Electric rickshaws run out of steam | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 30, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 30, 2011

Electric rickshaws run out of steam

Importers of battery-run electric rickshaws now mull a legal battle challenging a government ban recently slapped on these vehicles across the country.
The government in an inter-ministerial meeting on May 5 banned import and assembly of the vehicles and decided to send off-road those already plying, primarily on the ground that it consumes electricity mostly through illegal connections.
“We will challenge the government decision in court,” said Md Shahjahan Mridha Benu, president of Bangladesh Electric Vehicle Importers Association. The electricity-run 'green' vehicles neither use fossil fuel nor emit carbon, he said.
Benu said they have so far marketed 50,000 battery-run three-wheelers also known as Easybike, while the government puts the figure at four to five lakh.
It was reported that the battery-run rickshaws consume at least 300 megawatts of electricity every day to recharge their batteries.
Tapan Kumar Sarkar, director (enforcement) of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), said the three-wheelers are unsafe when they ply alongside large vehicles on highways; they are also hazardous to the environment as they throw away life-expired batteries just anywhere.
The importers, however, argued that distributors of motorised auto-rickshaw prompted the government decision on an exaggerated allegation of power pilferage, as they are losing the market with the rising popularity of battery-powered three-wheelers.
Battery-run rickshaws could be a low-emitter complementary transport for the low-income people, who suffer most from a lack of transport facility, if introduced in a systematic manner, said experts.
It is useful in respect of transport service, environment and business, said Prof Md Shamsul Hoque, a civil engineer of Buet and transport expert.
It does not pollute air, carries two or three times more passengers charging less fare compared to manually-operated rickshaws and they are faster, driver-friendly and safe, Hoque said.
To harvest its benefits, the government has to put an effective mechanism in place to prevent electricity pilferage to recharge the bike batteries, address random dumping of used batteries and stop their plying on the highways, said the professor.
A top official of Bangladesh Power Development Board said two-thirds of the battery-run rickshaws run on pilfered electricity connecting metal hooks directly with supply lines, while the rest depend on plugging into domestic connections, neither of which is acceptable. A commercially-run vehicle has to pay for power at commercial rates, he added.
Maa Enterprise first introduced the vehicles on a commercial basis in Comilla in 2004 and then the company joined hands with Bangladesh Diesel Plant (BDP), a subsidiary of Bangladesh Army, to do the business jointly.
They imported the three-wheelers from China and marketed it in 2008.
SM Munir, general manager of BDP, said the amount of electricity consumption is exaggerated and without any basis. Each vehicle consumes at best five watts of electricity during off-peak hours to recharge the batteries and 50,000 bikes consume at best 25 megawatts.
“A section of transport businessmen expedited the ban, as fuel-run auto-rickshaws are losing market in the face of increasing popularity of the battery-run vehicles," he said.
The cost of a battery-run vehicle ranges from Tk 1 lakh to 1.2 lakh and one may get his money back in seven months, said Munir.
A battery-powered rickshaw is faster than a cycle rickshaw and carries three to six passengers, that is, it can replace three rickshaws to resolve rickshaw-related traffic jams, he said.
According to records, Dhaka Transport Coordination Board said battery-run tricycles would save fuel and the environment. It recommended that the authorities concerned would set up battery charging stations and issue operating licence.
In reply to the importers' application, the BRTA said the vehicles were non-motorised and the local government could decide on the matter. Local government bodies, including city corporations and municipalities, issued licences to the battery-powered rickshaws in parts of the country.
The Dhaka City Corporation in 2009 approved a total of 7,000 battery-run rickshaws of Maa Enterprise and BDP to run in the capital and realised licence fees at the rate of Tk 1,500 per vehicle but has not issued licences to date, as the ministry did not approve the policy and bylaws in this regard.
The National Road Safety Council last year decided not to allow operation of non-motorised vehicles like shallow tube-well machine-run 'Nasimon', 'Karimon' and Easybikes on highways.

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