One of India’s largest public bus operators, the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) is getting climate conscious. The transport organisation is planning to convert 500 buses to run on liquefied natural gas (LNG). It will also call tenders to CNG-enable 1,000 buses and buy 700 additional CNG buses. Both LNG and CNG are non-polluting forms of fuel that save cost, especially at a time when diesel and petrol prices are spiraling through the roof.
The development was confirmed by MSRTC vice-chairman and managing director Shekhar Channe. The corporation has a 16,000-plus fleet.
To begin with, the MSRTC has invited bids to retrofit LNG technology in 500 diesel buses. The contractor will enter the deal on a wet lease model, wherein it will procure the technology, set up dispensing units at depots, arrange for supply, and maintain the technology inside the bus and at the depot. For this, the payment will be per kilometer. Seven companies had responded when the MSRTC had first called for expression of interest.
An MSRTC official said they will use buses that are seven to eight years old and replace the aluminum body with mild steel. “Remodeling will enhance the life of buses by another seven years,” the official said, adding that LNG has higher purity than CNG and it is vaporised into a combustible gaseous fuel on-board the vehicle.
A bus with a tankful of LNG can cover 600-700 km as against 200 km by a CNG bus. Diesel buses also cover up to 700 km, though it is heavy on expenditure. Officials said the cost of LNG per kg is around Rs 43-45, while CNG costs Rs 52 per kg and diesel is priced at Rs 96-97 per litre.
Selected depots will have LNG refueling stations, depending on the bus routes with to-and-fro journeys of 600-700 km. The contractor is also expected to ensure that LNG supply isn’t stalled. At present, India has two production units, one in Gujarat and the other in Maharashtra (Nagpur). These are used to operate specialised machinery.
In June, Kerala became the first state where the bus transport corporation introduced LNG-run buses. The corporation in Kerala has a fleet of 6,000 buses.
MSRTC buses ferried 65 lakh passengers every day prior to the pandemic. Their ridership has now fallen to 17-18 lakh per day on 10,000 buses on road. Its losses have risen far beyond Rs 4,500 crore, which was before the pandemic.
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