By Pepper Marcelo
With rising oil prices and worsening air pollution, Filipinos are looking into clean and green technology as the only viable option for the country’s transport industry. This is gladly manifested in the people’s growing fascination with and acceptance of the electric jeepney, or e-jeepney, that environmentally-friendly version of the iconic, World War II-era public vehicle.
Spearheading the move to propagate the e-jeepney is the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC), a non-government, non-profit organization working on sustainable energy solutions and fair climate policy. iCSC is the proponent of the pioneering Climate-Friendly Cities (CFC) initiative, which integrates waste management, energy generation and sustainable transport programs for sustainable, climate-resilient city and community development.
The e-jeepney is a central part of the CFC initiative. After the e-jeepney’s debut in the Makati financial district in 2007, iCSC has widened the deployment of electric public utility vehicle transport alternatives in the country through the development of eTrike, eQuad and eCoach applications as well as different e-jeepney models.
“We chose the electric jeepney not because we’re fixated with jeepneys, but because we wanted to start with something that makes us go the distance. That means choosing a vehicle that has iconic status in the minds of public, realizing that there could be other applications in tricycles and buses,” says Red Constantino, iCSC Executive Director Red Constantino.
He adds: “Compared to private vehicles, mass transport by itself – whether it be rail or individual vehicles like the jeepney – already reduces pollution. But of course, they even out because most of the jeepneys in Manila are terribly inefficient, which also means they produce a lot of pollution.”
iCSC’s studies have shown that every liter of diesel avoided results in a reduction of 3,140 grams of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and 16 grams of NOx (nitrous oxide) that are released to the atmosphere. At excessive levels, these harmful emissions could result in climate change that has recently been blamed for the typhoons and floods that wreak untold havoc and destruction all over the world.
iCSC believes that sustainable transport should not be driven by technology, but by city planning and systems. In other words, their initiative is more than about the inventions themselves, but rather their application.
E-jeepneys comprise one-third of a far bigger project in iCSC’s Climate Friendly Cities Program; the other two being a “biodigester” that is fed with biodegradable solid waste and decomposes it into gas, as well as a depot and terminal that transforms the gas into electricity which then powers the public vehicles.
Already, more than 30 e-jeepneys are operating in Makati City and Puerto Princesa City in Palawan. Launched in July 2007, the Makati Green Route (MGR) project is expected to help reduce noise and air pollution in the country’s central financial district.
The e-jeepney is powered by lead acid batteries which takes approximately eight hours to charge. It can run for about 65 kilometers at a maximum speed of 35-40 kph after every full charge. Though it might seem slow, Constantino argues that speed is relative, especially commuting within a typically congested area.
“Say you live in Metro Manila and drive a Porsche or the latest Audi. I drive an e-jeepney, with a maximum speed of 40 kph. Let’s go out at the same time, 8 a.m. to go to Makati. I might even get there before you if I drive well,” he points out.
E-jeepneys can comfortably seat 14 passengers and have a dwell time of only 10 seconds per stop, so as not to contribute to traffic. Aside from being emission-free, the e-jeepney offers a far more comfortable ride because it has less noise and vibration than the traditional jeepney.
“It’s very easy to ride. Because it’s lighter, the jeepney drivers who are so used to the heavy diesel engines will feel a little weird at first, but it only takes a short while to get used to it,” said Panch Puckett, president of Solar Electric Co., manufacturer of the lead acid batteries that power e-jeepneys, at the launch of Makati’s MGR project.
“You do not hear the engine running. It’s very silent and there’s even a radio for you to check if it’s on,” noted Joey Salgado, Makati city’s information and community relations department chief, on the same occasion.
As with any new and game-changing concepts and projects, e-jeepneys face a number of obstacles. For one, there is the matter of numerous administrative and bureaucratic regulations in registering them. “It took us two years just to get registration plates because the papers required [the vehicle] to have a tailpipe and an engine number, which electric vehicles don’t have,” Constantino says.
Ultimately, iCSC worked patiently with government to come up with regulations catering to the new model. “We started with classification categorizing them as low-speed vehicles. That’s just the start, because there are a whole lot of regulations that need to be revised over time,” he adds.
E-jeepneys also carry an enormous tag price that many divers and operators may scoff at: ranging from Php350,000 to 400,000. But Constantino argues that over time the savings of switching to electric will eventually add up. “A typical driver would be paying Php450 in gas for every 100 kilometers. For electric jeepneys, you only pay Php150. That’s the savings you get.”
He adds: “People have grown used to a certain way of dong things. Economics are skewed towards things that harm us. For instance, when you drive a vehicle, the big costs are off the books – health costs, the pollution, the noise, fuel price fluctuations. Maintenance is staggering. People are so used to things that are artificially cheap, because the companies that involved in these efforts have passed on the costs to the consumer.”
Constantino emphasizes that the e-jeepney should not solely be looked at as an environmental option, but a financial opportunity that could provide great dividends to businesses and the government willing to invest in a sustainable public transport.
“We’re trying to focus on telling people we have economic alternatives. Green alternatives, that’s an add-on. Even though we’re an institute for climate change, we would like these transport options to be seen as making commercial sense. If it helps the environment, that’s a bonus, he says”
He adds that utilizing the new technology can potentially benefit many sectors of society. “It can boost income in the locality, whether it be tourism, or a better workplace for professionals and working class Filipinos.”
Now more than ever, eco-friendly vehicles such as the e-jeepney are the “steady green hand” that can confront the escalating problems of a “jittery oil market,” Constantino concludes. “We face a future that is more constrained. With the kind of resiliency a locality needs in the face of uncertainty like energy security, we feel that the time of electric-powered vehicles has come.”