To facilitate change in the country’s urban transport sector through the promotion of Electric Vehicles (EVs) for cabbies, a consultation meeting was conducted in Thimphu on January 18.

Project Manager Phub Gyeltshen said focus was on taxi drivers registered in Thimphu because it was found that taxis travelled the whole day, which meant more emissions.

Taxis on average travel about 75,000 kilometres in a year, he said.

The three-year (2019-2021) project called ‘Bhutan Sustainable Low-emission Urban Transport System’ will provide a subsidy of USD 5,500 for about 300 taxi operators.

The project was approved on September 28 last year.

About 23 quick charging stations would be installed to promote low emission vehicles and EVs.

A feasibility study for installation of Quick Charging Stations was carried out in Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Wangdue, Punakha, and Phuentsholing.

Road Safety and Transport Authority’s (RSTA) director general, Pemba Wangchuk, said that the meeting was also to create awareness about EVs among taxi drivers. “There were misconceptions about the EVs that the subsidy was only for those registered with taxi association. We wanted to know if taxi operators were keen on buying EVs.”

If there are more than 300 cabbies interested in EVs, then we would provide subsidy based on criteria, he said. “If there are less than 300 cabbies, then we might have to come up with other alternatives.”

Phub Gyeltshen said that the project would also support the effort to reduce fossil fuel import. “Those interested would be able to get 50 percent loan. The Royal Monetary Authority approved to increase the loan to 50 percent from the existing 30 percent.”

However, a cabbie is allowed to own only one vehicle. “Policy review, capacity development, and strengthening coordination mechanism will be taken up as a part of project.”

Pemba Wangchuk said: “Taxi is important and they play a critical role in providing public service. However, in recent days, there have been complaints from people. More people are buying cars, one of the reasons is overcharging.”

One of the taxi drivers, Dorji Wangdi, said that in 2015, he drove a secondhand electric vehicle but he had to sell it because of shortage charging stations. “Even with a full charge, the battery lasted only for about four hours.”

He said that fuel of about Nu 15,000 was spent in a month, while charging cost was only about Nu 3, 500.

Another taxi driver who had been in the business for eight years, Sangay Chophel, said that it was risky even with the subsidy. “As cabbies, we need to buy cars that we can afford. I have loan of about Nu 600,000. I cannot even clear this loan. Availability of vehicle parts and battery is another concern.”

Global Environmental Facility funded about USD 3 million for the project.

Rinchen Zangmo