KSRTC has justified its decision to purchase 700 CNG buses, despite price of the gas spiralling to up to ₹85/kg in the State, terming it as a financially viable proposition.
This follows eyebrows being raised about its decision to go ahead with the purchase, despite CNG price increasing at a faster rate than that of diesel. Around 300 private bus operators who had retrofitted CNG kits in the buses, at the rate of over ₹5 lakh per bus, had recently raised alarm at the price of the gas increasing from ₹55/kg two years ago to ₹85/kg (price in Kochi).
KSRTC has, in a press release, termed recent news reports that it had decided to purchase 700 CNG buses for the price of 1,300 diesel buses in a section of media as contrary to facts. As per 2021 tender, buses that run on CNG costs ₹37.99 lakh, whereas a diesel bus costs an average of ₹33.78 lakh. The difference in capital investment per bus is thus ₹4.20 lakh. KSRTC procured a four cylinder CNG bus in 2016 for ₹24.51 lakh and it is still in service. It returned a fuel efficiency of 4.71 km per kg in long-distance routes and 3.62 km per kg in the city. The major problem with CNG buses is that they are not suited for operating in hilly terrain. The first lot of 310 CNG buses will be deployed in coastal areas, depending on the outcome of trial runs.
Moreover, the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) provides funding only for buses that run on ‘clean fuel’ like CNG, LNG and electricity. Diesel buses—which are procured using Government grants—are still relied upon for long-distance services, since CNG buses can operate only up to 400 km after a full refuelling. They can thus operate in place of the ageing fleet of 2,300 bus services that KSRTC operates.
This will in turn lessen the fuel expense, since a litre of diesel costs ₹96.52 and a kg of CNG ₹83 (in Thiruvananthapuram). The price difference of ₹13.52 is pertinent, since diesel price could cross the ₹150 mark. Similarly, the per km CNG expense would be ₹20.75, while diesel would cost ₹25.75.
The procurement of CNG buses will also help upgrade their fuel at a later stage to that which is sourced from Compressed Bio Gas (CBG). The Centre has been extending help to set up CBG plants. Moreover, CBG costs less than CNG, it says.