E-rickshaws as antidote to air pollution: Hope for Bengaluru or pipe-dream?

A recent study report says that by switching to electric autos, carbon emissions can be reduced by 0.11 million tonne per year, PM10 by 114.5 million tonne per year, and NOx by 37.6 million tonne per year. So when will Namma Bengaluru make that switch and what's been stopping it?

This article is part of a special series: Air Quality in our Cities

The 1.8 lakh and counting auto rickshaws on Bangalore streets are a boon and bane in equal measure. They are literally the last bastion for last mile connectivity in Bangalore but their role in mobility as a connecting cog to the main modes of transport (or access egress)  is unregulated, making them a bit of a nightmare.

Public transport, which is often presented as a panacea for the unending nightmare of mobility in a city as crowded as Bangalore, is hampered quite often by issues of last mile connectivity. Step out of any metro station, a row of auto rickshaws will solve that for you, but often at the cost of exorbitant fares demanded.

And then there is the problem of pollution (See box below). Though there are no definite numbers for the pollution they generate , the State government’s decision to make away with two stroke auto rickshaws was because they caused both air and noise pollution. However the transport department admits there are still about 25,000 of them that ply on the streets.

However, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) released a paper in April 2018 on the pollution caused by autos. According to it, in a day approximately 1200 tonnes of carbon dioxide, 4 tonnes of NOx and 0.5 tonnes of PM10 are emitted from the total fleet of auto rickshaws plying in the city of Bengaluru and the total annual carbon emissions caused by the auto rickshaw sector is 0.44 million tonne. By switching to electric autos, carbon emissions can be reduced by 0.11 million tonne per year, PM10 by 114.5 million tonne per year, and NOx by 37.6 million tonne per year.

Here, then, is a solution that experts from various domains have suggested introducing to deal with both issues – air pollution and last mile connectivity. In an interview with Citizen matters, Professor Ashish Verma has opined that E-autorickshaws would be an excellent option to provide an attractive and integrated door-to-door system to encourage public transport. Former Transport Commissioner, Bhaskar Rao also recently tweeted  about the advantages of having e-autorickshaws provide last mile connectivity.

Experiments so far

E-autos which were first introduced in Delhi in 2010 reportedly numbered about 1,00,000 by 2016 and had slowly spread other parts of north India. However because they were largely unregulated, there were issues of safety, and reports of accidents at charging stations too.

On October 20th, the Kochi Metro Rail Limited signed a deal with a private company to launch e-autorickshaws which was also supported by auto unions of the city. In contrast, the four apps that  that were launched by the BMRCL last year in two stations (Byappanahalli and Swami Vivekananda) — Metro Bike, Quick Ride, Tap Route and Consta park — were all about fossil fuel run options that add to pollution.  E-autorickshaws/vehicles, on the other hand, have no emissions. 

So what are the challenges for these e-autorickshaws ply on Bangalore’s roads? What are their advantages? How quickly will we have them on our roads? What is the impact of their presence on our roads?

State policy

Let’s start with policy. The Government of India modified the Motor Vehicle Act in December of 2015 to define what e-autos and e-carts were. Karnataka was the first State to formulate and pass an E-mobility policy – the Electrical Vehicles and Energy Storage Policy in 2017. The then Siddaramaiah government announced a slew of measures to include EVs in public transport — EV bus service to BIAL by 2018; a 1000 EV buses by BMTC (150 buses), KSRTC, NWKSRTC, NEKRTC – plus a Special Purpose Vehicle to create charging infrastructure in Bangalore. Most of it remains on paper. The policy itself was not anchored by the Department of Transport but by the Department of Industries and Commerce, aimed at encouraging entrepreneurs to manufacture electrical vehicles in the State. 

Initiatives in Bangalore

In the context of the e-autorickshaws themselves, except for Bangalore, these vehicles ply in every other district. The notification by the Transport Secretariat in May 2016, regulated these vehicles permitting them to ply in every city except within the limits of BBMP.

According to media reports, when the Department of Transport suggested the introduction of these vehicles, the Traffic Police had shot it down because the speed limit is capped at 25km with these vehicles. Police officials argued that introducing a slow moving vehicle in Bangalore’s traffic would only hamper the already chaotic movement (the average speed on Bangalore traffic during peak hour is about 10kms). The decision was reversed in February this year, and the traffic police came on board about having these vehicles on the streets. 

The Department announced permits for 5000 e-autorickshaws in March of 2018 to facilitate the move to e-vehicles. The e-autorickshaws needed only a permit to ply on the roads as opposed to a license since their speed is capped at 25kms. However, they were not going to be allowed the stage carriage permit that would allow a system of shared autos. B Dayanand who was the Transport Commissioner at the time had told media that only BMTC has stage carriage permit (which allows you to carry multiple passengers) in the city.

The Department then took up the project to identify 200 charging points around the city at an estimated cost of Rs 4 crore. However after a bureaucratic shuffle at the department, the project was transferred to BESCOM along with the money earmarked for it. At the time of publication, Citizen Matters could not reach BESCOM for comment on the status of the project.

But even as governments and administration grapple with challenges and roadblocks, some private players have begun to experiment with these vehicles. The Heelige Railway Station, which recently came into public view, after Citizens For Bengaluru did a second rail Yatra, highlighting its close proximity to Electronic city, may have shuttle services to the industrial hub. A pilot project is being is also being tried out at Mahadevpura along with a Women’s Self Help Group Stri Shakti for garbage collection.

But how long will it actually take to scale up e-autorickshaws on Bangalore’s roads? “I would estimate by 2020. That’s the deadline we have for ourselves,” says Omkareshwari, Joint Commissioner, E-Governance and Environment, Department of Transport.

World View

The International Energy Agency put out a special report, World Energy Outlook in 2015 that used the World Energy Model to analyse Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC). The report put 20% of the global energy- related Co2 emissions to transport. The 450 scenario (outlined in the World Energy Outlook report above),  a forward-looking project to limit the rise of global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, spoke of the role of electrical vehicles in reducing carbon footprint. It proposes that the electrical vehicles take off and constitute about 40% of passenger car sales worldwide 2040. Norway and Netherlands have proposed to phase out fossil fuel cars by 2025; Germany plans to turn its entire fleet to electric cars by 2030 and UK announced plans to ban sale of new fossil fuel cars by 2040

The India view

In the Indian context, we pledged to reduce our carbon emission intensity by 30-35% in 2030 from its 2005 levels. The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation in 2015 attributed 7.5% of the total emissions to the Automobile and transport sector.The Government of India has thrust to promote 100% EV car sales by 2030 and has launched a policy to enable this. The Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electrical Vehicle (FAME India) and lower GST tax slab (EVs are taxed at 12% as opposed larger cars at 28%) to push for cleaner vehicles. The Draft Energy Policy 2017 drafted by the NITI Ayog, besides proposing setting up of charging stations also proposes inducting EVs in public transport systems.

State Numbers

Karnataka currently has a vehicular population of about 2 crore. Of them, 80 lakh ply on Bangalore roads. As of February 2018, 11,884 electrical vehicles have been registered.  There are 7,185 two wheelers;  4004 are Light Motor Vehicles, 360 are Light passenger vehicles and 135 are Light Goods Vehicles.

Bangalore numbers

According to RTO registrations, a total of  6,275 EVs have been registered in Bangalore. The number of Light Motor Vehicles are 3,696; 2160 are two wheelers; 315 are Light Passengers Vehicles and 68 are Light Goods Vehicles.

This article is part of a special series: Air Quality in our Cities, and explores the root causes for air pollution and solutions for improving air quality in Bengaluru and Chennai. This series has supported with a grant from Climate Trends.


  1. Dinni says:

    There is no reason why this can not take off. In Delhi this has taken off very well. BTW, do you know – India has more e-rickshaws than China’s electric vehicles. Check out https://www.livemint.com/Politics/UcKBJ1QUugrPlwvdDOAHVL/With-erickshaws-India-speeds-ahead-of-China-in-electricve.html

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