Ministry of Information and Communications

USD 3 mn project under implementation to convert 300 taxis to electric vehicles

Under the Government’s project, Bhutan Sustainable Low Emission Urban Transport System, 300 Electric Vehicles (EVs) will be rolled out to the taxi sector in Thimphu by 2021. The Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) will implement the project supported by Global Environment Facility (GEF) with technical support from UNDP. 80 EVs are to be instated in Thimphu by December.

The Project Manager, Phub Gyeltshen, said switching taxis to EVs started in 2014 by GNHC as a pilot project, with the aim to bring in around 1,000 Nissan LEAF EVs. However, there were not many takers for EVs, especially taxi drivers, as they were not convinced with the performance of the second hand EVs with a range of about 70 km to 80 km per charge.

Phub Gyeltshen said it took almost a year to come up with the concept note. They had to convince the donor with the idea to bring in EV in the country. GEF supported the project with USD 3 million with the target to reduce emission in the country.

He said every year, there is 15 percent of traffic growth and 10 years down the line, the emission will be triple, and it is quite concerning. As per the survey they have done, transport is the highest emitter in the country, emitting 45 percent.

Therefore, it is a race against time to have firm action plans to counter rising levels of pollution, and retain Bhutan’s position as a carbon negative nation.

“We have more than 2,000 taxis in Thimphu, and given the fact that the taxis are the ones to pollute more, contributing to GFC because of their frequent mobility than the other car users,” said Phub Gyeltshen.

He said taxis travel not less than 170 km within the city in a day. Some taxis also travel more than 200 km. He added that the taxi sector has the potential to reduce emission, and therefore, fulfill the global target.

This is the reason why the project focuses on giving EVs to the taxi sector.

“We can substantially reduce emission as well as reduce dependency on fossil fuel and also benefits to individuals including the government,” said Phub Gyelthsen.

He also highlighted that in European countries, the annual death rate is around 7 million due to air pollution that is mostly associated with vehicular emission.

In 2016, World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the air quality in Thimphu is beyond permissible level. “Thimphu is not safe in terms of the air we breathe in, that is why the project focuses on Thimphu, and also the majority of vehicles are in Thimphu,” the Project Manager said.

There are more than 180 applications from taxi drivers for the subsidy to purchase EVs. MoIC is giving 20 percent as subsidy, 50 percent as loan from financial institution and 30 percent the buyers will have to pay.

In terms of eligibility, the taxi drivers whose taxis are nearing expiry, that is about 9 years, will be given the subsidy. During meeting with the taxi drivers, young people came forth requesting the government to consider them as well. The eligibility matter will be put up to the project board, said Phub Gyeltshen.

He said the people are still reluctant to go for EVs due to the lack of awareness. However, taxi drivers have been told that improved third generation EVs with better range, better battery and technology considering all the geographic terrains, temperature, altitude, road conditions and other factors, are to be imported in time round.

Since the ministry is injecting 20 percent as subsidy from the government, now the ministry has the obligation to make sure that the product is of higher quality and also they have to build the image of the electric cars in the country, he said.

MoIC has chosen four qualified car dealers, Thunder Motors, Bhutan Hyundai Motors and Kuenphen Motors, for supplying the EVs for the project. These dealers will deal with Nissan LEAF, third generation mini bus, Hyundai Ioniq, HiAce bus and Auda. He said the dealers will only deal with EVs which would run minimum of 200 km range per single charge, battery warranty and clearance.

The ministry has also consulted with international experts and the findings were presented to all the car dealers in Thimphu. “We are making sure that it will be convenient for the taxi drivers,” said Phub Gyeltshen.

The price of the EV will depend on the model, battery pack and range. Starting from Nu 1.5 million to Nu 2.5 million.

In order to cater to the needs of 300 taxis, the ministry is installing 15 public fast charger (50 kW DC) that can support both CHAdeMO and CCS types in Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Wangdue, Punakha and Phuentsholing, and the along Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway, he said.

As of now, there are five charging stations supported by JICA and one by Thunder Motors. All five charging stations are Japanese type CHAdeMO supporting only a particular brand of EV.

Phub Gyeltshen said there is bound to be public criticism during the implementation process. A criticism already made was that promotion of electric cars, as the preferred mode of motor transport, should start with the government agency as setting an example.

According to the public, EVs are quite luxurious cars and the cost is very high as compared to other ordinary cars. It is no use to promote the electric cars to those who cannot afford, rather if the government agencies and other bureaucrats can buy and set an example and also contribute to the government’s emission reduction. This would also gain people’s trust but it is other way round.

Phub Gyeltshen said the pooling vehicles within agencies are all run on fossil fuel, with the annual fuel budget allocated is Nu100,000 and it gets over by 5 months.

“But if the government replaces their pooled vehicles with EVs, then the government will not have to worry about allocating fuel budget and more over the maintenance is 80 percent cheaper,” said Phub Gyeltshen.

Electric Vehicles will help in reduction of emission and dependency on fossil fuel will be reduced significantly. As of now there are around 102 EVs registered in the country.

The EVs will have green number plates that would mean zero emission cars, and given a certain degree of recognition and ease in parking as well. “We are also proposing on waiving off registration fees for EVs to intensify the EV drivers,” added the project manager.

Meanwhile, the other dealers can also sell EVs but they will not be eligible for the subsidy.

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