Mumbai public transport buses see CNG as cost saver

Vol 11, PW 21 (06 Mar 08) Midstream & Downstream

CNG is set to replace diesel as the fuel of choice for public transport buses in Mumbai, as India’s commercial capital emulates Delhi by slowly phasing out dirty fuel.

PETROWATCH learns Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking, set up more than a 100 years ago with a fleet of red single and double-decker buses modelled on London’s public transport buses, has for the past year been buying only CNG fuelled buses for all but its double-decker buses. Out of its present fleet of 3430 buses, some 560 run on CNG.

But by July this year the figure will double to 1100 buses running on CNG. Commercial considerations are behind the switch.

“We pay Mahanagar Gas Rs21.50 per kilo of CNG while diesel costs us Rs34.50 per litre,â€‌ says BEST. “Operating costs with CNG are about a third lower than with diesel.

â€‌ As a state-owned transport company, BEST finds it politically inconvenient to raise ticket prices and is looking for other ways to cut running costs. With CNG, BEST breaks even and recovers the cost of the conversion kits in each bus within three years.

Over time, Mumbai’s 15m inhabitants will get to breathe cleaner air, as BEST slowly converts its entire bus fleet to CNG. BEST Undertaking now consumes 30,000-kg of CNG per day; this number is set to double by July.

“We have three CNG filling stations and by July will have three more,â€‌ says a BEST source. “In another year or so, if we can arrange the finance, we want to put up seven more filling stations.

â€‌ Given a chance, BEST would like to convert its 200 double-decker buses also to CNG. “Technical problems come in the way,â€‌ says BEST.

“Since the double-decker buses have a lower floor than single-decker buses fitting CNG kits that low does not seem possible.â€‌ Fitting CNG cylinders and kits in the upper portion of the double-decker buses also does not seem likely.

BEST says it would welcome any technical suggestion to overcome this issue.