Photo Courtesy: Thomson Reuters Foundation news

EV-taxis at a growing advantage with zero fuel cost and high income

With a target to procure 300 Electric Vehicles (EVs) in the country before the end of project in September, the government is yet to procure 130 EVs while they have already procured 170 EVs.

The project was started in September 2018. The pandemic has impacted the project in many ways.

The government is optimistic that by the end of September this year the cars will be in the country. As per the report, electric vehicles are apparently on the way. EVs are procured from India, South Korea, China, and Japan.

The current vehicle import restriction allows electric and fossil taxis due for replacement to be replaced.

With just 39 charging stations in seven dzongkhags, there is a serious issue of shortage of charging stations. Of the 39 charging stations, 20 are Direct Current (DC) rapid chargers and 19 are Alternating Current (AC) slow chargers.

The EV drivers opt for DC over AC given less time consumption. And the great thing about EVs is that an individual can charge their cars at home also.

Although the electricity consumption is very low, which comes around Nu 90 per day to charge full, the government is footing the bill to stimulate EV adoption.

In addition, even though the government was providing 20 percent direct financial subsidies and tax exemptions when the initiative first began, individuals were not excited.  It was learnt that the initial cost of an EV is substantial, but it is steadily declining.

The Executive Director of Taxi Association, Tshering Penjor, said that lack of charging station is the biggest challenge at the moment because of the increase in number of EVs in the country.

He said, “However, we are happy that government has a plan to install new charging stations. We are assuming that this challenge is temporary. Once we have enough charging station, it will not only address the issue, but will boost the business amongst the EV drivers.”

The EV taxis are doing well for now. With minimum expenditure, some of the EV taxis charge less than that of fossil-fuel taxis.

They are at advantage as they do not have to worry about the fuel price and the demand over the EV taxis among the passengers is on the rise. There is competition between the two taxis, he said, adding that if the fuel price keeps increasing the fossil fuel taxis will have tough time competing against the EV taxis.

“We are service providers and we abide by the rules that is implemented by the Road and Safety Transport Authority (RSTA). We do not increase the fare as and when we want, and thereby, we do not have different rates for the two types of taxis,” he added.

However, if the EV taxis are charging less than the set amount to benefit the passengers then they definitely have no rights to tell them to increase the fare to the original rate. The rate should not exceed but they can charge less.

For the time being, the EV taxis are parked near Jojo’s Building, and they are hoping to get one permanent green parking for the EVs.

Meanwhile, the EV Project Manager, Sonam Tobgye, said that EVs are a completely different technology than Internal Combustion (IC) and fossil fuel vehicles. Over 30,000 moving components are used in IC cars.

“There will be more maintenance when there are more moving components. Even if you buy a brand-new car, maintenance occurs after the 3rd or 4th year. However, electric vehicles have just 20 moving components and low maintenance cost,” he stated.

Therefore, he said that people with a concern over high maintenance cost and not getting the spare parts of the EVs should not worry.

Given the shortage of charging stations, he said that they will build charging stations in the remaining 13 dzongkhags which will be completed by the end of this year.

He said, “Because of the large number of cars, we will initially install extra chargers in Thimphu and then go on to other places. We will also build in strategic locations such as Rukubji, Sengor, Wamrong, and Nganglam because these are national highways.”

They are looking for a place, whereby they need not have to move or relocate the charging stations with the construction boom, particularly in cities.

He said that the government went a step further, stating that it would provide a 70 percent collateral free loan. This decision took some time to reach, and Bank of Bhutan decided to provide a 70 percent collateral loan.

“The Non-Performing Loan (NPL) in the transportation sector is high, and among them, the NPL for taxis is substantial. All the financial institutions were skeptical, which was logical given that they need to make a profit,” he said.

It was learnt that there were 29 defaulters out of many during the extended lockdown. Those who had money continued to repay the loans while the 29 defaulters were unable to pay for two months, thus the bank followed-up with them.

He said, “We’re just getting started, so trust should be the first step. We must convey the message, as well as inform them that if they do not repay their loans, they will face repercussions and penalties imposed by the bank,” he said.

The Taxi Association started a group guarantee scheme between 2019 and 2020 where four taxi drivers register with the association and formed a group. These four people will purchase EVs and if one fails to pay the loan, the others will take responsibility and follow up.

Nevertheless, they are picking up and more people are coming forward to buy EV. Moreover, they have received a recommendation from the Truck Association to explore the possibility of procuring electric trucks in future.

For technical safety, the Department of Technical Education, Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) is developing a separate curriculum for the EV drivers, both private and government, to educate them on how to charge and the percentage to be charged, which if not known would hamper the battery life.

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