80 EV taxis to be rolled out by year end

The switch to electric vehicles, it is anticipated, would enable the country to cut down fuel import and save millions in fuel costs

Since the beginning of the project this year, around 40 taxi drivers in Thimphu have registered with the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) to replace their fossil-fueled taxis with electric vehicles.

Project Manager from MoIC Phub Gyeltshen said they are looking at rolling out 80 EV taxis by the end of this year, 100 more in 2020 and another 120 in 2021.

“This would be a four-fold increase in the number of EV taxis from 99 today to 399 by the end of the project period,” he added. 

Meanwhile, the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting Bhutan in its efforts to transition to electric vehicles to cut down on fossil fuel emissions.

The project aims to have 300 taxi operators move from their fossil-fueled vehicles to electric ones within three years.

The initiative’s goal is also to maintain its position of being a carbon neutral country by curtailing the emission to remain within the carbon sequestration capacity.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is funding the project with US$ 3mn.

The project has been incepted considering the millions Bhutan spend on petrol and diesel import every year as the country’s transport sector relies heavily on fossil fuels. Air pollution is also an emerging concern in the country with vehicle emissions being among the major air pollutants. Through the initiative, Bhutan estimates that it will reduce carbon emissions by 93,000 tons over the lifetime of the vehicle.

Through the taxi sector, the Bhutan Sustainable Low-emission Urban Transport Systems project is expected to pave the way for a wide-scale switch from fossil-fueled cars to electric vehicles in the country.

UNDP Administrator and UN Under-Secretary-General Achim Steiner, who visited the EV charging station built by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) above the Memorial Chorten on Wednesday morning, commended the government on the exemplary initiative.

“With global carbon emissions growing to all-time high, Bhutan’s commitment to maintaining its carbon neutral status serves as an inspiration for countries around the world hoping to pursue low carbon development paths,” he said.

“Such green and clean initiatives are critical in the fight against the worst effects of climate change, and I look forward to hearing more about successful initiative like these at the Climate Summit at the UN in September,” he added.  

Meanwhile, the electric vehicle initiative made its debut in Bhutan in 2014. Since then, the promotion of low emission vehicles as a preferred mode of urban transportation has gained momentum in addressing growing problems associated with traffic growth and carbon emissions.

According to project manager Phub Gyeltshen, the government recognizes the need to address and curtail the rapid growth of fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions in the transport sector, along with improving the quality and accessibility of transport services to the people.

He said taxis offer high visibility in raising awareness among the public on low emission vehicles and its benefits.

Meanwhile, it is expected that the initiative would obviously come with significant health, environmental and cost benefits. Though taxis account for only 5% of the total vehicle fleet in Bhutan, their contribution to carbon emissions and fossil fuel is three times higher due to higher travel intensity and mileage of about 75,000kms per year.

The switch to electric vehicles, it is anticipated, would enable the country to cut down fuel import and save millions in fuel costs.

According to the Bhutan’s National Statistical Bureau, the country spent Nu 7.53bn (US$115m) in 2016 on fuel import, thus not only exerting pressure on the country’s foreign exchange accounts, but also exposing the country to energy security risk. Fuel imports also present serious threats to Bhutan’s commitment to remain carbon neutral. The Bhutan Sustainable Low-emission Urban Transport System Project is implemented by the MoIC with support from UNDP Bhutan. The UNDP has been a long-time partner of Bhutan in climate change mitigation.

Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu