When India imposed a trade embargo on Nepal in 2015, virtually halting gasoline supplies, traffic came to a grinding halt in most towns and cities. Motor vehicles disappeared from the streets, and people had to travel on foot.

But a few cities were not as badly affected by the gasoline shortage thanks to electric, three-wheeled vehicles, or “e-rickshaws”. Since 2015, there has been a marked rise in the use of these vehicles, especially in the Tarai Region in southern Nepal where they are known as City Safari vehicles.

The three-wheelers are relatively inexpensive to use, and with short city commutes costing only 20 to 50 Nepalese rupees (80 sen to RM2) per passenger, they have emerged as an alternative for people with low incomes.

Students and farmers, for instance, have been the biggest beneficiaries of these vehicles, with many farmers using them to get their harvests to market nowadays. For Jitendra Dhimal of Lakhanpur, Jhapa District, City Safari is a great way for his family to move about the city.

“A City Safari can accommodate a whole family and is affordable,” says Dhimal. “In the past, travelling 2km to 3km on foot to the market used to be routine. But now, things have changed. City Safari is there to take us anywhere.”

Other than benefiting the poor, e-rickshaws are also offering Nepal a chance to reduce its ballooning dependency on imported petroleum products. And, vitally, the low-emissions, environmentally-friendly three-wheelers could also help to mitigate climate change effects.

The vehicles can travel more than 100km on a full charge in a city but are less efficient in hill and mountain country, so their use should be encouraged in the southern plains. In fact, they are doing quite well in such regions already, even becoming so popular in some cities that they have replaced the formerly ubiquitous cycle rickshaws.

According to statistics from Nepal’s Department of Transport Management, imports of e-rickshaws jumped to more than 20,000 in the last fiscal year, up 38% from the previous year. In Itahari Sub-Metropolitan City alone, 1,597 e-rickshaws have been registered in the last two years.

For many unemployed youths, electric rickshaws are an attractive means of earning an income due to the low up-front investment required in return for a high yield. On average, a City Safari operator can earn 1,000 Nepalese rupees (RM40) daily. And apart from the initial payment to buy the vehicle and the daily cost of charging its batteries, there are no other expenses involved.

Dil Maya Shrestha, of Urlabari in the Morang District, says e-rickshaws are providing immediate employment for Nepalese returning home after working abroad. “Most returnees are purchasing e-rickshaws and are making a handsome income.”

Netra Bahadur Khadka, member of the Nepal Auto Rickshaw Driver Association, says he has been earning 1,000 Nepalese rupees (RM40) a day with an e-rickshaw – enough to feed his family of four. Khadka, who spent 10 years in the United Arab Emirates, has been driving one of the vehicles for the last six months. – The Kathmandu Post/Asia News Network