The first franchise for electric public transport was issued by the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) in favor of the electric jeepneys that currently service routes in the City of Makati, the financial center of Metro Manila. An article featuring the LTFRB’s issuance of the first electric vehicle franchise may be found here. Initially, these e-jeepneys were operating with support from the Makati City Government, which had the foresight for environment friendly public transport. But despite the formality of their routes in that city’s CBD, the e-jeepneys could only rely on donations, being unable to charge fares in part due their having no franchise to authorize them to do so.
The journey towards this first franchise was a long and somewhat arduous one. It took quite some time for the e-jeepneys to be recognized and registered under the Land Transportation Office (LTO) as the agency didn’t have guidelines that were flexible enough to admit a new generation of vehicles birthed by the desire to come up with low emission, low carbon transport to address environment concerns. For one, as the popular anecdote goes, the LTO was insisting on the vehicle having a tailpipe! Another story involved inspectors being dumbfounded by the vehicle not having a conventional engine (the e-jeepney had an electric motor). There are other stories (some probably tales) about other obstacles that the proponents of the e-jeepney had encountered from government as well as their own ranks (e.g., businessmen who just wanted to make a quick buck and weren’t really looking at the medium and long term of e-vehicle applications and deployment). And these add up to the significance of their accomplishments up to this point.
It is very fortunate and definitely admirable that proponents of the e-jeepney led by the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC) and active players such as the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (CAI-Asia) and those in the private sector have passionately and persistently pushed for the mainstreaming of electric vehicles. The group, now under the umbrella of the Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines (EVAP) has been able to get the attention and support of bigger players such as Meralco and its mother corporation Metro Pacific. In fact, EVAP has been very strong in their lobbying for incentive to electric, hybrid and other vehicles using alternative energy sources. Perhaps with the continued, unflagging efforts of the group we will eventually see the transformation of Philippine road transport to one that is environmentally sustainable.
Theirs is a group that is very well grounded, knowing that the stakes are high and that the public and the transport sector need to be convinced of the viability of e-vehicles. The social and economic aspects of e-vehicles replacing conventional local transport modes such as the jeepney and the tricycle are quite complex when seen from the perspective of livelihood; a topic that seems to have been taboo to transport planners and policymakers. Yet, it is a topic that would ultimately have to be dealt with or addressed if real transformation is to be achieved for road public transport even outside the realm of the e-vehicle initiatives.
Transport, after all, is not entirely an energy issue or something simplified into such. This is why the various agencies need to work closely together and with organizations like the EVAP, the academe and international agencies like the ADB and the WB. It is a challenge to all concerned, and most especially to the DOTC, the DENR and the DOE to collaborate and encourage discussions in order to effect meaningful changes to our transport system. This should be pursued instead of the current set-up where national agencies like the DOTC and DOE appear to be working independently of each other while dealing with the same concerns. This can be problematic as well as wasteful in terms of time and other resources (e.g., funds), and may lead to confusion to the people and organizations involved.