Few years back, a term called ‘lahariya cut’ emerged in the public domain. It was mainly used to refer to those drivers (mainly bike and auto), who take a sudden turn, undermining the life of person driving his own vehicle on the left side. Somehow, the term disappeared but the phenomenon did not. Now, E Rickshaws have also entered into this chaotic segment.
Need for introduction of E-rickshaws
India got introduced to E-rickshaws when the state of pollution in the country used to make global headlines. Transport sector contributes to 13 per cent of the country’s overall emissions. Road transports still contribute 90 per cent of emissions from transport sector, making it a net contributor of 11.7 per cent of pollution in the country. These numbers are of 2021, which indicated that the situation was much worse in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
Our capital Delhi used to be declared as the most polluted city in the world. Apparently, Delhi was flooded with conventional three wheelers running on fossils. Greener autos were introduced, but even a LPG enabled 3-wheeler emits about 3.72 tonnes of Carbon dioxide per year. The continuation of the problem meant that Delhi had to look for greener sources of travel. Fittingly, Delhi became the first city in India to embrace the E rickshaws in early 2010s.
Driver friendly vehicle
Apparently, the ease which these rickshaws provide to rickshaws and auto drivers made it a trend to buy. E rickshaws do not require much physical labour to operate, due to which erstwhile rickshaw drivers jumped on to the opportunity.
Even the cost was not a problem, since it required initial investment in the range of 30-60 thousand. The responsibility of financing was taken care of by short loan schemes such as MUDRA Yojana and many others initiatives such as national Electric Mobility Mission, 2013, National Urban Livelihood Mission 2013, Smart City Mission, 2015, Faster Adaptation of Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME I and II). Even local moneylenders jumped on to provide easier credits to them.
Looking at their rickshaw rivals flourishing, a lot of auto drivers also switched to E rickshaws as well. Buying an auto rickshaw for commercial use costs Rs 1.5-3 lakh to average drivers, while E-rickshaws are sold at 30-40 per cent of this price range. For operating, they cost 0.4 per kilometre while auto rickshaws cost Rs 2.1-2.3 per kilometre.
Numbers on E rickshaws
Within no time, E rickshaws started to dominate the market. They became a major sub-segment of electric vehicles in India. E rickshaws comprise about 83 per cent of total electric vehicles in India.
The number is not expected to slow down in the near future as nearly 11,000 E rickshaws are sold every month in India. By the end of 2021, the E-rickshaw segment was valued at $1.1 billion, which is expected to clock $2.8 billion by 2027. The vertical expansion to tier-2 and tier-2 cities is going to prove the biggest enabler of the jump.
But there is a big problem with the numbers. Majority of e-rickshaws being sold in India are unregistered. For instance, in March 2021, nearly 1 lakh E rickshaws ran on Delhi roads, out of which only 5,891 were registered.
Situation has not improved in 17 months. In July 2022, Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) reported that only 1,823 units of E-rickshaws were sold in India. However, Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations (FADA)found that 25,984 vehicles were sold in the segment.
Informality in the sector
The discrepancy in numbers is indicative of laxity in implementation of regulations which are already quite less in the domain. These vehicles have a speed limit of 25 kilometres per hour, which means Regional Transport Offices (RTOs) can’t subject them to the same treatment as they do to other commercial vehicles. Despite so much relaxation, a basic regulatory requirement like road worthiness certificate is also not enforced by authorities.
They are everywhere
Resultantly, these E rickshaws are running Scott free. Plenty of these vehicles are made of lightweight steel and plastic. These are bought because compared to original heavyweight available in the market, they are easier to manoeuvre. A driver can use his bare hands to push the lightweight vehicles.
The small size they occupy compared to original ones also enables drivers to not abide by traffic rules. Throughout the last few years, E rickshaws have been found in most unconventional places such as narrow streets, parked on one-way roads, under the gutters and even in those manholes that get exposed during rain.
They are doing everything
One big reason behind them going haywire is their drivers’ inability to identify their limits. These vehicles are designed to carry 4 people and a driver. The wider seat of the driver is provided in order to enable him to sit comfortably while operating the wider handle. But they use the seat to load 2 more people. Moreover, instead of 4 people in the back seat, they get 6 on board.
If that is not enough, these E-rickshaws are also being used to transport heavy stuff from one place to another. Small industrial units which generally use 3-wheelers to transport heavy iron and steel stuff also are also using E-rickshaws to transport them for short distances. Students and people looking to save money hire them for transporting their household items from one place to another. E-Rickshaws are not made for that. Resultantly, more often than not, they collapse on roads.
Purpose is getting defeated
Additionally, prevailing informality is also nullifying the motive of bringing E-rickshaw in India. E-rickshaw owners are required to use lithium-ion batteries. However, in order to save cost, informal drivers, which are in majority, use lead-acid batteries. These batteries weigh 80 kilograms, but have less mileage. Logically, they require more electricity. It has to be plugged in for 8-10 hours on a charging station run by electricity produced by fossil fuel (Coal).
E-rickshaws were put forth to make public transport easy. They were supposed to provide a seamless mode of transport with less pollution, both air and noise. Somehow, that purpose is being defeated and the reason is the government not taking their menace seriously.
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