By Pulkit Khurana
By connecting the last-mile section with affordable and environment-friendly commute options, e-rickshaws help curb the carbon trail of cities, making them more liveable. The e-rickshaws have been playing a key role in the growth of electric vehicles in India.
Electric rickshaws or e-rickshaws are a unique product in the Indian mobility ecosystem. They fulfil a dual role of intermediate para transit form factor where they do not follow fixed routes or schedules (unlike hired vehicles) and also those of shared last-mile runs between interchange hubs or on fixed high-density routes.
India has witnessed huge adoption of these electric vehicles with more than two million on the road, serving 70 million-plus passengers daily. They constitute more than 80% of the electric vehicles in India and provide the much-needed shared, affordable commute option to end-users.
Last-mile options and more
E-rickshaws have filled the gap in the first and last-mile shared solution that was needed to drive higher traffic for the public transit system in India. In larger cities, e-rickshaws are the quintessential feeder options to metro stations, bus stops, railway stations and all forms of major transit hubs.
Environment-friendly vehicles have emerged as the most credible replacement options for ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) autos or auto-rickshaws. At Rs1.2-1.5 lakh, not only does it cost 50% less to own an e-rickshaw, but it is also much cheaper to operate, costing less than Rs0.5/km to drive and maintain an e-rickshaw against Rs2.2/km for an auto-rickshaw. Instead of CNG auto-rickshaws, using e-rickshaws would also save 400,000 metric tonnes of CO₂ emissions annually.
Multiple government initiatives have aided the phenomenal growth of e-rickshaws in India. Beginning with the 2013 National Electric Mobility Mission 2013, Faster Adoption of Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME-I and FAME -II) subsidy schemes from DHI (Department of Heavy Industries), numerous state government incentives through preferential power rates and subsidies and various loan schemes, including the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana.
As a result of such massive opportunities and buoyed by regulatory tailwinds as well as the ease of assembling such products, there are more than 700 OEMs in the SME sector involved in manufacturing e-rickshaws. On one hand, while this provides new business opportunities to smaller industries, on the other, it also results in sub-standard products where many safety guidelines are ignored. There are products on the road that do not go through the mandated i-CAT or ARAI-related safety approvals, posing serious safety concerns.
Managing unbridled growth
Another consequence of this unbridled development has been that almost all e-rickshaws in the market came with lead-acid batteries, which are not well suited for the mobility applications. Not only because these batteries need to be replaced every 6-8 months at prohibitive costs of Rs 25,000-30,000, but also due to lack of proper disposal mechanisms, posing environmental hazards.
It is imperative to transition these electric vehicles to Li-ion-based batteries for better performance, longer life and ease of maintenance. With the government’s recent push for setting up advanced chemistry cells production in India, the costs of such batteries will come down further. There are also novel innovations from the private sector such as batteries as a service and battery-swapping services, which are attempting to provide advanced batteries to e-rickshaws on an op-ex basis, thereby making it affordable for drivers.
E-rickshaws have deeply penetrated North Indian states and, recently, are also growing in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. But there are still large states, such as Maharashtra and Karnataka, where e-rickshaws have not been allowed. These states can also emerge as major markets for e-rickshaws, especially cities such as Bangalore and Mumbai that harbour a high density of ICE autos, which can benefit by replacing the autos with e-rickshaws.
Arguments about e-rickshaws leading to more traffic in congested cities are quite hollow since multiple studies have proven that they essentially aid in public transport adoption like metros and buses and are, in fact, replacing ICE autos or manual rickshaws. Moreover, as a 4-seater vehicle instead of a 3-seater, fewer units are required. Cities such as Delhi have greatly benefited by smartly adopting policies where major roads do not allow low-speed vehicles but all arterial roads can benefit from high-density e-rickshaw vehicles feeding metro stations and bus stops.
In a nutshell, e-rickshaws are a great electric vehicle form factor that suits Indian needs for a highly liquid, affordable, shared commute option that is not self-driven. It is only beneficial to promote this product further across India along with associated services and innovation. This will boost the ecosystem around e-rickshaws, ensuring it is more comfortable for users, making it run further and helping it charge more efficiently and easily.
In essence, e-rickshaws are a winning proposition for both the people and the planet.
(Pulkit Khurana is the Co-founder of Battery Smart.)
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