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Regulate, don't ban, says study on easy bikes

Jun 3, 2024

| Asifur Rahman

Battery-run three-wheelers, also known as Easybike, parked along Dhaka-Mawa highway in Nimtoli. Defying a government ban, such small, flimsy vehicles ply the highway while the authorities look the other way. The photo was taken yesterday.

Bangladesh's 1.4 million battery-run auto-rickshaws, commonly known as easy-bikes, consume only 659 MW of electricity per day, merely 2.5 percent of the country's total installed capacity, according to a study by the Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network.

These three-wheelers, the cheapest mode of transportation due to their low energy cost, serve around 25 million people for short-distance commuting. "It can boost the national economy by reducing the import of fossil fuels, controlling air pollution and emissions, and ensuring cheaper commuting," reads the study, titled, "Easy Bikes: A Savior to the Power Sector of Bangladesh."

Initially imported from China, most easy-bikes are now locally manufactured using a mix of local and imported technologies. Approximately 45 million people are involved in the manufacturing, repairing, driving, servicing, and charging of these vehicles. "An easy bike costs Tk 0.97 per kilometre, nine times more affordable than a sedan car (Tk 8.60/km) and half the cost of bus services (Tk 2.15/km per person)," said Hasan Mehedi, CEO of CLEAN.

Easy-bikes are also safer, accounting for 8.6 percent of road accidents over the past seven years, compared to 9 percent for CNG auto-rickshaws, 15.7 percent for buses, 24.6 percent for motorbikes, and 27 percent for truck-lorries. Private cars and microbuses are the safest with 5.9 percent of accidents. On May 15, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority decided to ban battery-run auto-rickshaws in Dhaka, but later suspended the decision following protests from rickshaw owners and pullers.

The study revealed that the easy-bike system contributes approximately Tk 97,625 crore ($9.4 billion) to the national economy, including Tk 7,500 crore ($802 million) from manufacturing, Tk 8,000 crore ($942 million) from the battery market, and Tk 82,125 crore ($7.6 billion) from commuting, servicing, and charging services. "Banning these vehicles will significantly impact the income of a large portion of the population and the national economy," the report stated. Legalising, licensing, and renewing easy-bikes could add at least Tk 8,000 crore ($942 million) to the national exchequer.

The parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Communication recommended licensing easy-bikes in 2011, but BRTA has not issued licenses, route permits, or fitness certificates, despite legal import and manufacturing. Local government institutions have provided temporary parking numbers, and no ministries have stopped the influx of easy-bikes.

The study recommended 10 actions to make easy-bikes safer and greener, including legalising them with minimal fees, formulating guidelines, offering short driving courses and licenses, supporting the conversion from lead-acid to lithium-ion batteries, promoting off-peak charging, setting up solar-based charging stations, and conducting environmental and social impact assessments for manufacturing. The study's co-author Hasan Mehedi said, "The power sector is currently experiencing huge overcapacity—more generation capacity than production or demand. Easy-bikes reduce at least 5.64 percent of stranded assets."

News Link: Regulate, don't ban, says study on easy bikes

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