In Nepal, electric rickshaws provide a means of earning a living for struggling families who aren’t in a position to make a large capital investment. Quotas and restrictive regulations had pushed most e-rickshaw drivers into the gray market, however, where they are subject to harsh fines and corrupt solicitations from law enforcement officials. Nepal-based Atlas Network partner Bikalpa, an Alternative reports that there were already more than 1,000 e-rickshaws operating in the municipality of Biratnagar when government officials there decreed an arbitrary cap of 300. The organization has helped to eliminate that quota through its research and advocacy, but many regulatory hurdles remain.
“Kapil Sharma is a middle aged [laborer] who like numerous other Nepalese returned back from Qatar after his health was adversely affected due to the working conditions there,” Bikalpa explains. “He invested his hard earned money to buy an electric rickshaw so that he could earn a living by staying with his family. After he had brought the rickshaw he was aghast to find that the Municipality of Biratnagar had unilaterally fixed a quota for the number of electric rickshaws. So he could never get his electric rickshaw registered. Soon he was regularly bullied by the traffic police and many times he had to pay large amount as bribes. Like many others he had to drive hiding from the police so that he could pay his loan installments on time. There are several such stories in Biratnagar.”
Bikalpa reports that today in Biratnagar, more than 1,500 e-rickshaws serve more than 50,000 customers daily, which has led to drastically reduced transportation costs. The price of a trip from the city center to the border of India has dropped from Rs. 100 to only Rs. 30.
“The economic impact of electric rickshaw is huge,” Bikalpa writes. “But the lacklustre approach of the government to come up with concrete policy was lacking. From Licensing, to registering and operating electric rickshaw, the government hasn’t been able to frame any kind of feasible policy for the electric rickshaw.”
Bikalpa sponsored a series of public discussions on the benefits of e-rickshaws and the destructive effects of a heavy regulatory load. The organization also took its case to the media, in online publications, television broadcasts, and newspapers. Bikalpa also produced a short video dramatizing the difficulties that e-rickshaw drivers face when governments stand in the way of their entrepreneurial efforts. Although eliminating the e-rickshaw quota has been a tremendous step in favor of economic freedom for drivers who rely on the vehicles to support their families, Bikalpa is committed to continuing its fight against the restrictive licensing and permitting that remains, as well as the regime uncertainty of the municipal regulatory climate.
“There is a need for a concrete policy to encourage such new technologies to enter the market,” Bikalpa concludes. “And with an aim to protect economic freedom and insure livelihood is not affected by government policies. Bikalpa is carrying out further research on framing a better policy recommendation for electric vehicle management in the city of Biratnagar.”