GENTLE ON THE ENVIRONMENT AND THE PUBLIC PURSE, ELECTRIC BUSES ARE THE WAY TO GO
BANGKOK: — Electric buses are undergoing trials in the capital this month, with the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) offering free rides on three routes.
If approved by the Cabinet, the BMTA will buy 400 to 500 of the lithium-battery-powered vehicles from China and put them into service next year.
BMTA caretaker director Pranee Sugrasorn says the electric buses are more environment-friendly than their petrol- and natural-gas-powered (NGV) counterparts. “The air in Bangkok will improve and that should boost residents’ health,” she says.
At Bt15 million per unit, the price of electric buses is more than three times that of their gas-powered equivalents, which cost Bt4.5 million. However, the battery-powered option is cheaper in the long run.
Over its 20-year lifetime, the fuel, maintenance and running costs of an NGV bus amount to an estimated Bt34 million, compared to Bt30 million for its electric counterpart.
In total, the city’s public-bus operator will acquire more than 3,000 new vehicles to replace its ageing fleet. Some will be NGV buses, under a purchase plan that is already at the bidding stage. But more than 2,600 are likely to be electric, since Transport Minister Prajin Juntong has encouraged the BMTA and other state public-transport operators to gradually switch from diesel and gas to electricity. Prajin says the switch would soften the impact of fluctuations in fuel prices and make vehicles more environmentally friendly.
An electric bus is pollution-free
and easy on the ears because it has no internal-combustion engine. It is powered by rechargeable batteries, so there are no emissions. The more than 3,000 public buses that currently ply Bangkok streets consume some 120 million litres of diesel per year and pump out huge quantities of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Many of the capital’s buses have been in use for two decades or more and their ageing engines are constantly adding to the air and noise pollution.
Electric vehicles are increasingly popular as fossil fuels dwindle. About 90 cities around the world have opted for electric buses as a cleaner and quieter choice for their mass-transit systems. Bangkok is making the right choice in adopting the technology.
But it is also important that we develop our own alternative-energy mass transit so that we don’t have to rely on imports. Thailand must build on its long history of assembling diesel-engine buses for domestic use.
Suranaree University of Technology and the Provincial Electricity Authority have taken the lead by developing an electric bus with zero emissions. Their prototype, powered by a lithium-ion battery, has the potential to be produced on a commercial scale. And while fuel-cell technology is still relatively expensive, it will become cheaper in the near future.
The government must now push for the use of electric buses as a major mode of transport in all our big cities. That option will not only be lighter on the public purse, it also will carry less impact for the environment and for our health.