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Future jeepney: BEEP

The National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) is part of the Phase II of a research comparing the performances of customized local road vehicles (CLRV) for use in public transport. This project is being conducted together with the Vehicle Research and Testing Laboratory (VRTL) of UPD’s Department of Mechanical Engineering (DME), Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute (EEEI) and the National Engineering Center (NEC) with funding from the Department of Energy (DOE). Phase II considers a longer route for the comparison of vehicles. In the previous Phase I, the route was UP Diliman-North EDSA while in this phase, the route will be Lagro-Cubao, which is significantly longer in distance compared to the previous study route.

Here are the specs for the BEEP, which features some significant design changes from the earlier versions of the e-jeepney:

21-seaters spec-BEEPIt is worth noting the following for the BEEP:

1. The door is already located on the side of the vehicle instead of at the back.

2. The motor is rated at 30kW, a significant upgrade from the 15- and 20kW motors in previous e-jeepneys.

3. The seating capacity is for 20 passengers (excluding the driver) by about 2 to 4 people from previous e-jeepney models.

These are the most obvious changes in the BEEP and would be factors that could affect its performance and acceptability. Most jeepneys these days are “siyaman” meaning they seat 9 passengers on each of the bench seats plus 2 on the front seat for a total of 20 passengers. Also, jeepneys should be able to negotiate steeper slopes that have been among the problems for e-jeepneys. Not mentioned are the specs of the batteries and the charging time although the range claimed for a full charge is 85 km. This study will hopefully validate these claims and show us if the BEEP will be up to the challenge of replacing the conventional jeepneys on long routes.

Bullish about electric vehicles in the Philippines

We were invited to the opening of an electric vehicle assembly plant in Cavite recently. BEMAC Electric Transportation Philippines, Inc. formally opened their plant last February 11 at the Almazora compound at the Golden Mile Business Park in Carmona, Cavite. We were very impressed at the plant and learned that BEMAC is partnering with Almazora, a local company specialised and experienced in vehicle body assembly. I am sharing photos I took of the plant so readers can have an appreciation of what an assembly plant looks like.

2015-02-11 15.07.56BEMAC’s e-tricycle model, the 68VM, has a comfortable seating capacity for 6 passengers at the back with the driver the sole occupant of the front seat.

2015-02-11 15.10.09Batteries by Toshiba Japan

2015-02-11 15.10.54E-trike body parts

2015-02-11 15.11.20More parts

2015-02-11 15.11.33Assembly area for the drives

2015-02-11 15.11.53Axles stacked and waiting for assembly

2015-02-11 15.12.33A closer look at the drive assembly

2015-02-11 15.13.24Assembly line showing e-trikes in various stages of assembly

2015-02-11 15.13.32Another look at the assembly line

2015-02-11 15.14.06Assembly line showing the chassis of the e-trike and the body being assembled.

2015-02-11 15.15.48A view of the assembly line from the rear2015-02-11 16.29.11E-vehicle intended for goods transport

2015-02-11 16.50.21A closer look at the initial stages of assembly showing the e-trike chassis and body frame

2015-02-11 15.51.52A slide in BEMAC’s presentation shows its 68VM

BEMAC’s e-trike model is the best we’ve seen so far among e-trike models in the Philippines. It is supposed to have been tested under various conditions except actual (or simulated) operations that are closer to real-world conditions (i.e., operation as conventional tricycles in the country). It is claimed to be capable of running at a top speed of 80 kph and its motor can power the vehicle up steep slopes, which is a typical feature in many municipalities and cities in the Philippines. Details for BEMAC Philippines may be found in their website.

There will be an Electric Vehicle Summit on February 26-27, 2015. The 4th Philippine EV Summit will again be held at the Meralco Multi-Purpose Hall in Ortigas, Pasig City. The two-day summit organised by the Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines (EVAP) in partnership with Meralco and the Partnership for Clean Air (PCA) will feature an exhibit on the current electric vehicle models available in the Philippines, which I think is among if not the main highlight of the summit. There will also be several talks and panel discussions on e-vehicles including those on technology/R&D, industry, incentives and green communities. The program also mentions a lot about sustainable mobility, a term prolifically used by advocacy groups but not really one I’d attribute to e-vehicle proponents (One colleague made the observation before that not everyone is really into e-vehicles because of its environmental aspects.). I’m not sure all the top officials they invited will show up or give good talks. Past summits had good potentials as venues for serious discussions that could have led to fruitful outcomes. However, it seems that they fell short of these objectives and ended up with boring talks that to me often were reduced to lip service from government agencies especially on topics like incentives that will pave the way for the turning point for e-vehicles.

Hopefully, this year’s talks would be more interesting and engaging considering the plenary set-up where people farther from the front tend to have meetings and discussions of their own. E-vehicles have a great potential in improving air quality in a country like the Philippines. There is also the promise of less noise and, more important to many especially operators and drivers, better revenues than translate to increased incomes to those dependent on it for their livelihood. We look forward especially to the transformation of the tricycle sector from the current conventional trikes to the more modern and environment-friendly models such as those by BEMAC.

Comet – rare sightings

A colleague was saying that he has not seen the Comet, a jitney-type vehicle currently plying the SM North – Katipunan route via Mindanao Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue, for quite some time. I shared the same observation and this is based on my regular commute that includes travel along Katipunan Avenue. The Comet is becoming, if it is not yet, a rare sighting even considering its relatively long and apparently convenient route. The route passes through residential and commercial areas and would be a direct, single ride for students in particular of three major schools in the Katipunan area – UP, Ateneo and Miriam. It also connects to 2 large malls, SM North and Trinoma, and 2 rail stations, LRT 2 Katipunan Sta. and MRT 3 North EDSA Sta. Despite these traffic generators along its route, it seems that the Comet still has less than the desired ridership. I say ‘seems’ because I currently don’t have the hard statistics on ridership but only observations from those who have seen the vehicle along its route.

IMG10028-20150114-1924I saw this one on my way home last December in heavy traffic as our jeepney approached the Katipunan – C.P. Garcia intersection. It had few passengers considering its long route from SM North EDSA to Aurora Boulevard via Katipunan Ave.

IMG10050-20150122-0821An almost empty Comet spotted one morning this January along Katipunan

What is the future for the Comet? It is unclear so far despite the hype and claims that this is supposed to be the vehicle to replace the conventional jeepney. (To be fair, this is what was also said of the e-jeepney that precluded the Comet.) The DOTC does not have a clear and firm policy or commitment to making this work. Its pronouncements have so far been towards deploying the Comet along new routes instead of replacing existing jeepneys on existing routes with this low emission vehicle. I believe that the only way for the Comet to work is for it to be mainstreamed as a replacement for the jeepney and along suitable routes, of course. The DOTC could and should review jeepney franchises to determine how the Comet and other similar low emission vehicles can be phased in over a realistic period in order to modernize public transportation currently being supplied by conventional jeepneys.

I recently noticed that there are jeepneys along Katipunan bearing tarps on their sides stating “No to additional jeepneys.” Underneath are the names of three jeepney groups supporting this call but with the exception of a major jeepney group that’s supposed to be supportive (even owning several units) of the Comet. Are the signs a form of resistance to change? Do the groups know or understand what they are saying and what they stand for? Or are these indicative of disagreements among jeepney groups, operators and drivers regarding the future of their operations using conventional jeepneys?

There will surely be resistance from these sectors if there are changes to be made that will affect their sources of income. It is a very daunting and sensitive task to decouple transport and livelihood in the Philippines. However, the issues coming out of such changes to improve public transport services should be met head on rather than skirt them, particularly in the case of the agencies responsible for these services – the DOTC and the LTFRB. Only then can we have the transformation we need for road-based public transport in this country.

COMET – just another jitney?

The COMET (City Optimized Managed Electric Transport) is a 20-seater vehicle designed along the lines of the jeepneys operating along many streets in Philippine cities and towns. More information on the vehicle, its operations and the organisation behind it may be found in their website. The COMET has been in experimental operation for a few weeks now but has been a rare sighting considering only 20 units are operating along a relatively long route that happens to be have congested sections depending on the time of day (e.g., Katipunan Ave. can be very congested during the day and Congressional Ave. is not necessarily a free flowing corridor given jeepney and tricycle operations along the road).

A good feature of the COMET is the GETPass, which is a card that is used to pay for fares. The card is something that should have been available many years ago and for use in most if not all transport modes (LRT, bus, jeepney, taxi, etc.). At present, it can be reloaded via COMET staff who are assigned to each vehicle or stationed at the designated stops. They help promote the transport as they sell the tap cards to passengers and other potential users of the mode. Here are photos showing the GETPass and the brochure that comes with it.

IMG09298-20140923-0952The GETPass card comes with a brochure on the COMET and how to use the card.

IMG09299-20140923-0952Basic information on the GETPass card.

IMG09300-20140923-0952Illustrative example of how to use the card.

IMG09301-20140923-0953The GETPass card

IMG09302-20140923-0953Instructions at the back of the card.

IMG09303-20140923-0953More information on Global Electric Transport.

IMG09305-20140923-0958Southbound designated stops for the COMET.

IMG09306-20140923-0959Northbound designated stops for the COMET.

IMG09307-20140923-0959Route map included with the tap card brochure.

IMG09573-20141008-1629COMET in operation along the southbound side of Katipunan Avenue (C-5).

The current experimental route of the COMET overlaps with several jeepney routes including Katipunan and Tandang Sora jeepneys. If the objective is simply to demonstrate vehicle performance (and reliability) using this route and with actual traffic conditions, then this would be a very fruitful exercise. However, more suitable routes should be considered for the COMET including possibly new routes like missionary routes or feeder routes that are not yet served by any formal public transport. This is one way for the COMET to be mainstreamed and for the low emission vehicle to have a significant impact on transport and environment. Another way that would certainly be the more challenging one is the prospect of the vehicle replacing conventional jeepneys along established routes. I say this is a challenge because there has been a need to retire or phase out conventional jeepneys in favor of higher capacity modes (i.e., bus) and the jeepney sector (operators and drivers) have always been somewhat averse to proposals modernizing jeepneys due in part to financial implications of transitioning to low emission options like the e-jeepney or the COMET. If these are not considered, the COMET will just be an additional vehicle along Metro Manila’s streets, contributing to the chaotic road public transport, and its hyped benefits will not be realised.

I do hope that the COMET will not be just another paratransit mode that is integrated with all the other land transport modes currently in operation throughout the country. I believe there is a big potential for the vehicle and similar other models like it for cities and towns that are not yet as highly urbanized as Metro Manila or perhaps Cebu. There are corridors or areas where buses are not or will not be viable within the foreseeable future (next 5 to 10 years?) given the demand for this period. These are where jeepneys thrive (assuming tricycle operations are restricted or strictly regulated) and where the COMET would be most suitable.

The Philippines’ National EST Strategy – Final Report

Friends and some acquaintances have been asking about whether there is a master plan for sustainable transport in Philippines. There is none, but there is a national strategy that should serve as the basis for the development and implementation of a master plan, whether at the national or local level. This strategy was formulated with assistance of the United Nations Council for Regional Development (UNCRD) through the Philippines’ Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which served as the focal agencies for this endeavour. The formulation was conducted by the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of the University of the Philippines Diliman. For reference, you can go to the NCTS website for an electronic copy of the National Environmentally Sustainable Transport Strategy Final Report.

NESTS coverCover page for the National EST Strategy Final Report

 

 

Future fare collection for jeepneys and other modes?

In the last Electric Vehicle Summit held in late February this year, I noticed a conspicuous device installed in the electric jeepney unit that was on display at the venue. The device is for electronic payment of fares; using a card much like the ones being used in other countries like Singapore and Japan, and soon, hopefully, for the LRT and MRT in Metro Manila. Such a capability has a lot of potential including a very convenient way to pay fares for public transport in Metro Manila. Other potential uses would be for payments of items bought at stores or shops (or vending machines) like Japan’s Suica card. Users would just have to “top up” or load their cards for these to be used in their commutes or purchases.

2014-02-28 09.09.26The latest e-jeepney model features a side door instead of one at the rear.

2014-02-28 12.30.07Boarding passengers will encounter device upon entering the vehicle. The current technology available should soon enable passengers to use “tap” cards to pay for their fares.

2014-02-28 12.30.13Such a device will leas to a more efficient fare collection and eliminate the need for “conductors” or persons assisting the driver in taking passengers’ fares. These should also allow the driver to focus on driving rather than be distracted by fare collection including trying to keep track of who has paid and who has change due. This would likely translate into safer travel for most people.

2014-02-28 12.30.33Electronic boards at the top behind the driver can provide travel information such as the next stop or traffic conditions along the transit route. Such information can be derived from various sources including the MMDA or local governments as well as from crowd-sourcing. 

Vehicles at the 3rd Electric Vehicle Summit

The 3rd Electric Vehicle Summit was held last February 27-28, 2014. It was hosted by Meralco and featured presentations and discussion on the many issues regarding electric vehicle promotion and deployment in the Philippines. Outside the venue of the more formal presentations was an exhibit of the various electric vehicles that are currently available and being promoted by various proponents and companies. These include 2, 3 and 4-wheelers that can be used for either private or public transport.

I observed that there are definitely a lot of improvements since the last exhibition in the previous EV Summit in 2012. Vehicle designs have evolved and for the better. Local manufacturers or companies have partnered with foreign companies who have more experience in EVs so its a good thing. They will definitely learn a lot from their partners and we cannot over-emphasize the importance of technology transfer particularly in areas or aspects where local manufacturers are weak like the controller and the motor.

2014-02-28 09.01.223-wheeler tuktuk design

2014-02-28 09.01.34The COMET, which is being proposed as a replacement for the conventional jeepneys.

2014-02-28 09.01.53More 3-wheelers and an electric car from the same company that brought us the EVs at Bonifacio Global City that are nearing extinction.

2014-02-28 09.03.00Electric mini car

2014-02-28 09.03.17Traditional design of tricycle – electric motorcycle with side car

2014-02-28 09.04.38Electric motorcycle with a more sporty design

2014-02-28 09.04.49Same model electric motorcycle fitted with a conventional sidecar

2014-02-28 09.08.31Another tuktuk design 3-wheeler – this one looks very much like the EVs in operation at BGC in Taguig.

2014-02-28 09.09.04Many companies were supposed to have submitted bids to the DOE-ADB initiative to push for electric tricycles. There are still no assurances whether these e-trikes will replace conventional ones currently dominating transport in many cities and municipalities around the country.

2014-02-28 09.09.13Another electric 4-wheeler. These still look more like glamorized golf carts than the sleek electric cars currently in the market that includes the popular but expensive Tesla.

2014-02-28 09.09.26The newest model of the e-jeepney from PhUV, the first to manufacture local electric jeepneys including the models now running in Makati, Pasig and Quezon City. I learned that they have partnered with TECO, a Taiwanese company that has extensive experience in EVs. Notice the passenger door is already at the right side of the vehicle instead of the rear.

2014-02-28 09.09.40Participants to the EV summit tried out the different EVs on display and for demo rides. The latest model e-jeepney was quite popular especially to foreign participants.

2014-02-28 09.05.493-wheeler and mini-bus designs from KEA Industrial

2014-02-28 09.06.02Charging station developed by the same company – I think they’re trying to appeal to the “tingi” mentality of Filipinos by indicating PhP 10/15 minutes of charge.

2014-02-28 09.08.02Perhaps one of if not the best e-trike that was on display was this model by Japanese manufacturers. They were supposed to have been selected by DOE and ADB for the first phase of the e-trike project that will see the deployment of 5,000+ e-trikes in different Philippine cities.

2014-02-28 09.08.14Mitsubishi featured its elective Outlander, which, I observed, got more attention from the well-heeled participants. Students on field trips for the exhibit were not into this example of the more refined EV models.

2014-02-28 09.08.21Another tuktuk 3-wheeler design from Prozza. I don’t really remember all the participating exhibitors but most of them bid for the e-trike project of the DOE-ADB.

2014-02-28 09.08.31The same 6-seater e-trike from Prozza in green body color.

I would defer from a quick assessment of these EVs to another post. For now, I  just like to show the models that were shown in the recent summit. Suffice it to say that I have high hopes for EVs in the Philippines but then we need to really look into the context for these vehicles as well as the sustainability given the challenges of power generation for many areas in the country.

Harbinger of change for public transport?

Comets have been viewed as signs, omens or harbingers of something that will happen. I like the word “harbinger” more than “omen.” It brings about a certain mystery to it that does not necessarily imply something bad or evil. In this case, the comet is a vehicle and “Comet” stands for City Optimized Managed Electric Transport, an electric jitney that is being touted as a replacement for the ubiquitous jeepney that has evolved from its WW2 ancestor. It does have the potential of being a game changer if there is an enabling environment for it and if (a big “if”) it addresses fundamental issues with electric vehicles such as those that are technical (battery life, range, speed, etc.), pertaining to after sales (maintenance, technical support) and operational (suitable routes, fares, charging stations, etc.).

[All photos taken by Engr. Sheila Javier of the National Center for Transportation Studies]

comet1Prototype Comet at the NCTS parking lot – notice that it is larger than the AUV on the other side of the vehicle. The Comet will utilize a tap card for fares, similar to the card that is proposed for use in the Automated Fare Collection System for the LRT/MRT system.

comet2Inside the vehicle, one immediately gets a feeling of space. In fact, a person can stand inside the vehicle unlike the case of jeepneys where people need to bend so as not to bump their heads at the ceiling.

comet3The vehicle has a side entrance and exit unlike the rear doors of typical jeepneys.

comet4The Comet looks like a mini-bus from behind. Proponents have stated that drivers will be trained for road safety as well as operations for designated stops and scheduled services.

The Comet is being touted as a replacement for the jeepney and is being promoted via an initial route that would connect SM Megamall in Ortigas Center, Pasig City to SM City North EDSA in Quezon City. The route will be counter-clockwise from SM Megamall to SM North EDSA via Circumferential Road 5 including E. Rodriguez Avenue and Katipunan Avenue, UP Diliman, Commonwealth Avenue, Elliptical Road and North Avenue. From SM North to SM Megamall, it will take EDSA. While I am not sure if the Comet has been granted a franchise and how many units they can deploy, this proposed route will overlap with existing jeepney and bus routes including direct competition with UP-Katipunan and UP-North EDSA routes, and buses plying routes that cover the stretch from North EDSA to Ortigas Center. I think that this route is mainly for publicity considering there are probably other, more suitable routes for the Comet. It has not been subject to rigorous tests (just like the e-jeepneys before it), which is not a good thing, considering the experiences of the e-tricycle in Taguig and the e-jeepneys in Makati. Hopefully, they have learned the lessons from these past efforts and that they already have the answers hounding EVs as applied to public transport.

What is the context for electric tricycles in the Philippines?

The NEDA Board recently approved six projects that included one that will be promoting electric vehicles throughout the country. Entitled “Market Transformation through Introduction of Energy Efficient Electric Vehicles Project” (formerly Market Transformation through Introduction of Energy Efficient Electric Tricycle (E-Trike) Project), the endeavor seeks to replace thousands of existing conventional motorized 3-wheelers (tricycles) with e-trikes and to develop and deploy charging stations for these vehicles. While I have nothing against electric vehicles and have supported their promotion for use in public transport, I am a bit worried about the context by which electric tricycles are being peddled especially the part about equating “transformation” with “replacement.”

First, it is a technology push for an innovation that has not been fully and satisfactorily tested in Philippine conditions. The deployment of e-trikes in Bonifacio Global City is practically a failure and a mode that was not suitable from the start for the area it was supposed to serve (i.e., while there were already jeepneys serving the area, there were also the Fort Bus services and plans for a BRT linking the Ayala CBD and BGC. There are now few (rare sightings) of these e-trikes remaining at the Fort, as most of these vehicles are no longer functioning due to problems regarding the batteries, motors, and issues regarding  maintenance. Meanwhile, the e-trikes in Mandaluyong, a more recent model, have also been difficult to maintain with one case reportedly needing the unit to be sent back to China for repairs.

Second, the e-trikes are a whole new animal (or mode of transport). I have pointed out in the past including in one ADB forum that the 6 to 8 seater e-trike model is basically a new type of paratransit. Their larger capacities mean one unit is not equivalent to one of the current models of conventional tricycles (i.e., the ones you find in most city and municipality around the country). Thus, replacement should not be “1 e-trike : 1 tricycle” but perhaps “1:2” (or even “1:3” in some cases). This issue has not been resolved as the e-trike units continue to be marketed as a one to one replacement for conventional trikes. There should be guidelines on this that local government units can use, particularly for adjusting the number of franchises or authorized tricycles in their respective jurisdictions. Will such come from the Department of Energy (DOE)? Or is this something that should emanate from Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC)? Obviously, the last thing we like to see would be cities like Cabanatuan, Tarlac or Dagupan having so many e-trikes running around after they have replaced the conventional ones, and causing congestion in the cities. Emissions from the tricycle may have been reduced but emissions from other vehicles should be significant due to the congestion.

Third, the proliferation of e-trikes will tie our cities and municipalities to tricycles. Many cities already and definitely need to upgrade their public transport systems (e.g., tricycles to jeepneys or jeepneys to buses, and so on). Simply replacing tricycles with electric powered ones does not effect “true” transformation from the transport perspective. Is the objective of transformation mainly from the standpoint of energy? If so, then there is something amiss with the project as it does not and cannot address the transport, traffic and social aspects of the service provided by tricycles (and other modes of transport).

So what is the context for the e-trikes or conventional tricycles? They are not even under the purview of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) as they are regulated by LGUs.  Shouldn’t the DOTC or the LTFRB be involved in this endeavor? Shouldn’t these agencies be consulted with the formulation of a framework or guidelines for rationalizing and optimizing transport in our cities? These are questions that should be answered by the proponents of this project and questions that should not be left to chance or uncertainty in so far as the ultimate objective is supposed to be to improve transport in the country. I have no doubt that the e-trikes have the potential to improve air quality and perhaps the also the commuting experience for many people. I have worries, however, that its promise will not be kept especially in light of energy supply issues that our country is still struggling with and deserves the attention of the DOE more than the e-trikes they are peddling.

Mobility for all?

We chanced upon the fellow shown driving an electric vehicle below with what was apparently his wheelchair mounted behind the vehicle. And then I remembered seeing other people in wheelchairs traveling along the traffic lanes of similar streets, and exposed to the high risks of being sideswiped or bumped by motor vehicles. These and other persons with disabilities (PWDs) are among what we usually categorize as transportation poor or those who are marginalized when traveling. Marginalization comes in many forms including the lack of or inadequate infrastructure and facilities for PWDs. Sidewalks are usually narrow, making it difficult even for able people to use, and definitely inaccessible to persons needing the space to move about.

IMG01569-20120218-0925

I remember that Tahanang Walang Hagdanan (translated Home without stairs or steps)  is located in Cainta, Rizal. We used to see PWDs on their wheelchairs traveling along Bonifacio Avenue in the poblacion to go to church on Sundays. Often, jeepneys, buses and cars come very close to them that you might wince at the near misses of what could easily be a tragedy just waiting to happen given the odd mix of people on wheelchairs mixed with motorized traffic along the carriageway. The local government should have exerted more efforts to put up facilities adequate for the needs of pedestrians in general and PWDs in particular; the latter considering the significant number of constituents requiring such facilities. On a map, you can even see that Tahanang Walang Hagdanan is just beside the Cainta Local Government Complex. I believe the provision of basic facilities to enhance the safety and mobility of PWDs is just one example of what a city or town should be doing towards realizing inclusive transport or inclusive mobility at their level. It would definitely go far in promoting people friendly, sustainable transport for all.