Anybody who has ever visited the Philippines is no doubt familiar with Jeepneys. Once, after WWII, the generally poor but creative and inventive Filipinos converted donated US military vehicles into what is now known as Jeepneys. Basic vehicles that provided basic transportation needs.
Toothpicks, cello tape and staples
As the population grew – over the years, quite dramatically – more and more Jeepneys appeared on the roads. At a certain point the military hardware, after decades of service was totally worn out and Jeepneys were constructed from surplus old Japanese diesel engines, and so forth. The Filipinos are also extremely creative when it comes to keeping things going, and if need be, they will do so using toothpicks, staples and cellotape. Indeed, many Jeepneys do look as if the only thing that is keeping the contraption together is the paint.
Others however are nearly works of art, with lots of colorful attributes, fake antennas, and whatnot, and so colorful one needs sunglasses to admire them. They do provide a very colorful and effective means of cheap transportation for everybody.
Congestion and pollution
Unfortunately, they are also responsible, according to many sources, for well over 95% of all traffic congestion, and, even worse, absolutely horrid pollution. No doubt the term “smoke belching” was invented here. The engines are completely open, unregulated, with (literally) breathtakingly ancient technology and adjusted to “run nicely” but certainly not tuned in any way to run cleanly too. Yes, there are “sort of” mandatory MOT checks, but in reality, most of it is a complete farce. On paper, much is very well regulated, but enforcement is in most cases minimal, or selective, or simply completely absent. The result, at least in major cities such as Manila is abject pollution, nearly round-the-clock total traffic gridlock – in other words the seemingly insurmountable problems so typical of many very large cities. The problem is often even made worse by a lack of maintenance and certainly also a lack of driver training. Many drivers, although able to drive “on the millimeter” seem to be little more than a crossbreed between John Rambo or Dhengis Khan and a turtle. The latter representative for the (lack of) speed, the former the way they routinely violate any and all traffic rules. Quite a unique accomplishment, actually: often agonizingly slow and still, at the same time, extremely dangerous and totally unpredictable. It is not unheard of to see a Jeepney on a 6-lane motorway make a U-turn crossing all lanes, causing instant chaos. Or simply stopping right there and then to pick up a passenger. Anything and everything is possible, traffic rules seem to be a mere suggestion.
A solution: electric Jeepneys
That this situation is no longer acceptable is crystal clear, even to politicians, and that’s saying something. The country desperately needed a solution: cheap mass transportation, causing limited or no pollution, and minimal needs for maintenance. And better driver training, obviously. A little enforcement of traffic rules wouldn’t hurt either.
Over the years, many proposals have come and gone. Some of them proposing the obvious: clean electric vehicles. Jeepneys generally cover very limited distances, some of them no more than 20 or 30 kilometers on a particular route, and then collect passengers for the ride back to the starting point. All this with numerous stops in between. In other words, lots of stop-and-go traffic, a situation a typical combustion engine is eminently unsuited for. Especially with the type of ancient surplus diesels that are generally used, most of which most likely came from the Ark of Noah. These engines are extremely inefficient, extremely polluting, and to top it all off, very prone to wear and tear – especially under stop-and-go conditions.
So the electric proposal was an obvious one. Unfortunately, not much came from it, mainly due to government corruption, incompetence, lack of funds, lack of project management experience, and perhaps a lack of willpower in certain circles.
Hope at the horizon?
All of that now stands a very good chance of finally changing for the better.
A young company (backed by next-generation sustainable technology and deep pockets) by the name of QEV Philippines Electromobility Solutions and Consulting Group Inc. is poised to change all that. QEV Philippines is a business unit of Singapore’s QEV Capital Pte. Ltd., and they recently launched its proposed “green” jeepney.
It will serve as a pilot for a business model it hopes will transform some 50,000 jeepneys over a five-year period, and possibly other types of vehicles. QEV Philippines is backed by one of the country’s wealthiest individuals, Endika Aboitiz, whose family runs power, banking and property conglomerate Aboitiz Equity Ventures Inc.
The initiative is a personal investment of Aboitiz, who partnered with Spanish businessman Enrique Bañuelos for this venture. QEV Philippines is also the main vehicle for Aboitiz’s goal to reinvent the iconic jeepney into a cleaner, quieter and more productive means of public transportation. And it can even keep it iconic charm.
The jeepney’s utilitarian, metallic aesthetic will remain largely untouched, since most of the transformation happens under the hood: QEV Philippines will swap diesel engines and fuel tanks with powerful lithium ion batteries and e-motors.
It will take around 15 minutes to fully charge QEV’s green jeepney, giving it a range of about 150 kilometers. Which is more than enough for most if not all of them: and the quick charging time is ideal as well. These vehicles could be used 24/7 this way. Obviously, all of the classic issues with (ancient) internal combustion engines go away instantly.
The conversion, pegged at a minimum of P500,000 (about US$ 10,000) per unit, is far less than acquiring a brand new electric jeepney – however, it is highly unlikely that any jeepney driver can shoulder that kind of investment. Aboitiz therefore proposes that this is where Government can – must – step in.
“What is key is government pays for the conversion. If not, it will take 100 years,” he said.
Aboitiz said it would be a form of conditional cash transfer (CCT) that would have environmental and economic benefits for passengers and drivers, since their earnings will go up as maintenance costs go down – which is absolutely true. In fact many estimate that running and maintenance costs would go down by P40,000 (US $1000) per jeepney per year. In the Philippines, that is a lot of money.
The company proposes to install 300 charging stations for E-jeepneys all over Manila, which would be sufficient charging infrastructure. It would save the sector 375 million liters of diesel fuel a year. Not just the environmental benefits are clear, so are the economic benefits, and that may be what makes it happen for real this time.
And not a moment too soon.