Electric buses providing free service in Lumbini as trial

Five electric buses have favored providing free service to Lumbini and nearby places of interest as part of a tourist promotional programme, the Lumbini Development Trust said.

Tourists can ride the battery-powered coaches without charge on the Lumbini-Tilaurakot, Lumbini-Gautam Buddha International Airport-Belahiya, Lumbini-Airport-Devdaha, and Lumbini-Buddha Chowk, Bhairahawa-Golpark, Butwal routes.

The routes allow visitors to tour the greater Lumbini area that covers several historical places related to Buddha. Lumbini, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the birthplace of Buddha.

The Lumbini Development Trust said it was running the free shuttle service, which started Thursday, for the duration of the Dashain holidays as a trial.

“The electric buses have been put into operation as a test,” said Sanu Raja Shakya, member-secretary of the trust, speaking at a ceremony in Lumbini on Thursday.

Lumbini receives more than 1.5 million visitors every year.

The electric vehicles were bought at a cost of Rs130 million from the Asian Clean Energy Fund (ACEF) of the Asian Development Bank.

The grant will support the introduction of clean public transport services using electric vehicles for tourists and local residents in the Lumbini area, according to the bank.

“This will help reduce noise and air pollution from poorly maintained gasoline-powered buses, and add value to the tourism experience.”

The Lumbini Development Trust is the implementing agency for the tourist destination improvement component.

The new buses were inaugurated jointly by Venerable Maittiya Sakyaputta, vice-chairman of the trust, and Bharat Mani Pandey, chief district officer of Rupandehi.

The vehicles were rolled out of storage where they have been lying for three years following incessant public pressure.

The bank had provided 14 electric vans and five electric buses to the trust as a grant three years ago to reduce environmental pollution in Lumbini.

But as the work procedure had not been prepared and the ownership transfer had not been made, the vehicles could not be put into service, and they were parked under the open sky.

Following the trial operation and the report of the mechanical condition of the buses and charging station, the operating procedure will be created for the operation of the vehicles, according to the trust.

Sakyaputta said that once the electric bus come into operation, it will help in tourism promotion. The operation of electric buses was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown and procedural complications, he said.

A month ago, the trust submitted an application to the Tourism Ministry and Transportation Management Office of the province to change the number plates on the buses.

Siddhi Charan Bhattarai, treasurer of the trust, said that after the instructions of the home minister, the provincial Tourism Ministry agreed to operate the vehicles with government number plates.

Nepal’s first electric vehicle charging station was opened in Lumbini in January last year where battery-powered rickshaws are used for sightseeing.

The charging station is located on the Lumbini-Taulihawa road, and is connected to the powerhouse through a 600-metre-long underground cable.

The charging station was constructed under the Clean Energy Project with grant assistance from the Asian Development Bank. The powerhouse was built by Isaka Electric Company of Japan.

Another reason the electric buses could not be run was the absence of a charging station.

The buses were said to be used to transfer tourists and pilgrims from Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa to Lumbini.

Nepal has planned to switch to light electric vehicles by 2031 as fossil fuel imports have been rising steeply. The government has invited electric vehicle manufacturing companies to set up plants in Nepal.

Industry insiders say the goal is not realistic, and that the government has not done anything except make statements.

On November 1, 2021, speaking at the World Leaders Summit of the 26th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba proclaimed that Nepal aimed to reach net zero emission by 2045.

Despite having abundant hydropower potential which is clean energy, Nepal is still burning fossil fuels with the result that transportation and industrial combustion have become major sources of emissions.

The country’s demand for petroleum products has been increasing by a robust 10 percent annually despite the regular supply of electricity since 2017, said Nepal Oil Corporation.

At COP26 in Glasgow, at least 13 countries had signed memorandums of understanding to end sales of fossil fuel-powered heavy-duty vehicles by 2040.

China last year promised that 50 percent of all new cars sold would be a battery-electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen fuel cell-powered by 2035.

Experts say Nepal still has not learned the lesson that it should increase the capacity and diversify the sources of energy supply.

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