Kathmandu Was Once a Leader in Public Transit, Zero-Emission Vehicles

can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pocket

According to the World Population Review, Nepal is one of the most polluted countries by population in 2019. But, it didn’t have to be that way. Citylab brings to light a time when Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, lead the charge in getting pubic transit, electric vehicles on the road.

  • Although Nepal ranks as one of the worst polluters in the world, its capital once had the largest fleet of electric, public transportation vehicles.
  • In working towards it commitment to the Paris climate agreement, Kathmandu is again implementing policies to support the replacement of diesel-powered buses with electric Safa Tempos.
  • Kathmandu has the experience and incentive to revive and support its electric vehicle industry, which bodes well for the environment and stands as an example to other countries.

Back in the early 1990’s, Kathmandu was already experiencing pollution so bad that the Himalayas disappeared behind a curtain of smog for 345 days a year. One of the big culprits: Vikram Tempos, a fleet of 640 diesel-fueled three-wheelers that belched black smoke throughout the city. Used as mass transit, a Vikram Tempo can transport up to 12 people on bench-style seating.

Traffic in Kathmandu
Traffic in Kathmandu. (Photo: Kerensa Pickett on Unsplash)

An alternative to the Vikram Tempo

In 1993, the Global Resources Institute, an American NGO, came up with an alternative to the Vikram Tempo: an electric three-wheeler called “Safa Tempo” (which translates to “clean three-wheeler”) that ran on batteries similar to the ones used in golf carts.

After the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funded a successful three-year pilot program, the company Nepal Electric Vehicles Industries (NEVI) bought the technology.

The Nepalese government got on board in supporting Safa Tempos by slashing tariffs on parts from 60 percent to 1 percent. In addition, banks set up loan incentives for those wanting to buy one and go into business. And, in a bold move, the government banned Vikrams altogether in 1999.

The world’s largest fleet

By 2000, Kathmandu had the largest fleet of public transit, zero-emission vehicles, with more than 600 joining the hustle and bustle on city streets. Unfortunately, the boom was short lived. Poor quality and government policies doomed the Safa Tempo and they were replaced by diesel-spewing microbuses. However, if you’ve got a sharp eye, you can still spot a few Safa Tempo vehicles on the road, mostly driven by women.

Now that the environment is in a crisis, the Nepalese government has reached back to its past to revive the Safa Tempo. It has again put in place tariffs and policies to encourage this green form of transportation. Still, there remain obstacles that the government must tackle, such as from resistance groups that have a financial stake in keeping the diesel-fueled buses on the road.


As one of the most polluted countries in the world, Nepal must quickly get a handle on greenhouse emissions to meet its commitment to the Paris climate agreement. Kathmandu has the history and knowledge of electric transportation to transform its fleet and significantly reduce pollution. And, if a third world country can do it, then it proves any country can.

About the Author

can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
Close Menu

We use cookies and browser activity to improve your experience, personalize content and ads, and analyze how our sites are used. For more information on how we collect and use this information, please review our Privacy Policy. California consumers may exercise their CCPA rights here.