Electric Mobility: where it works

Auto rickshaws are motor powered gas guzzling mini cars that zip around cities transporting people from A to B. Due to their great success,many countries see these little vehicles as more than just a means of transport. And thus, the auto rickshaw has become the epitome of Asian mobility: cheap, agile, and seemingly indestructible.

Fortunately, the auto rickshaw as we know it, is not likely to have a promising future. Firstly, according to the Asian Development Bank, 30% of all emission in all Asian non-OECD countries is caused by traffic.[1] The auto rickshaw is definitely a culprit because the ancient two-stroke engines, still most widely used today, are all but clean. Secondly, a new version could soon be seen on Asia’s roads, the auto rickshaw’s younger, quieter, and cleaner son: the electric rickshaw

The electric rickshaw

Although the electric rickshaw is expected to make an impact on Asia as a whole, we will focus on one particular case: the Philippines. In the Philippines alone, 3,5 million auto rickshaws – here called tricycles – operate every day in the Southeast Asian country. This culminates in the auto rickshaw representing 75% of all public transport means in the Philippines – a huge share.[2] Put in other words, around 50% of all pollution the Filipinos breath in every day, comes directly from motorcycles and auto rickshaws, the World Health Organisation estimates.[3] As one of the many start-up companies producing green vehicles, Japanese based Terra Motors have developed a fully electric tricycle that could suit the Philippines well. This new rickshaw’s performance is equal if not slightly better than a normal auto rickshaw running on fuel. The electric rickshaw can transport up to six passengers at a maximum speed of 55 kilometres per hour.[4] Furthermore, the electricity to charge the vehicle completely, costs around 1,25$ - significantly less than the 3$ to 4$ needed to fill up an auto rickshaw to cover the same distance with fuel. Henceforth, the people operating a rickshaw service will have more money to spend on food or other essentials at the end of the day. The Asian Development Bank has spotted the potential of this electric rickshaw: with a 300 million dollar loan, the Philippines can run a nationwide electronic vehicle program. The goal of the program is to install 100.000 electric rickshaws by 2017.[5] If implemented well, this project could make an immense difference for the people living in the Philippines.

Electric mobility: where are thou?

Everyone agrees: the future of mobility is electric. Imagine cars driving silently through cities, with no pollution and no oil. Fabulous. But where are these golden inventions government and industry have been talking about for decades? So far the announced “electric revolution” has remained a revolution on paper. It will require much more cooperation between different industries to implement the switch from stinky gas to scentless electricity. Who spends 30.000 dollar on a car whilst having to fear not making it back from a one-day trip to the mountains on one full charge. Secondly, the infrastructure, the charging points for example, is still in its infancy. A lot more will need to happen before we all see electric as normal. With the electric rickshaws in the Philippines, however, things could be different. They are designed to perform in the urban environment and nothing more. And that, so it seems, they do well.


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