Ola’s EV Taxi Pilot Program In India Reportedly Facing Significant Problems

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We covered news last year of a new electric vehicle (EV) pilot program in India, one whereby the on-demand taxi service (ride-hailing service) Ola would be providing a test-fleet of electric cars to Ola drivers for work use.

There was a lot of fanfare that accompanied the launch of the pilot project — with India’s Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari even attending an official launch event in relation to it.

Image courtesy Ola

Considering that around $8 million was spent on the project, it seems fairly likely that expectations were moderately high for the program. So, that in mind, how are things going ~9 months later? According to a new article from Reuters — based on interviews with 20 different Ola electric vehicle (EV) pilot program drivers — not well.

The problem, apparently, is that the drivers in question have become impatient with the long wait times at EV charging stations, and also the relatively high operating expenses (this is in India, amongst the working class, mind you). As a result, many have returned the EVs or are now planning to do so.

While a sample of 20 is by no means definitive, the fact that 12 of those 20 are now wanting out of the program (or have already ditched the EV) makes it clear that fast-charging infrastructure remains a weak point in India. The drivers in question have reported having to spend 3–4 hours a day charging.

Reuters provides more: “Out of 20 Ola electric car drivers interviewed by Reuters in Nagpur, more than a dozen said they have either returned their electric taxis and switched to diesel, or are planning to do so.”

“Ola had said it would make 50 charging points available across 4 locations in Nagpur — a city of about 2.5 million people — for its fleet of 200 electric vehicles, but on a visit to the city in late January, Reuters found only about a dozen charging points. Ola has since added 10 additional charging points but is still short of its target.”

That would indeed help to explain the poor reviews given by some program participants.

It’s notable that Ola was actually forced to close one of its EV charging stations last year in Nagpur as the result of resident anger about the traffic jams that were being caused there. That closure was apparently followed by 5 months of government red tape — that is, it was 5 months before Ola was given approval to operate another charging station.

Also noteworthy, of course, is that the Mahindra electric cars being used in the pilot program only possess a range of around 100 kilometers per charge (and I can’t confirm whether this is real-world range or not). Some drivers have also complained about battery performance during the summer, so it sounds as though the batteries aren’t thermally managed — which isn’t surprising — and that possibly the chemistry being used isn’t the best for the climate.

The Reuters coverage continues: “The cars are owned by Ola and leased to drivers for 1,000 rupees a day, but many complain that the amount is too high and they need to work for 12–16 hours to make a decent living.One of the drivers said that after paying Ola the rent for the car and shelling out 500–600 rupees per day for charging, he is left with about 500 rupees ($7.71) at the end of a 14-hour day giving him little time to rest or spend with his family.”

From the sounds of it, the lack of fast-charging facility access, the relatively poor performance of the electric cars in question, and the slow speed of government processes in India have together made the pilot program a dud.

Owing to the fact that few people in India have access to home charging facilities (garages, etc.) it seems likely that EV adoption — whether among normal people or taxi drivers — will remain quite low until public charging infrastructure is better.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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