Kevadia: A launch pad for a new era of urban vehicle access regulations in India?
The first in a blog series focused on the prospects for strategies like low- and zero-emission zones in India.
On World Environment Day in June, Indian Prime Minister Modi announced that Kevadia, a town in the western state of Gujarat, will be branded as India’s “first electric vehicle-city.” It’s not clear what this entails, exactly, and I was initially baffled by the choice of this remote town, which has a population of only about 10,000. But then the next day it was announced that the area surrounding the world’s tallest statue, the Statue of Unity, will be developed as an “electric vehicle-only area.” That was my a-ha moment, as the statue is located near Kevadia.
It’s also not clear what an “electric vehicle-only area” will actually mean, but these announcements reflect a desire to promote clean vehicles and make these areas a model for other areas of India. Given that, it’s worth digging into this some more.
After the inauguration of the Statue of Unity in October 2018, the Indian Government left no stone unturned in helping it become one of the top tourist destinations in the country. Soon there were seaplanes connecting the area to the state capital of Ahmedabad, eight new train routes for enhanced regional connectivity, a world-class railway station, and Vistadome coaches with glass ceilings to view the scenic vistas. Each has had varying success and the multiple and extended lockdowns related to COVID-19 must have had significant impact on tourism. Still, by March 15, 2021, about 5 million had visited this monument.
The Statue of Unity Area Development and Tourism Governance Authority, which administers an approximately 100 kilometer radius around the statue, intends a phased implementation of initiatives supporting the new electric vehicle ambition. It has already launched public sharing e-bikes and plans to deploy only electric buses in the future to ferry tourists. The Authority has additionally announced financial assistance in the form of a purchase subsidy and salary linked-loans for its employees who want to purchase an electric vehicle. Residents of Kevadia who want to purchase an electric three-wheeler for ride-hailing are also eligible for this purchase subsidy. Note that these subsidies are in addition to applicable state-level and national-level subsidies offered under Gujarat’s recently announced electric vehicle policy and the national FAME-II program, respectively.
Vehicle-access restriction zones such as low-emission zones (LEZs), which are also sometimes referred to as clear air zones and environment zones in Europe, are geographically demarcated areas where access to vehicles is regulated based on their tailpipe emissions. The most polluting vehicles are either restricted or are required to pay a fee to enter. Such zones are not new to India, and an extreme example is the small town of Matheran, a hill station in the state of Maharashtra where all motor vehicles are prohibited. Only horses and horse-drawn carriages are permitted there, as it has been declared an “eco-sensitive zone” by the national government.
Overall, though, the current schemes in India are mostly limited in terms of scope/scale or by method of enforcement. For example, gasoline and diesel powered vehicles are restricted in only a small area within a 500 meter radius of the Taj Mahal in Agra; this is to improve air quality and protect the historic monument. Additionally, in the National Capital Region of Delhi, diesel vehicles more than 10 years old and gasoline vehicles more than 15 years old are not eligible to renew their registration, but there are no enforcement measures in place to ensure that these vehicles don’t continue to ply in the region by being re-registered in a neighboring state. If India continues on a similar low-ambition pathway, it puts such schemes at risk of being sidelined as novelty projects with limited impact, and it undermines their potential.
And there seems to be plenty of potential. Apart from reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting walking, cycling, and public transportation, LEZs have the added benefit of supporting a transition to zero-emission vehicles. Our research shows that 20 of the top 25 largest electric passenger vehicle markets worldwide, which together represent 40% of global cumulative electric vehicles sales, have implemented LEZs. The Netherlands plans to introduce zero-emission zones (ZEZs) for delivery vans and trucks in 30 to 40 of its largest cities by 2025. The ambitions of frontier cities don’t end there, as frontrunners like Oxford, Amsterdam, Paris, and Oslo have announced plans for a phased implementation of ZEZs in the next decade.
The Kevadia project is another step toward establishing vehicle-access restricted areas in India and mainstreaming such policy measures, and it is the only one to date to focus on electric vehicles. That seems important, because with only INR 2.7 billion of the INR 100 billion FAME-II outlay having been given out since March 2019, the Indian Government needs to seriously consider more innovative and holistic policy tools to bring about an uptick in sales of electric vehicles. Further, as India grapples with air pollution issues and struggles to reach FAME-II sales targets of 1 million electric two-wheelers, half a million electric three-wheelers, and 55,000 electric cars, urban vehicle access regulations like LEZs and ZEZs offer a two-for-one solution so promising that India can’t afford for them to be sidelined.
This blog was originally published by The Times of India on September 6, 2021.
This is part of NDC Transport Initiative for Asia (NDC-TIA). NDC-TIA is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI). The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) supports the initiative on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag. For more visit: https://www.ndctransportinitiativeforasia.org/.