How rising fuel prices are changing the way people get around

For 12 years, Sarina Sthapit has been driving on her gasoline scooter to travel everywhere, from daily trips to his office in Jhamsikhel to visiting friends and relatives near and far.

But recently Sthapit, 28, sold his scooter and is now considering buying an electric one.

“After some thought, I decided to sell my scooter. Although the electric scooter I’m thinking of buying is much more expensive, at least I won’t be buying gas at exorbitant prices,” Sthapit says.

As fuel prices hit an all-time high, many like Sthapit are rethinking the way they get around in their daily lives. Some are switching to electric vehicles (EVs); some have resorted to cycling, but many who don’t have the privilege of owning their own vehicle are already worried about a steep rise in public transport fares.

Energy watchdogs say the lower cost of electric vehicle ownership has encouraged many people to switch from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to electric vehicles, and with rising fuel prices fuel, the trend is also catching up in Nepal.

In May 2020, the government increased excise duty on electric vehicles from 10% to 40-60% and imposed a 60% customs duty, making vehicles much more expensive. After a huge public outcry, in 2021 the government rolled back the taxes and duties it had imposed on electric vehicles. With electric vehicles cheaper than in 2020 and massive fuel price hikes in recent months, electric vehicles are now more popular than ever.

“After rising fuel prices, the number of people visiting our showroom doubled. Although sales may not have increased in the same ratio, people are starting to look for alternatives to ICE vehicles,” says Sam Sapkota, deputy general manager of Terra Motors, a Japanese electric vehicle brand.

According to Sapkota, electric four-wheelers are more popular than electric two-wheelers. “The Nepalese automotive market has electric vehicles from world-renowned four-wheeler brands such as Hyundai, Toyota and KIA, among others. But when it comes to electric two-wheelers, the majority of the options available are Chinese brands that aren’t as renowned.

Pranish Pathak, an aeronautical engineer, also bought his first electric car almost three years ago when Nepal started manufacturing electric cars of famous brands.

“I have been using an MG electric car for two and a half years, and I can say that the running cost of an electric vehicle is much cheaper compared to a petrol or diesel car. The running cost of my electric vehicle only amounts to about Rs 1.5 per km,” says Pathak.

Pathak adds that he has always been a proponent of electric vehicles.

“From a financial point of view, I always knew that electric vehicles were much more economical to own than petrol or diesel vehicles. When I decided to buy my electric vehicle almost three years ago , a lot of people questioned my decision,” Pathak says. “But over the past few months, I’ve seen a lot of people complaining about the rising fuel prices and the cost of driving a car when I’m satisfied with my VE for all these years.”

When petrol prices hit Rs 150 earlier this month, Sunil Maharjan, a graphic designer, bought a bike for Rs 30,000.

“For the past seven or eight years, I have relied on my motorbike for travelling. But since petrol prices started to rise exorbitantly, it became too expensive to ride a motorbike every day,” says Maharjan “Since I bought a bike, I use it every other day. This way I can save money and do some cardio.”

Like Maharjan, many have also started looking for a secondary mode of transport to reduce their expenses.

Harihar Dhungana, a native of Kusunti, Lalitpur, started driving a gasoline-powered car twenty years ago. At the time, says Dhungana, petrol cost 68 rupees a litre.

“I understand that rising prices are a global phenomenon, but even when prices go down somewhat in other countries, like the United States, the price in Nepal only seems to go up. I’m so frustrated that I want to buy a Chinese electric scooter,” says Dhungana, 51.

Although Dhungana isn’t ready to switch to electric scooters anytime soon, he says he’s already made significant changes to the way he commutes on a daily basis. These days, in his attempt to save fuel, he says, he doesn’t use his car’s air conditioning.

“Every time I feel like turning on the air conditioning, I’m reminded of the cost of fuel,” Dhungana remarks sarcastically. “I also started using my car less and using ride-sharing apps whenever possible.”

But many people who use ride-sharing apps as their primary mode of transportation say they’re worried about an impending fare hike.

“So far, carpooling platforms have not increased their fares. But I have heard many passengers working for these platforms complaining that the fares remain the same despite the increase in fuel prices. It makes me think that these platforms will soon raise their fares,” says Rukman Karki, 21, who frequently uses carpooling platforms. “If the fares are raised, I will have to resort to public vehicles.”

Public vehicle operators have already lobbied the government to increase fares by 11%, and if fares are increased, it will directly affect those who regularly use public vehicles.

Sujata Humagain, 17, a high school student, is already worried about the possible increase in bus fares. Six days a week, Huagain takes a bus from her home in Taudaha to her college in Chapagaun.

“My parents give me Rs 100 for my daily expenses. I spend Rs 50 every day just to get from my house to university and back,” says Huagain. “If there is an increase in bus fares, it will make it very difficult for students like me who receive a limited amount of pocket money.”

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