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Sustainable Paratransit

Environmentally sustainable transport (EST) includes the provision of sustainable public transportation. Such public transport is premised on other aspects of EST such as emission reduction, green fuels or sustainable energy sources, noise, and inclusive services and safe vehicle design. Most paratransit modes found in the developing countries are customized vehicles of 2 to 4 wheels. Customized vehicles are often lacking in safety features and produce greenhouse gases at a significantly higher rate than conventional vehicles. As such, the former are perceived to be unfriendly to people and the environment, and therefore, unsustainable.

In the Philippines, for example, paratransit includes motorcycle taxis, tricycles, Asian utility vehicles (AUV), vans, and the jeepneys. With the exception of motorcycles, AUVs and vans, the two most dominant transport – the tricycle and the jeepney – are customized vehicles.


The jeepney is the most popular mode of transport in the Philippines especially in cities because of its cheap fare and the convenience afforded to passengers to board and alight almost anywhere they want. In many parts of the Philippines, jeepneys provide long-distance transport services (rather than the bus) and may carry cargo, goods or freight in addition to passengers. Jeepneys in the provinces have also evolved to become significantly larger and tougher than those in the cities and are built to take on bad roads in all weather conditions. Jeepneys are locally manufactured and utilize surplus or second-hand diesel engines.

Tricycles and pedicabs

A tricycle is a motorcycle with a sidecar, while a pedicab is a bicycle with a sidecar and is classified as a non-motorized transport mode. These modes are 3-wheelers and are very convenient for passengers on short distance trip and feeder trip between residential area and arterial roads. Especially in the provinces, these modes play an important role because of insufficient bus and jeepney services. In Metro Manila the operation of tricycles is restricted partly because they cause traffic congestion. Franchising and supervision of tricycles including pedicabs have been devolved to the local government units.


Asian utility vehicles (AUVs) refer to a variety of models designed according to the road and passenger characteristics of Asian countries particularly those in the Southeast Asian region. Vans include vehicle models produced by major Asian automakers like Toyota, Mitsubishi and Hyundai. AUVs and vans are four-wheeled vehicles with a seating capacity of seven to eleven persons including the driver. They provide services within a zone or fixed route of not more than 15 km. Fares may be set on a zonal asis or based on distance. FX services (so called FX because of the Toyota Tamaraw FX AUV that was very popular with those providing the service) evolved from the taxi as demand for a faster alternative to jeepneys arose in the 1990’s. Fares were higher than those for jeepneys but were eventually considered acceptable as longer travel times when using jeepneys became a major consideration for passengers, especially those who have constraints in their schedules like students and typical office workers (i.e., those who do not have the luxury of flexi-time). In 2003, the LTFRB issued a moratorium on the issuance of AUV franchises and pursued conversion and regulation of services into the Garage-to-Terminal Express (GTExpress). However, there is still a proliferation of vans for hire services, particularly those plying long distance routes in the rural areas. Meanwhile FX services remain in other cities in the Philippines.

Motorcycle taxis

Motorcycle taxis are also popular in the less urbanized areas including the small towns throughout the Philippines. These include the “habal-habal,” which are not regulated but have similar operations as their relatives in other countries like Thailand and Indonesia. Then there is the “skylab,” which is also a motorcycle taxi but with a wooden plank perpendicular to the motorcycle that allows for additional passengers balanced by the driver. Hence, the vehicle is made to appear like the fallen satellite of which it is named after.


Multicabs are similar to jeepneys but with most vehicles having about half the capacity of current jeepneys. However, their configurations are also evolving like the jeepneys, being customized vehicles like the latter. The resulting capacity has enabled these to have seating capacities equivalent to small or old model jeepneys. Multicabs are based on the Daihatsu or Suzuki mini-vans in terms of engine specifications and most came into being after the Philippines was flooded with second-hand or surplus vehicles. Their small bodies made them popular and they are now found in many cities, often competing with jeepneys and tricycles for passengers.

Other paratransit modes

Other paratransit modes are used in the Philippines in both urban and rural settings. There is the “kuliglig,” which uses a farm tractor to pull a wagon that is customized for passengers. These are mostly found in the country side where formal transport is lacking and even tricycles are unable to satisfy the demand for transport. Another paratransit mode is the “motorela,” which is a four-wheeler version of the motor tricycle. However, it is configured with the motorcycle in the front and middle instead of a one side such that it appears like the Thai “tuktuk.” These operate in cities and have capacities that are typically higher than the tricycles but significantly less than those for jeepneys.

Future of paratransit in the Philippines

The idea of environment and people friendly paratransit is always an attractive proposition. Given the current perceptions that paratransit like jeepneys and tricycles, there are many initiatives that are now being seriously considered if not yet engaged by both the government and the private sector. Some have been proposed for quite some time such as engine replacement and although financial schemes have also been proposed there have been very few takers for the program. Then there are those proposals for devices that have not been tested or validated but offer quick fixes to the emission problem, particularly claiming significant carbon reduction for a small price. Such are to be viewed as doubtful solutions that should not be pursued unless there is strong proof of their effectiveness.

Many taxis in Philippine cities have been converted to use LPG. Electric and LPG powered tricycles are now also being promoted in the Philippines. In fact, Quezon City, the biggest city in Metro Manila, only recently enacted an ordinance requiring all tricycles to convert to clean fuels or energy sources within 3 years. Such local legislation probably marks the beginning of a genuine and, perhaps, sustained effort towards making paratransit environment friendly. In the national context, a national EST strategy is currently being formulated (NCTS, 2009) and will ultimately recommend for actions to improve public transport in general.

An assessment of the jeepneys and tricycles as main public transport modes is necessary while at the same time it must be realized that jitney sized transport is necessary where passenger demand cannot justify mass transit modes including bus and rail transport. The World Bank (A Strategic Approach to Climate Change in the Philippines: An Assessment of Low-Carbon Interventions in the Transport and Power Sectors,2009) proposed medium and aggressive scenarios for the reduction of carbon in the transport sector. Among these scenarios are interventions for public transport particularly mentioning the conversion of jeepneys to CNG and assessing recent developments including options with high potential for carbon reduction, and technologies under testing such as CNG, LPG and electric powered vehicles. These are proof that the transformation of paratransit, in this case the jeepney, is essential  and should be under way. Hopefully, it will be a matter of time when these popular modes of transport will gain the adjective “environment friendly.”