THE Electric Vehicles Association of the Philippines (EVAP) has again made a pitch to replace the country’s aging, unsafe, and environmentally unfriendly fleet of jeepneys and tricycles with electric vehicles. It is a call that is long overdue for committed action on the part of the government and transport groups.
EVAP estimates there are about 350,000 jeepneys that are 20 years old on average spread across the country, and 3.5 million tricycles, many of which are still equipped with polluting two-stroke engines despite a ban on them.
The Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) have not imposed a 15-year age limit on the country’s two most common types of public transit vehicles, unlike the ban on older forms of transportation, such as cargo trucks and school transports.
Transport groups who fear their members would be put into financial hardship if they are too closely regulated have for years proved to be a lobby the government seems powerless to resist, leaving Philippine commuters at the mercy of embarrassingly substandard, polluting means of traveling.
The financial concerns of transport operators cannot be completely dismissed. Most jeepney or tricycle operators earn a subsistence income, and have very little, if anything, to put toward the purchase of an electric alternative.
However, the resistance to change is a bit short-sighted. According to various manufacturers’ information, an electric jeepney or tricycle can cost up to twice that of a comparable gas or diesel version. While start-up costs may be daunting, over the long term, e-vehicles are significantly less costly than their fuel-burning counterparts.
Even with the Philippines’ high electricity prices, the cost per kilometer of an e-jeepney or e-tricycle is approximately one-fourth that of a fuel-burning version. And that is quite apart from the economic and social costs that would be reduced or eliminated by replacing polluting, poorly maintained public utility vehicles.
As EVAP pointed out, e-jeepneys and e-tricycles are already working in several areas; e-jeepneys can be seen in Makati, in Alabang, and are being used by Meralco, the country’s largest electric distributor, and Ateneo and La Salle universities. E-tricycles have been deployed in Mandaluyong, Quezon City, Bacoor, Cavite, and on the campus of the University of the Philippines, among other places. In addition to eliminating harmful emissions and reducing operating costs, the e-vehicles have proven as reliable, if not more so, than the jeepneys and tricycles they are supposed to replace.
As a globally recognized victim of climate change effects, the Philippines ought to consider the contradictory image it presents by continuing to stubbornly cling to outdated, harmful transport technology.
Since the only real sticking point in getting drivers and operators to accept e-vehicles is the initial cost of replacement, developing a solution should be relatively easy. Providing or guaranteeing low-cost loans to operators wishing to upgrade their vehicles is one way in which government could help; it could even reduce its expenditures by partnering with major lenders.
For instance, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has managed a credit facility specifically intended to fund the launch of e-tricycles in several areas, a program that could be expanded with some additional support from the government. A buy-back program similar to the US “cash for clunkers” program that was successful in cleaning up American highways and boosting its auto industry in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis is also an option.
Given the long-term cost benefits and the significant reduction of adverse environmental impact, there is really no good reason why the government should not make an investment in e-vehicles for public transportation. Not doing so actually represents a grave failure, one that adversely affects the environment, the commuting public and the transport sector alike.