Volvo upbeat on bus rapid transit system

The Swedish commercial vehicle manufacturer which revolutionised luxury road transport is confident of greater success in the Indian market, says T Murrali.

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 29 Sep 2006 Views icon3162 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Volvo upbeat on bus rapid transit system
When Volvo India first launched the B7R luxury bus five years ago, cynics sniggered. “Which operator is going to buy this expensive product?” they queried mockingly. Well, they have had to eat their words. Today, the B7R is the benchmark for luxury travel and its reach is growing by the day. The fact that there is corresponding road development has also helped. A good network can make the difference as has been evident in the case of the Mumbai-Pune expressway.

This incredible stretch prompted commuters to use the road and in terms of public transport, the B7R was the best bet. In the process, it ate heavily into rail traffic and even the prestigious Shatabdi had to take a bow. The first batch of B7Rs have now completed a million kilometres on Indian roads. Following the success of this intercity bus, Volvo India launched the B7R LE city bus. The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) bought the first 25 buses.

The 12-metre city bus is hauled by a 275bhp Euro III engine. Over 60 percent of the floor is low with body panels made of a combination of GI, stainless steel and aluminium. It has double pneumatically activated doors which are 1200 mm wide at the front and in the middle. The B7R LE is a true bus chassis for monocoque construction, electronic control suspension and six-speed automatic transmissions. It comes with tubeless tyres and an air suspension with double-acting shock absorbers.

The BMTC buses do nearly 250 trips daily covering about 5,000km with an average distance of 21km at an average speed of 20kph. The general occupancy is around 10,000 passengers per day and the fare varies from Rs 12 to Rs 48. Volvo India sees traffic getting more chaotic in major cities and towns which will only worsen with the growing population. This will mean a greater need for individual mobility and, therefore, more cars and two-wheelers.

CASE FOR BRT

The company believes that the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is a far more viable mass passenger transport solution in congested cities. Jan Vandooren, head of Volvo Bus South Asia, tells us why. At least 4,000 cars (occupying 48,000 m2 of space in the road) consuming 4,000 litres fuel would be required to carry 10,000 people per kilometre. In sharp contrast, only 400 buses (occupying 8,800 m2 of space) with 120 litres of fuel or 100 numbers of 12-metre buses (3,400 m2 of space) with 50 litres of fuel would take care of this requirement. It is quite clear that BRT is the better option as it can carry more people while still doing with lesser road space and fuel.

Pitched against rail transport, the bus still emerges victorious. While the investment for metro rail per kilometre ranges from $50-100 million, this is $1-3 million for the metro bus. There is a difference, though, when it comes to passenger traffic. The rail can take up to 40,000 people an hour which is twice that of the bus.

##### However, Vandooren has this to say: “This is a function of the number of passengers transported (revenue) each day and the cost of doing this. This is best expressed in terms of the ability to carry around 100 passengers at one time while providing the lowest fuel efficiency per passenger kilometre. “This is also affected by occupancy levels which is a result of the city bus’ ability to attract more passengers. Our current experience shows that our customers are doing well on all these accounts.”

Continuing with the comparison, the metro rail project takes at least 10 years for completion while the metro bus can be completed in couple of years. “Of course, there are a number of other elements in creating an economical transport solution and these include fuel, maintenance costs, tyres, engine life etc. The Volvo B7RLE scores well on all these accounts,” he reiterates. This city bus has a host of safety features to assure the driver that it is in his control. The vehicle is supported by electronic controls and instruments which the driver can easily reach and see.

The transmission is fully automatic including an integrated torque converter and built-in retarder. While the retarder performs most of the braking, the disc brakes featuring EBS are very effective. A broad centre aisle contributes to fast and convenient passenger flow. The bus can comfortably accommodate 100 people. It is equipped with GPS (global positioning system) for relaying information of arrival and departures.

BMTC officials say that software professionals prefer these buses. “We have been getting a positive feedback and requests for mobile-charging outlets and laptops in the bus,” they say. An interesting aside is that these buses have become comfortable options for weekend picnics for the family. The state will now buy another 25 buses. The operating cost of the Volvo city bus is Rs 1.80 per km as against 60 paise for ordinary buses. This is primarily because of the air-conditioning. BMTC is a little more concerned though about the capital expenditure as each bus cost around Rs 70 lakh.

The corporation hopes that the manufacturer can reduce cost by fitting in a less-powered engine but the latter says that the torque requirement at slow speeds is more due to frequent stoppages. Also, the engine must take care of the air-conditioner which has to maintain a certain temperature despite frequent opening and closing of doors. BMTC is now looking at biodiesel in the Volvo bus as an option. About 10 percent of its existing fleet already uses the fuel, which is extracted from a plant called Pangania, a similar species like Jatropa. It has received samples from a Pune-based biodiesel manufacturer. The road ahead for Volvo India promises to have its share of challenges.
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