Ever since their introduction, three wheeled electric tempos or rickshaws have overtaken other modes of transportation as the chief mode of urban transport in many developing nations like Nepal. These electric vehicles, also popularly known as e-rickshaw, City Safari, or City rickshaw, have now become the chief paratransit vehicle in the city of Biratnagar with more than 2200 electric rickshaws already plying the streets.
Having said that, city rickshaws have been subjected to various regulatory barriers; for example, the entry barrier imposed by the local authorities that limited the number of e-rickshaws to 300 when there were already over 1200 of them operating in the city. After numerous appeals from stakeholders and Bikalpa, Biratnagar Sub Metropolitan City (BSC) reversed their decision to allow registration for another 1665 vehicles in May 2016. Since then, further registrations have been restricted.
E-rickshaws have been largely blamed for the traffic congestion and even the authorities view it as a huge challenge for traffic management. With an aim to help Biratnagar achieve Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) strategy of urban environmental improvement by 2020 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of Industry, Innovation and infrastructures, Decent work and economic goals, Innovation and infrastructures, Sustainable cities and Climate actions; e-rickshaws have a very crucial role to play due to their low carbon footprint and as a means of livelihood.
However, due to government’s inability to come up with a proper plan for management of e-rickshaws, there is a rising uncertainty amongst the e-rickshaw owners about its future prospects. They have been projected as a reason for traffic congestion rather than being looked upon as a new and popular mode of transportation in Biratnagar. There is lack of commitment from the authorities to improve the current scenario. Often time, this negligence from the local authorities even subjects the e-rickshaw drivers to public harassments; for example, unavailability of parking stands for e-rickshaws forces drivers to park at non-designated spots, which makes them subject to harassment by the traffic police.
The study tries to analyze and understand the implications of current policy paralysis of the authorities in regards to the e-rickshaw industry and urban transportation of Biratnagar. With the current barrier to entry policy undertaken by the government, it could lead to formation of cartels in the e-rickshaw urban transportation system of Biratnagar. Therefore, this research argues about why market driven solutions should be adopted for these demand-driven paratransit services and how competitive market mechanism could foster an era of robust expansion of service, also serving as a blue print for other cities to emulate in the long run.