The Last Mile: E-Pedicabs Can Transform Urban Transport

E-pedicabs are financially sustainable for both transport associations and local governments.
E-pedicabs are financially sustainable for both transport associations and local governments.

By Lloyd Wright, Naresh Pradhan

A modern, efficient, and low-cost three-wheeler vehicle is an ideal fit for Asian cities.

The last mile is one of the great challenges to urban mobility. Without a means to safely, securely, comfortably, and affordably travel to and from public transport, citizens will do so by car or motorcycle.

With bus rapid transit and other mass transit technologies, progressive cities are increasingly able to create transit-focused corridors that link the broader urban structure.

However, unless the last mile challenge is solved, the ridership potential of these systems will not be realized. This is especially the case in cities suffering increasingly frequent extreme heat and monsoon rains, which make the last mile a difficult and uncomfortable experience.

The last mile for many cities in Asia and the Pacific is served either by a difficult walk or by three-wheelers, widely known as rickshaws.

[tweet="3 ways to measure #lastmile service quality  @adbtransport" text="3 ways to measure last-mile service quality"]

Rickshaws, though, often have highly polluting engines, lack customer amenities, and can be expensive for the urban poor who are most in need of good linkages with public transport. An alternative is pedal-powered rickshaws, but they are often heavy and inefficiently designed, meaning low-income drivers expend precious calories to operate them.

Achieving last-mile connectivity can be measured in terms of “car competitiveness”. In other words, can it deliver a similar customer experience to private vehicles? Three measures of last-mile service quality are:

  1. Travel time. Does the combined trip of public transport and last mile service reduce overall travel time?
  2. Customer experience. Does the service provide amenities in terms of convenience, comfort, safety, and security?
  3. Affordability. Does it reduce total travel costs compared to a private vehicle?

In recent years, ADB has gathered together some of the world’s top experts on pedal- and electric-powered vehicles to come up with a modern, efficient, and low-cost three-wheeler vehicle that could serve the last mile of trips in urban Asia-Pacific. The team produced a vision for a pedal and electrically assisted three-wheeler known as an “e-pedicab.”

[tweet="E-pedicabs ideal fit for #lastmile connectivity in #Lumbini @adbtransport #Nepal" text="E-pedicabs ideal fit for last-mile connectivity in Lumbini"]

The first testing ground for the e-pedicab is the city of Lumbini, Nepal. As the birthplace of Buddha and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lumbini seeks to draw tourism in a sustainable manner, keeping with local traditions while promoting low-carbon economic development.

E-pedicabs have proven an ideal fit to connect the town with the temple district for an estimated 1.2 million annual tourists. The ADB-funded Lumbini project also features an electric bus fleet that will link the city and the future new international airport.

The e-pedicab design was created in an open-source manner, meaning that anyone is allowed to replicate it. The estimated production price of approximately $1,500 per unit and a robust lifespan makes these e-pedicabs financially sustainable for both transport associations and local governments.

In lightweight, aerodynamic and electrically-assisted vehicles, pedicab drivers expend fewer calories. The e-pedicabs’ attractive, modern design also helps bring additional revenues through advertising.

[tweet="Innovative ADB e-pedicab design attracting global attention @adbtransport #lastmile #Lumbini #Nepal" text="Innovative ADB e-pedicab design attracting global attention"]

Finally, the vehicles are fitted with an LCD screen in the passenger area, providing entertainment and local information. USB charging slots are likewise provided for customer convenience.

The design has attracted global attention, making Fast Company’s annual list this year of World Changing Ideas.

Other cities and ADB projects are also interested. ADB-financed BRT projects in Pakistan are currently looking to adopt both e-pedicabs and bicycle-sharing systems as integrated solutions for last-mile connectivity. An updated design will allow access to passengers with disabilities.

The birthplace of Buddha may be giving life to a solution to a problem that has vexed urban planners for some time. The last mile may not be so distant after all.