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Going electric in the Philippines

April 2011
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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) hosted and co-organized a forum on electric vehicles with the Department of Energy (DOE) today. The forum was divided into two parts where the first part included remarks from the DOE Secretary and two presentations from invited speakers. The second part included mainly presentations of experiences in the deployment of electric vehicle technology around the country and a presentation by the ADB on their program to support electric vehicle deployment in the Philippines.

In the first part, the DOE Secretary was very clear in his message in support of electric vehicles. He emphasized the importance of addressing concerns pertaining to the use of fossil fuels, mentioning the need for fuel efficiency and our transport system’s (over)dependence on fossil fuels. He also expressed concern over environmental aspects, recognizing the direct association between emissions and fuel consumption. His remarks was followed by two presentations on experiences on electric vehicle applications abroad. One presentation was mainly on the infrastructure for charging e-vehicles and included material on the experiences in China. Another was on battery technology but included also the different e-cars that are currently available in the market (e.g., Volt, Leaf, Tesla, etc.).

I must admit, modesty aside, that I was disappointed with the presentations as they were both mainly on private vehicle applications including electric motorcycles and electric cars. I was unimpressed, as were others, with the presentations that had material one could easily pick out of the internet. Even information on battery technology did not provide any new knowledge to most participants that included proponents/advocates of electric vehicles in the Philippines. The comment of one participant said it all when he mentioned that in the Philippines the focus was on public transport applications of e-vehicles.

The second part was more interesting, although two presenters tended to stray away from the topic of electric vehicles. The first presentation of the second part of the forum was delivered by the Congressman representing Taguig City. He did not use any slides but chose to make a rambling speech on Taguig’s experience during his time as mayor of the city. He explained his administration’s push for the e-trikes in Bonifacio Global City and made it appear as if his administration was progressive in its push and that the private sector (i.e., Ayala Land, which had a say on transport at BGC) did not have foresight. In truth, the question that needed to be answered at the time of their push was if the e-trike was the appropriate transport mode at the Fort. Ayala knew it was not but it was clear that Taguig insisted on the deployment of e-trikes at BGC rather than take the more progressive (radically) yet risky push of replacing conventional tricycles in the old Taguig east of C5. His speech was really more a conscious delivery of soundbites and I must say, was quite pretentious and self-serving. It was, for me, simply lip service and a waste of time. In fact, one person near us was already snoring by the time the Congressman finished his speech.

The second presentation was delivered by a representative of the Puerto Princesa Mayor. It was straightforward and wasted no time in explaining PPC’s programs and clearly showed their efforts in deploying environment-friendly transport systems. He also mentioned the incentives that the city has so far offered and proceeded to ask those present to partner with them in promoting e-vehicle use.

The third presentation was on Makati’s experience on electric vehicles. The presenter was city’s traffic consultant and I was expecting him to focus on the electric jeepneys now operating along three routes in that city’s central business district. Instead, he took up much time presenting on Makati’s transport plan including the proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system and its extensive pedestrian facilities that included walkways connecting buildings and to the shopping district. Nevertheless, his presentation had its saving grace in that it mentioned how the e-jeepney could serve as feeders to the BRT and how the pedestrian facilities complemented public transport services.

The fourth presentation was by a representative of Mandaluyong City, which is the first recipient of the incentives being granted by the ADB in support of e-vehicles. This was another straightforward presentation and clearly covered the main points of the e-trike application in that city including the infrastructure they put up for charging. These charging stations represented an innovation that can be picked up by entrepreneurs in coming up with a business model for charging stations. It was not clear though if Mandaluyong has set out to replace conventional tricycles as my impression was that the e-trikes they acquired will be on top of the existing tricycles plying routes around the city.

The fifth presentation was from Ateneo De Manila University, and focused on that school’s efforts to pilot e-vehicles for the use of their students and staff. The presentation mentioned their rationale and the apparent marching orders from their newly installed president, who is an acknowledged expert on environment, to address air quality in the vicinity of the campus. I found their presentation awkward and at the very least hypocritical of the fact that the problem they have to face is the overwhelming number of private vehicles the school generates and their continuing coddling of tricycles whose phase out along Katipunan is long overdue. Perhaps I will expound on this and other issues when I write about Katipunan transport and traffic in the future.

The last presentation was a quick one from the ADB. It was mainly on the ADB’s program supporting e-vehicle promotion. It was also explained why ADB chose to focus on tricycles and was unapologetic in their argument that tended to generalize the problem on transport in the Philippines. There was no mention of rationalization considering that there is actually an oversupply of tricycles and this too needs to be addressed.

While it is commendable that the ADB has extended assistance in the form of grants incentives to promote e-vehicles, there are still questions on the sustainability of this effort given that they chose to focus on tricycles. Of course, the statistics on the number of tricycles and their environmental and energy impacts clearly argue for addressing this problem pertaining to conventional motor tricycles. However, the ADB must realize that local government units (LGUs) can be quite fickle-minded or hard-headed in their approaches to public transport regulations. This is a fact given that there are few LGUs that have been successful in regulating tricycles and particularly in restricting their numbers and their operations along routes or areas where they are suitable. If we take a look at many cities, we will find tricycles running on national roads and causing congestion in CBDs. We would also see that many of these cities, among them highly urbanized cities (HUCs), have a need to graduate from these low capacity modes into middle or even high capacity vehicles.

It was noticeable that there were no representatives from the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) nor its attached agencies like the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) at the forum. Despite pronouncements by the DOE Secretary that the DOTC and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) were on-board in the former’s push for e-vehicles, experience has shown that DOTC and its attached agencies have been the bottlenecks in the forward movement of e-vehicles. This includes the absence of clear policies pertaining to e-vehicles including their registration as well as the lack of direction pertaining to their mainstreaming as public transport modes (i.e., franchises). Also, lest we forget, all the talk on e-vehicles while being spearheaded by the DOE, is very much the province of the DOTC since we are, after all, talking about transport. It is the main responsibility and the mandate of the DOTC to see the e-vehicles through and lead in the mainstreaming of these vehicles in the context of environmentally sustainable transport. It is a pitch for e-vehicles that would go a long way into ensuring that a critical mass can be realized and that the tipping point for the shift to electric would be reached in the near future.

1 Comment

  1. Bert says:

    Thanks sir! Excellent summary…

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