Road to electric vehicles in Bhutan is paved with hurdles

(Eco Business, 30 Jan 2020) Bhutan has struggled to introduce electric vehicles to the country to curb emissions, but a lack of funds — and trust — pose major challenges.

Memoirs from the late 1900s about Bhutan often talk about its infamous form of transit: a series of minibuses ruefully called ‘Vomit Comets’. Bhutan’s geography is almost entirely mountainous, so roads must follow the winding rivers to connect faraway districts.

The roads themselves can be perilous: they are cut into the mountain and drop precipitously on one side. Erosion and landslides form constant obstacles. And until recently, roads across the country weren’t paved, yet the ‘Vomit Comets’ would take the bumpy, windy curves at breakneck speed.

Bhutanese officials struggle to adopt public transit that can accommodate this difficult geography. The country is too hilly and convoluted for trains, subways, or streetcars. The bus system has only gotten marginally better since the ‘Vomit Comet’ era, mostly because of asphalt. Cars remain the primary way to get around for those that can afford them.

The combination of geography, poor public transit, and increased development means that the number of private vehicles in Bhutan has exploded. According to a 2018 Ministry of Information and Communications report, the number of private cars registered in Bhutan, including taxis, went from 25,000 in 2000 to 89,3000 in 2017 — an increase of 357 per cent, and equivalent to a car for every tenth person in a country with a population of only around 800,000.

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Eco Business, 30 Jan 2020: Road to electric vehicles in Bhutan is paved with hurdles