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Tuesday, 13 August, 2002, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
Nepal 'clean' cars face threat
Safa tempo in Kathmandu, Nepal
Electric vehicles are a familiar sight in Kathmandu

Electric vehicles introduced onto the streets of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, in a bid to combat pollution are now struggling to survive.


We have to compete with big diesel powered buses...How can we survive?

Hridaya Naryan Manandhar, Chairman of E-Van
When the government banned diesel powered three-wheelers in Kathmandu three years ago, they were replaced with 600 electric vehicles - known as "Safa Tempos".

They are small buses carrying around 10 people which do not emit carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and a range of other greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

But at a time when scientists have recorded a new environmental phenomenon - the Asian 'brown haze' - these vehicles are under threat.

Diesel competition

Originally, electric three-wheelers were the only vehicles exempt from all but a token amount of customs duty and value added tax.

But the government then extended tax breaks to other more polluting forms of transport such as large diesel passenger buses and three wheelers powered by bottled cooking gas.

Hridaya Naryan Manandhar, Chairman of E-Van - the Electric Vehicle Association of Nepal, complains that now "we have to compete with big diesel-powered buses, which can run very cost-efficiently."

Safa Tempos also provide work for hundreds of people - drivers (many of them women), mechanics and others who work in battery-charging stations.

And instead of using imported diesel, they run on hydro-electricity produced in Nepal, saving the country hard-earned foreign currency.

Traffic jams

But Safa Tempos have a problem - they are slow moving and have consequently been blamed for worsening Kathmandu's traffic problems.

Rickshaws in Kathmandu
Traffic moves slowly in Kathmandu
Two years ago the government attempted to ban the registration of new three-wheeler electric vehicles in the city for this very reason.

But the director of Nepal Electric Vehicle Industries, Ashok Raj Pandey, points to bad traffic regulation as the problem.

"Pedestrians cross indiscriminately, drivers take right turns in places where they should not be allowed to turn and now you have these big buses, carrying some 40 passengers, stopping anywhere."

Supporters of the Safa Tempo say the government needs to encourage environmentally-friendly transport.

They want special routes solely for electric vehicles in crowded inner city and heritage areas.

This, they say, could be the only way to ensure the Safa Tempo's survival in Nepal.

See also:

11 Aug 02 | Science/Nature
08 Jun 00 | South Asia
28 Jul 99 | South Asia
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