Battery-run three-wheelers need policy support  

Ferdaus Ara Begum       | Published: July 03, 2018 21:56:28 | Updated: July 06, 2018 21:04:15

Battery-run three-wheelers (BRTW) are popularly known as Easy-Bikes and Tom-Toms in some districts of Bangladesh. It has been in use in the country since 2004, and has become one of most widely used means of transportation for the mass people in both urban and rural areas. A rough estimate says that more than 0.5 million battery-run electric three-wheelers are operating across the country, consuming a significant amount of electricity per day. Battery-run three-wheelers are increasingly replacing fuel-operated three-wheelers in the rural areas. This common form of vehicle around the country is generating important benefits. With a proper regulatory framework, these have the potential of creating huge economic, social and environmental benefits in Bangladesh.

Employment generation for a large number of individuals around the country, investment opportunities at low cost, reduced cost of driving, availability etc. are some of the key benefits obtained from the battery-run three-wheelers.

The vehicle is providing an alternative to the fuel dependency of the country's transport sector. Moreover, it is environment-friendly as it does not pollute air directly. Drivers, charging facilitators, garage and workshop owners, passengers, importers of spare parts are the key stakeholders in this sector. Although there is a huge market demand for these, there is lack of government initiative for the formalisation of this sector. The relevant authorities of the transport sector are not concerned about the operation of battery-run vehicles in the country. BUILD in collaboration with JETRO conducted a study and tried to gather information from several districts of the country through a survey to gauge the socio-economic profile of the major stakeholders and the action of relevant authorities regarding the formalisation of BRTWs. The survey revealed that there is much involvement of informal parties in the generation of revenues from this sector. 

 It has been found that there are various models of battery-run three-wheelers; some are called Borak (easy-bike) and others auto-rickshaw.  Borak can accommodate six passengers while auto-rickshaw has the capacity to accommodate two passengers. Of course, the design and types of auto-rickshaw varies from district to district. There are several models, namely Xinge, Speed Dowedo, Jet Fighter, MainbonTricycle, Gangchill, Xingebang, JT Tricycle, etc.

The speed of BRTW is maximum 30-35 km per hour. One BRTW or Electric Vehicle (EV) is normally driven by one driver, who works 8-10 hours a day. Garage charge and charging cost of EV per day are 100-200 BDT per day. Owner gets about 400 BDT per day per EV, and the driver gets 300-400 BDT. A BRTW (Borak) costs 130,000 to 170,000 BDT. A 2-seater Auto-rickshaw costs 55,000-70, 000 BDT.

A BRTW usually requires five batteries. It takes seven to ten hours to charge the batteries. In general, these batteries are charged from the domestic electricity lines. A few of them are charged from the commercial electricity lines as well. There is growing consumption of electricity as their number is increasing day by day. The BRTWs can replace the fuel operated CNGs and facilitate to some extent the minimisation of air pollution in the country.  They have economic, environmental and social benefits.

The government is losing revenue as only a few steps have been taken by the authorities to bring this sector under a formal framework. It is seen that registration fee, fitness certificate, driving license examination fee, tax token, route permit of a motor vehicle cost about BDT 5, 500 per vehicle. Therefore, government's revenue loss could be BDT 192.5 million per year. Electricity charging station could also be established to ensure legal charging of these three-wheelers. Reform of the BRTA policies is needed for bringing the battery-run three-wheelers under its control.

While analysing the present policies, it is seen that these vehicles need to fall under the category of motor vehicles for regulation by the BRTA. But due to some procedural and mechanical shortcomings, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) is unable to register easy-bikes as motor vehicles and provide licences, route permits and fitness certificates. There is a controversy regarding whether these easy-bikes are motor vehicles or not. According to section 34 (1) of the Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983 for registration of a motor vehicles, application has to be submitted under Form-H, as stated in the Schedule of the Ordinance. And according to sub-section (2) of section 34, a certificate is provided in Form-I of the Schedule under the Ordinance, which requires information regarding number of cylinders, chassis number, engine number, fuel used in engine, cubic capacity (CC) etc. Since there is no chassis number, engine number, cubic capacity, engine fuel in easy-bikes, the required information cannot be provided for easy-bikes as per statutory requirements. Consequently, these vehicles cannot be registered under the Ordinance.

As a stop-gap arrangement, these three-wheelers are now plying on roads with parking numbers given by city corporations, municipalities and union councils. However, the current arrangement is neither sustainable nor desirable for effective regulation of the transport sector.

Effective transportation system is positively related with economic development of a country. Bangladesh is highly dependent on fossil fuels for the transportation sector and is yet to achieve efficiency in terms of cost and energy use. It is high time Bangladesh adopted sustainable transportation system to become more energy-efficient.

As the world increasingly adopts sustainable models of development, many countries are trying to promote sustainable transportation with lower pollution level and more use of green energy. Around the world, 750 thousand electric cars were sold in 2016. In Bangladesh, private electric cars are yet to be popular; but battery-run three-wheeler auto-rickshaws - used as public transport - are rapidly gaining popularity. It has the capacity to play a vital role in the mass and green transportation, employment creation and development of new industry.

Low cost of operation, small initial capital and higher number of passengers carried at a time are  major advantages of BRTWs. These three-wheelers can provide economic benefits in the form of reduced fuel costs and reliance on locally produced electricity by shifting consumption away from imported oil. In addition to creating opportunities for employment directly, the fuel savings can facilitate a multiplier effect in the local economy by adding additional disposable income.

Lower travel cost, speed, comfort, availability and no visible negative effects on the environment are the main justifications for the mass people in using easy-bikes. These 3-wheelers have increased the physical and social mobility of ordinary people. Moreover, driving BRTW instead of manually driven ones is deemed prestigious by many drivers. In view of all its merits including the virtue of being a very easy and comfortable means of transportation, suitable policies are now required for this sector on an urgent basis.

Ferdaus Ara Begum is CEO of BUILD- a PPD Platform sponsored by DCCI, CCCI and MCCI.


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