Uncertainty marks launch of second lot of e-autos

E-autorickshaws parked near a metro station on M.G. Road. Only half-a-dozen of 20 e-autos launched in 2018 ar’e operable now.   | Photo Credit: THULASI KAKKAT

The ambitious plan to launch the second lot of e-autos in the city, especially in the Kochi metro’s feeder routes, has run into rough weather, with neither government agencies nor manufacturers of e-autos readying recharging points or battery-swapping stations.

Even worse, only half-a-dozen of around 20 e-autos that were launched with much fanfare in 2018 at metro stations are operable, said sources in Ernakulam District Autorickshaw Drivers Cooperative Society. This is in stark contrast with Kozhikode where over 150 e-autos are operating, despite opposition from drivers of conventional autorickshaws.

The cooperative society, which was formed to bring approximately 15,000 autos that operate in the Greater Kochi area under one banner, is keen to introduce 100 e-autos by the end of May. But it has not been able to place a purchase order with either of the two manufacturers that were shortlisted, it is learnt.

“One of the firms specialises in fixed battery technology [where the battery comes with a warranty], and the other has a battery-swap system [whereby drained-out batteries can be swapped with fully-recharged ones made available at select kiosks],” said Binu Varghese, secretary, Autorickshaw Drivers Union (AITUC).

But neither firm has committed to installing recharging stations or battery-swap infrastructure. “In this situation, civic and government agencies must come forward to ready recharging stations. Such an initiative will help, especially since Kochi, which hosted an electric vehicle summit two years ago, is set to host the national urban mobility summit in October,” he added.

An e-auto can operate 120 km if it is fully recharged in three hours. The energy cost will be as low as ₹70 for operating this distance. The swap system, although more convenient, is relatively costlier.

“The cooperative society has constraints in readying recharging or battery-swap infra. BPCL, which had readied swap infra at select fuel retail outlets, must take initiative in this regard. It is sad that the fuel major has not done so, although autos revived their operation in October 2020 after the lockdown. Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) too must play its part, since a robust feeder system will improve ridership in the Kochi metro. That e-autos do not cause air and sound pollution and are much easier and smoother to drive than petrol, diesel and CNG autos, must be taken into account,” Mr. Varghese said.

AuSa app awaiting formal launch

The uncertainty over introducing e-autos and the pandemic also affected the full-fledged launch of AuSa auto ride app, which the Ernakulam District Autorickshaw Drivers Cooperative Society readied with technical help from a city-based firm.

Ernakulam District Residents Associations Apex Council (EDRAAC), KMRL, police, and the Motor Vehicles Department (MVD) recently trained 110 auto drivers in Aluva in the technical aspects of the app and operating the Kochi metro’s feeder services. Another 150 drivers will be trained shortly. The app will be launched subsequently, official sources said.

Meanwhile, sources in KMRL said the introduction of the second lot of e-autos did not take place since batteries that were readied as part of the swap system ran out of charge and became beyond repair owing to the lockdown, affecting the project’s financial viability.

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 8:03:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/uncertainty-marks-launch-of-second-lot-of-e-autos/article34306842.ece

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