“What if I have accepted a long-haul ride across Delhi and the battery of the electric bike runs out of charge?”
"Had to walk back home late at night after battery of my electric-bike drained out."
"Electric bike is more expensive. I need time to collect the money."
"If this policy is passed, we won’t be able to celebrate Diwali.”
These are some of the concerns raised by bike taxi riders working with online ride-hailing apps such as Uber, Ola, and Rapido in the national capital.
There are more than 1,500 of them. In the past couple of months, the repeated bans against bike taxis plying on the roads in Delhi had affected their earnings.
Now, they are lamenting a new mandate of the Delhi government which allows them to ply on the roads – but only if they go fully electric.
In response to the Arvind Kejriwal-led government's policy – called the Delhi Motor Vehicle Aggregator and Delivery Service Provider Scheme – bike taxi riders wrote to Delhi Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena on 17 October, calling the decision “unfortunate”.
The Quint speaks to bike taxi riders why they think the move to turn fully electric is not viable – even as the government helps the decision will help curb the high levels of pollution.
‘Electric Bikes Costly, Not Enough EV Charging Stations in Delhi’
“What if I have accepted a ride from Dwarka (in west Delhi) to Laxmi Nagar (in east Delhi), which is a 35-40 kilometer-long, heavy-traffic stretch, and the battery runs out of charge. What is the certainty that I’ll get a functioning EV charging station in Laxmi Nagar,” asked 30-year-old Praveen Kumar, who has been riding bike taxis for over a year.
According to a parliament response in August this year, Delhi accounted for 1,627 public charging stations, 2,917 EV chargers, and 3,247 charging points as of 31 July. Each charging station can have several EV chargers. And each charger, in turn, can have a maximum of 2-3 charging points, which can work simultaneously to charge electric vehicles.
“There aren’t enough EV charging stations in Delhi. Compare it to the number and accessibility of petrol pumps in the city. Once it so happened, that the battery of my electric bike drained out. It was late at night, and I walked for several kilometres looking for a charging station but couldn’t find one. I had to ultimately walk back home,” Kumar recalled.
Kumar argued that even if he finds an EV charging station, it will take him at least 30 minutes to recharge his battery enough so as to travel a short distance. “And what if there’s a queue?”
Kumar is one of the few bike taxi riders who was provided an electric bike taxi by Uber on a pilot basis for a month. He told The Quint that the electric bike provided to him runs for an average 70-80 kilometers when fully charged and takes over three hours to charge fully.
It is “very difficult” to take long-haul rides, which riders usually seek in order to pocket a significant proportion of the fare, he explained. The Quint is given to understand that nearly 15 percent of the fare goes to the aggregator and the remaining to rider.
The new scheme – which applies to ride-hailing apps (such as Uber and Ola), bike taxis (such as Rapido), delivery services providers (such as Zomato and Swiggy), and e-commerce aggregators (such as Amazon and Nykaa) – stipulates the following:
In 2021, Karnataka too had rolled out the Electric Bike Taxi Scheme to facilitate electric bike taxis into the urban mobility scenario. "While Karnataka's policy was more liberal, Delhi's policy aims to create a comprehensive regulatory regime for Aggregators and Delivery Service Providers," Vikrant Singh, Founding Director, CCLE (Centre for Competition Law and Economics) told The Quint.
He opined that Delhi's policy introduces "regulatory curbs", thereby also increasing the cost of compliance.
In the letter written to the LG, a copy of which was accessed by The Quint, the bike taxi riders stated that not many options are available in the market to support bike taxi operations due to “limitations in battery backup and charging speed infrastructure.”
“Further, even with central and state incentives on purchase of EVs, the price point of EVs is still considerably higher (at least 1.5x) than that of a normal bike,” the letter stated.
‘Transition (Into EVs) Can’t Happen Overnight’
Meanwhile, 29-year-old Aarendar Singh, who has been riding bike taxis for almost three years across Delhi, said that he welcomes the switch to EVs but would need time – at least one to 1.5 years – to arrange the money to purchase the EV because it is expensive.
Singh, the sole breadwinner of his family of five, including his wife and a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, hails from Badaun in Uttar Pradesh.
“I am not certain about how successful the e-bike will be. If I refuel my current petrol bike for approx Rs 350, it will run for at least 200 kilometers. Compared to this, the e-bike will run for 70 kilometres on a full charge. And it is more expensive. I need time to collect the money and ensure that I get returns before I make this investment.”Aarendar Singh
While the policy mandates bike taxis to switch to EVs in order to ply on Delhi's roads, delivery service providers using two-wheelers to deliver goods have been asked to do so in a phased manner over time.
Riders too pointed out this disparity between them and delivery service providers in their letter sent to the LG, saying, “While our friends in the delivery sector have been given enough time to convert their vehicles to electric, we have not been afforded the same rights...Even a transition from Diesel to CNG was phased out, similarly this should not be an overnight change.”
'Not Clear Why Disparity Between Bike Taxis, Delivery Services'
"While Zomato and Swiggy may switch to electric bikes over six months to complete their target of onboarding 10% of electric two-wheelers and three-wheelers, Uber and Ola are expected to fully switch to electric two-wheelers post the enactment of the scheme once they apply for a licence and are registered with the Delhi government. This may inevitably lead to dismantling of some of the bike taxis, resulting into unemployment of these gig workers," Vikrant Singh told The Quint.
It is noteworthy that for ride-hailing apps such as Ola and Uber, a phased transition to EVs is offered for three and four wheelers but not two-wheelers.
Bittu Singh, 24, who has been taking care of his family of five from his earnings of riding bike taxis was also anxious about the “sudden” transition to EVs.
A resident of Badaun, Bittu Singh is also a signatory to the letter sent to the LG. He told The Quint, “At least my income could take care of basic household necessities and expenses. We faced a setback in February too. If this policy is passed, we won’t be able to celebrate Diwali.”
The Delhi government had banned bike taxis in February this year citing violation under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. Even though the ban was revoked by the Delhi High Court in May, it was reinstated by the Supreme Court in June. The top court, however, temporarily suspended the ban later until a policy on the same was enforced by the Delhi government.
The letter also warns of a shift of bike taxi riders from ride-hailing apps to delivery services which could lead to a demand-supply imbalance in the latter's ecosystem, leading to a potential decrease in their salaries.
‘Electric Bike Beneficial Too But Need Govt’s Help In Buying It’
Kumar, who hails from Samastipur in Bihar, and has ridden EVs on a pilot basis, told The Quint that there are many benefits of switching to e-bikes – they are “light-weight, environment-friendly, cost-effective and don’t break down like petrol bikes usually do.”
He explained that the cost of refuelling the petrol bikes easily makes up for the deposit needed to rent an e-bike. He asserted, however, that it is difficult to purchase one.
“Most riders in Delhi are migrants. For me to be able to purchase an e-bike on monthly installments in Delhi, I need to be a domicile of Delhi and furbish valid document proofs,” he said.
Kumar demanded that the government make a provision for migrants with a valid driving license to be able to purchase e-bikes on installments and that cash-down payments should be low.
A diploma-holder in computer application and former bank staffer, Kumar asserted, “This will help riders to afford e-bikes and ease the transition to EVs, thereby reducing pollution.”
"The Delhi government should provide some kind of subsidy or provisions similar to FAME II to buyers of electric bikes to facilitate the switch to EVs by reducing the financial burden on the buyers," Vikrant Singh said.
FAME II stands for the second phase of central government scheme titled, Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME). It was rolled out to promote EVs and hybrid vehicles by upfront reduction in the cost of EVs and a subsidy component to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).