The use of petroleum as the fuel for transport is not only a heavy burden on the national exchequer but its use results in many harmful effects. The transport sector is the primary reason for atmospheric pollution as petroleum fumes cause harmful emissions such as CO2 and suspended particulate matters that are detrimental to health. The use of petroleum based transportation results in increased economic costs : billions of Rupees spent on the import of petroleum fuels, decreasing air quality resulting in increasing health related cost, decreased productivity for the economically active population and rising inflation due to rise of international oil prices.
Given the above scenario it is high time to debate on the relevance of clean electrical based transport in Nepal. In this context, a brief look into the development of electricity based transportation is relevant.
The Historical Overview
The first effort in using electricity based transport in Nepal was in 1960 when USAID assisted in implementation of a 43 km long bi-cable goods ropeway between Hetauda and Kathmandu. This ropeway with capacity of 22.5 ton per hour performed well during the initial years when the Tribhuwan Rajpath was the only road link between Kathmandu and the Terai. With development of other better roads from the plains to Kathmandu the relevance of ropeway transport diminished and as the system was under the management of a poorly-managed government owned corporation (Nepal Transportation Corporation) the system soon became defunct.
The second important event in the development of electricity based transportation was the implementation of the trolley bus system between Kathmandu and Suryavinayak in Bhaktapur. The construction of the 13 kilometer long trolley bus system was undertaken under a grant aid of the Chinese Government and was completed in 2 years (1975 – 1977) with an investment of Rs. 40 million. The trolley bus system with 15 stations was a very popular means of transport and ferried between 10,000 – 11,000 commuters daily initially and the volume increased to 20,000 per day. Initially 22 trolley buses were in operation and in 1997 10 more buses with bigger passenger carrying capacity were added to the fleet. The system operated 16 hours a day and had a very low passenger fare of Rs. 3 - 4 depending on the travel distance. The hey days of the trolley bus system started to decline with the advent of democracy in the country. The culture of "Bandhs" and "Chakka Jam" and "tod fod" seriously effected the operation of the trolley buses. The politically affiliated ministers started using the trolley bus unit as an employment centre for their political cadre. The system of subcontracting of passenger fare collection to the drivers (Rs. 425 per trip for smaller and Rs. 475 for the bigger buses) resulted in a situation where the drivers became rich and NTC poorer by the day. The over staffing and low productivity led to a fast deterioration in the financial viability of the enterprise. Lack of funds led to deterioration of maintenance, depletion of spare parts stocks and finally scavenging of the buses whereby parts of the operating buses were removed for use as spare parts. The system soon collapsed and in December 2001, HMG by a cabinet decision, decided to close down the trolley bus system after 27 years of eventful operation. Subsequent efforts of the Government to restart the trolley bus system under the management of the Municipality of Kathmandu, Thimi and Bhaktapur failed as there was lack of commitment to the cause and lack of effective management.
The year 1993 will be remembered in history of development of electricity based transportation as one of the important landmarks. Under USAID funding an American INGO called Global Resources Institute was mandated with the task of developing a proto-type 3 wheeler run by batteries. This proto-type was christened as the Safa Tempo. After six months of trial operation the 7 Safa Tempos were handed over to Nepal Electric Vehicle Industry (NEVI) a company formed by 28 Nepali professionals dedicated to the cause of environmental protection in Nepal. NEVI operated the demonstration fleet and together with a few other EV manufacturing companies started assembly of the Safa Tempos for commercial operation on various routes within Kathmandu.
A decade and half later Kathmandu has a fleet of 650 Safa Tempos running on 14 various routes and cater to 130,000 commuters daily. 31 charging stations cater to the battery charging requirements of the Safa Tempos. While USAID quick started the development of the 3 wheeler Safa Tempo, it was DANIDA which further supported the development of the EV industry by creating a Clean Vehicle Fund to support research, development and promotion of the EV's. Under this program DANIDA funds were made available for training of drivers and technicians for the EV industry, for operating 4 battery charging stations in Lalitpur and for procurement of 48 EV's by the private sector. Almost half of the drivers of the Safa Tempos are female drivers trained under the Danish program.
While the unusual strides made in Nepal in the EV industry may be a matter of appreciation within the world community the number of Safa Tempo has not risen beyond 650 due to many reasons. The difficulty for acquiring route permits by Safa Tempo and domination of existing route by the diesel mini/microbus syndicates have made the increment of EV's virtually impossible.
The Way Ahead
The good work done in the initial development in the EV sector should continue and GoN should adopt short-term and long-term measures in expanding the horizon of electricity based transport for the overall benefit of the nation and its people.
The short-term measures that the government could adopt are the following:
a. Devise policies whereby clean transport based on electricity is given top priority and protected by providing incentive in excise duty and customs exemptions and reduced electricity tariff for night time charging of electric vehicles;
b. Adopt policies whereby the approximately 700 polluting LPG operated vehicles plying in Kathmandu are converted into battery run electric vehicles;
c. Adopt policies whereby vehicles over 15 years are given due incentives for converting into electric vehicles;
d. Create zones in tourist destinations such as Chitwan, Lumbini and Pokhara and historically important places such as Kathmandu Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square, Bhaktapur Durbar Square are accessible only to electric vehicles;
e. Allot priority to electric vehicles while issuing route permits for passenger vehicles
The above steps would yield results beneficial to all. In a study conducted by Clean Air Network Nepal it has been found that if 1,000 old gasoline vehicles were to be converted into electric vehicles, NEA would receive Rs. 25 million as additional income from sale of its night time spilled energy, a national saving of Rs. 219 million would result due to saving in import of petroleum fuels and the individual operator would benefit by Rs. 137,000 annually as savings in vehicle operation cost.
The long-term measures that the government should adopt are as follows:
a. Revive and operate trolley buses for transportation to the maximum extent possible. The defunct Kathmandu – Bhaktapur trolley bus should be reinstated once the widening of the Arniko Highway is completed. Extend trolley bus operation along the Kathmandu Ringroad, along the Bishnumati Corridor and operate radial trolley bus routes to Godavari, Kirtipur, Kalanki and Budanilkantha. Implement trolley buses in the Terai along feasible sectors such as Jogbani – Dharan, Birgunj – Pathlaiya, Sunauli – Butwal and Nepalgunj – Kohalpur;
b. Implement electric train services as mass transport system on feasible routes such as East West Highway, Fast Track Road Corridor, Kathmandu – Pokhara and Kathmandu – Khasa corridors;
c. Implement ropeway transport in hill areas which do not have road access;
d. Encourage the private sector by providing correct incentives for implementation of cable cars;
e. Support the creation of a research and development institute to promote the EV industry.
Given the proper priority, incentives and attention from all relevant quarters, Nepal could once again regain its Shangri-La status – this time as the Shangri-La of EV's.
(Mr. B.M. Sherchan is the immediate past Chairman of Electric Vehicle Association of Nepal)