CNG vehicle’s oil has to be changed less frequently and gives 10,000 to 25,000 additional miles before requiring an oil-change. Running a CNG fleet may reduce KSRTC’s maintenance costs by as much as 40 percent, which should give its balance sheet a rather healthier edge. Drivers will also not have to undergo any special training to drive a CNG vehicle. According to ConsumerReports.org, driving a CNG vehicle is similar to driving a diesel-powered vehicle, except that “acceleration is typically slower.”
From the US to South Korea, countries across the world are reaping the positive benefits of a CNG-fuelled public transport system. Is it not time for Kerala to catch up with the world?