By Pankaj M Munjal 
With global warming and environment becoming major concerns, governments across the world are putting increased thrust on the need for phasing out petrol/diesel vehicles. While electric vehicles (EVs) have been in the pipeline for decades, it is only now that these are emerging as a viable alternative to petrol/diesel vehicles.

Support from governments backed by ambitious targets as well as evolution of battery technology has enabled this shift. In China, 1.1 million electric cars were sold in 2018—more than half the total world sales.

With the ambitious target of shifting a bulk of its vehicles to electric fleet by 2030, India has launched policy measures and incentives to promote electric and hybrid cars. Earlier this year, the government announced `10,000 crore in outlay for the second phase of the FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid & Electric Vehicles) scheme to be invested towards developing charging infrastructure.

Major manufacturers across the world are now investing in electric and related technologies. Ford plans to have 13 EV models by 2020 at an investment of $4.5 billion. Tesla plans to build 1 million EVs by 2020. In India, Mahindra & Mahindra and Tata Motors have already launched electric cars, and Maruti Suzuki is fleet testing its first electric car. However, lack of infrastructure is a major concern.

At the same time, while electric cars are clean, they do not solve the problem of congestion and remain outside the economic reach of a large section of population. Electric bicycles, on the other hand, offer both an affordable and a sustainable mobility solution; they can also address traffic woes. And then there is no range anxiety—if one loses battery charge, she can always pedal back easy with gear shifts.

India largely runs on two-wheelers, with about one-third of households owning one. In comparison, just 11% households own a car. E-bikes are also a rapidly emerging global trend—these essentially are an evolved version of bicycles, fitted with an electric motor to enable motorised pedalling along with manual pedalling. Given that two-wheelers account for as much as 75% of vehicular pollution in India, e-bikes can be an eco-friendly alternative to conventional two-wheelers. For this, the government must initiate policies for those people who currently use bicycles and are planning to upgrade to motorcycles or conventional scooters.

According to a report by Persistence Market Research, the global e-bike market is projected to register a CAGR of 4.7% during the 2017-22 period. Here again, China is leading. Also, in Europe, government subsidies and favourable policies are ushering in an impressive growth in e-bikes—France registered 90%-plus growth in the sales of e-bikes in recent years, thanks to a government subsidy on its purchase.

E-scooters are also an attractive option for people who struggle with last-mile transport connectivity issues. California-based start-ups Bird and Lime pioneered an interesting concept of shareable dockless e-scooters, and the success of the idea propelled these start-ups to spread to more than 100 cities. People struggling with traffic congestion, those needing short but costly taxi rides from public transport to work/home, or those walking to work/home have found e-scooters flexible, affordable and enjoyable to use. While this concept is yet to find ground in India, the need for flexible, last-mile transport solutions makes this a prospect.

The Economic Survey 2019 points out the limited availability of charging infrastructure coupled with lack of fast-charging facilities are major impediments to increased adoption of EVs in India. The project to make EVs a functioning reality of Indian roads needs the creation a massive infrastructure of charging stations across cities, residential buildings, parking spots, and community spaces.

While e-bikes have caught the attention of a small group of health-conscious and tech-savvy Indians, the absence of safe biking infrastructure hampers its growth in India. It must be underlined that countries which have provided government support—in the form of subsidy or infrastructure building—and imposed implementation of strict environmental rules have witnessed the steepest growth rates in e-bikes. India not only needs to encourage people to turn to e-bikes through subsidies and incentives, but also build safe cycling lanes across cities.