Delay in supply affects taxi drivers

Tashi Dema & Tashi Tenzin

Almost nine months after ordering an electric vehicle (EV), a Thimphu-based taxi driver is still waiting.

He allegedly sold off his taxi to pay the advance for the EV in February this year and is now working as a daily wage earner.

He is not alone.

Many taxi drivers who booked EVs from a dealer through a project aimed at replacing fossil fuel-driven taxis in three years, claim the wait has been too long.

A taxi driver, who sold his WagonR to pay the advance of Nu 150,000 had to ask for refund. “I cannot buy a new taxi with the money and have no means to earn income.”

Another taxi driver said that they were initially told EVs would arrive by March, then by June and then in November. “It’s the last week of the month.”

Taxi drivers said they ordered EVs because of its benefit to the environment. “But now we are affected because of the delay in delivery.”

Four EV dealers, Bhutan Hyundai Motors, Kuenphen Motors, Thunder Motors, and Karjung Motors, have been awarded the contract to supply seven different models of EVs with a battery capacity ranging from 260km per charge to 412km.

The complaint about delayed delivery was against Kuenphen Motors, which has about 124 orders.

Taxi drivers alleged that the dealer already took 10 percent from them as advance and 20 percent subsidy from the project, ‘Bhutan Sustainable Low Emission Urban Transport Systems’.

The owner of Kuenphen Motors said that the global pandemic had affected the delivery. 

He explained that although the project started in December last year, Covid-19 problem in China impacted the manufacturers of EVs, causing a backlog of orders. “Although the situation improved in April, stringent protocols were put in place.”

He said they had to negotiate the price, as the manufacturers increased the price because of economic recessions. “Our order is minimal comparing to orders from Europe and other developed nations.”

According to the dealer, even if the vehicles arrived, there were problems in financing, which was resolved only last week. “The EVs will be here in December.”

Project manager, Phub Gyeltshen, also said the cars would have arrived if there was no global pandemic. “Disruption in the supply chain, regulation and restriction in every port caused the delay. It was beyond the government’s control and there was no way we could expedite it.”

He said two EVs supplied by Bhutan Hyundai Motors, which reached the country before the Covid-19 issue were running as taxis and Karjung Motors managed to procure three EVs in October.

The project manager also said they got written commitment from Kuenphen Motors that the EVs would be in the country by December. “There is no way we could penalise the dealer, as it is disrupted like many other projects in the country.”

The project has floated an expression of interest (EOI) to select new dealers with new models of EVs to provide more choice to the taxi drivers.

Meanwhile, the project intends to complete commissioning 15 charging stations in six dzongkhags by the end of December.

“The installation of charging station was delayed because of difficulty in getting transformers from India because of the pandemic,” Phub Gyeltshen said. “Now all the 15 transformers are delivered and work resumed. It’s almost 80 percent complete.”

Taxi drivers do not agree.

The chairperson for Bhutan Taxi Association, Rinzin Chophel, said he sold his taxi a year ago and was waiting for the EV. “I don’t think the charging station would be ready even if the vehicles arrive.”

According to the project manager, they are also in the process of preparing a road map for EV until 2035. “This will be a holistic policy development whereby it will determine the share of EV against conventional cars for the next 15 years.”

It was learnt that the government had issued directives in April to all government agencies to procure EV as pool vehicles.