CNG Delhi – the world’s cleanest public bus system running on CNG

Interview with Anumita Roychaudhary, CES

State of the Art before 1998

In 1991, India published the first exhaust emission standards, but there were no fuel quality standards.

In 1993, CNG had become available in Delhi at three filling stations for industrial and domestic users. Natural gas is a domestic energy produced in Western India.

In 1995, a lawyer filed a case with the Supreme Court of India under the Public Interest Litigation rule, which is part of the Constitution of India and enables any citizen to address directly the Supreme Court. The lawyer’s case was about the health risks caused by air pollution emitted from road vehicles.

The Supreme Court decided that cars put into circulation after 1995 would have to run on unleaded fuel. By 1998, Delhi was converted to 100% of unleaded fuel

What was converted, the new cars or the gasoline stations or both ?

Government ruled that diesel cars in Delhi were restricted to 10’000 ppm after 1995.

In 1996, CSE published its report on urban air pollution[1]. This report found that the problem of vehicular pollution in India was the result of a combination of outdated engine technology, poor fuel quality, defective transportation planning and bad maintenance of vehicles on the read. No statistics of energy input and pollution output were available, put it was estimated that vehicles were responsible for 64% of emissions (power production for 17, industry for 10%). The conclusion of this report, and CSE’s objectives for the future, were to press for clean fuels and a rapid introduction of EUR II standards.

The 1998 Directive of the Supreme Court

In 1998, three years after the lawyer had filed his case and as a direct result of it, the Supreme Court published a Directive that specified the date of April 2001 as deadline to replace or convert all busses, three-wheelers and taxis to CNG. In addition, the Directive specified that an infrastructure of 70 CNG refuelling stations had to be made available, and asked for financial incentives for the conversion of vehicle fleets.

In January 1998, the National Capital Region of Delhi set up a Commission to study, write and publish a report on the air pollution problem in Delhi. CSE was a member of this Commission.

What was first? The Directive or setting up the Comission?

The government planned to introduce the EUR II standard for 2005. This was not acceptable to the Commission, which suggested replacing diesel by CNG in the transport sector. CNG was already in use in neighbouring Pakistan, with more than 500’000 vehicles, of which a majority of automobiles, and a number of other countries, notably Argentina. CNG was a local energy that was considerably cheaper than gasoline.

In 1999, the Supreme Court ordered the government to impose the EUR II standard for gasoline engines by the year 2000 for all new car sales. The Court order attacked the diesel car promotion, and ordered sulphur levels below 30 ppm, as well as particle filters for diesel engines.

This re-opened the discussion on CNG. Cleaner diesel had now become available, and the automotive industry and the Delhi government put forward scientific arguments against CNG. In fact, the government and the car industry were fighting the bad image of diesel fuel. Also at stake was the issue of equal rights between Public Transport and private cars.

Diesel had always been the fuel favoured by the government. It was first subsidised, than less taxed than gasoline. In 2000, despite the 1998 order of the Supreme Court order, the government still allowed 6’000 new diesel busses to take up service. And by April 2001 – the original deadline - little progress had been achieved to fulfil the 1998 Supreme Court Directive.

The vehicle industry was against CNG, fundamentally because global mass production is jeopardised by any local legislation. It continued lobbying in favour of abolishing the Supreme Court order.

Finally, in April 2002, the Supreme Court published a directive which imposed a penalty on the government for wasting the court’s time, and in addition, a daily penalty of 1’000 Rupee per day (approximately 20 US$) for each diesel bus still in circulation.

After what date? April 2002?

By 1st December 2002, the last diesel bus had disappeared from Delhi’s roads, as part of a programme to improve public transport by offering more busses, and only busses running on CNG.

The situation today

At the beginning of 2005, 10’300 CNG busses, 55’000 CNG three-wheelers taxis, 5’000 CNG minibuses, 10’000 CNG taxis and 10’000 CNG cars run on Delhi’s roads.

How was this achieved? Companies could either buy new CNG busses, at a cost of 1’600’000 Rupees (16 lakh), replace the engines of existing busses at a cost of 700’000 Rupees, or convert the diesel engine of existing busses to CNG, at a cost of 400’000 Rupees.

The majority of business went for the option of buying expensive new CNG busses; 2’800 opted for the cheapest solution of engine conversion; no existing busses were equipped with new CNG engines.

It is interesting to note that only 3’000 busses are operated by the Delhi Transport Corporation, the majority of the busses in Delhi are run by private operators. Approximately one thousand additional busses that link Delhi with neighbouring States still run on diesel; they are allowed to enter Delhi for a distance of 16 km maximum.

With the introduction of CNG came problems of conversion quality and maintenance quality; 12 busses caught fire. Foreign experts were called in to examine the problem[2], and a new regulation on CNG safety was published. One main problem was the absence of stress relief loops on CNG installations – a problem not limited to CNG and India, which led to the banning of LPG cars in Europe not equipped with pressure relief equipment.

The future

The second phase of the programme includes light and medium size commercial vehicles and cars.

Which programme – SC order?

A further conversation of the approximately 1 million automobiles is hindered by the limited supply of CNG gas. Nevertheless, new three-wheeler commercial goods vehicles also have to run on CNG. And many white Ambassador cars for tourists have been converted to dual use, running on CNG in Delhi and on gasoline outside Delhi.

A new pipeline network is under construction, linking the Gujarat coast with major cities in the west of India. The import of CNG and increased production will overcome the supply shortage. In addition, new natural gas fields are developed in Gujarat and will come into production. Also, the import of CNG by ship will increase in the future.

The biggest problem are transit trucks, which are still allowed in Delhi at night. A new Supreme Court order now says the transit traffic should not enter Delhi, which means that a new ring road has to be built.

The manufacturers of private cars refuse to produce dedicated CNG cars for sale in Delhi, despite the fact that Delhi represents 20% of the Indian market. Only two domestic producers, Ambassador and Maruti-Suzuki, offer a retrofit of high quality for dual fuel use of their cars.

Since 2004, eight new cities along the CNG main pipeline have received a Supreme Court order to convert their bus fleets to CNG. CNG busses are seen as the entry gate to establish a supply infrastructure and open up the car market.

For the time being, the car industry is playing a deaf ear, and refuses to cooperate and inform. The fact that most car manufacturers sell dedicated CNG automobiles in Europe, were CNG cars are considered the best available technology (BAT), is ignored by the same companies active in India.

Further questions arise from the fact that cannot find any published article on the CNG experience of Delhi!

[1] ‘Slow murder: The deadly story of vehicular pollution in India’

[2] safety of CNG Buses in Delhi, findings and recommendations. Report by Lennart Erlandsson, MTC AB Sweden, and Christopher Weaver, USA, for CSE, August 9, 2002.