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On tricycle capacity in the time of COVID-19

With the current rationalization and modernization of public transport vehicles and services being implemented by the national government, many jeepneys, mostly the conventional or traditional ones, have been unable to ply their routes again. Along some routes, buses have taken over but have been limited in the number of passengers they could carry due to physical distancing restrictions. But these are mostly for routes and roads that carry people between their residences and workplaces that typically are longer distance trips (e.g., more than 4 kilometers one way). For shorter distance trips, the more relevant mode of motorized transport is the tricycle. The conventional trike in the Philippines is one involving a motorcycle with a side car. Side car designs vary around the country with some seating 4 people (e.g., back to back with 2 facing backward) but usually with only two seats inside the cab. one or two passengers can be accommodated behind the driver on the motorcycle.

New model trikes include the models endorsed by the Asian Development Bank for the e-trike project that is laid out like a small jitney with benches seating 3 to 4 people on one side (total 6 to 8 passengers) and the popular tuktuk designs that seat 3 people at the back. With the quarantine restrictions in place, conventional trikes can only take one passenger inside the sidecar and none behind the driver. Tuktuks can seat 2 behind the driver but with a barrier (usually a plastic curtain) between the passengers.

 

Conventional or traditional trike with plastic sheet between the driver and the passenger (in the side car).

Tuktuk-type trike with plastic sheet between the driver (in front seat) and passengers in back seat. The back seat allows for 3 people seated together but due to distancing requirement

I have been informed by a former student that certain e-trike models (e.g., BEMAC model e-trikes) are allowed to carry 4 passengers, 2 each on the benches behind the driver who is on the front seat. That still means less passengers than they could usually carry. This would seem to be part of the new normal and will be the set-up for the foreseeable future until perhaps a vaccine for COVID-19 is approved and people get vaccinated. Then, health protocols may be eased to allow for the full seating capacities of public transport vehicles.

Electric vehicle deployment in the Philippines

Electric vehicles have been around in the Philippines for quite some time now. Most of these have been electric 2- and 3-wheelers with electric tricycles or e-trikes being the most visible. Of course, there are also electric 4-wheelers in the form of jitneys or e-jeeps. The electric vehicle wave has not caught on with private transport with the exception of those who bought electric scooters or motorcycles (but these are few and are not in significant numbers compared to those using conventional motorcycles).

The following map from the Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines (EVAP), the organization of e-vehicle manufacturers, importers and advocates in the country. It shows where electric vehicles are operating, what kind of vehicles and the manufacturer for the model in use in those places.

evehiclemap-PH

This is not a comprehensive rendering of the presence of e-vehicles throughout the country as there are also e-trikes and e-jeepneys in many other cities and towns as well. Perhaps EVAP only illustrated where e-vehicles have made significant strides or presence. I believe that with the right conditions including policies, incentives and infrastructure, e-vehicles will continue their rise among transport in the Philippines. Energy mix aside, e-vehicles have a great potential to reduce air pollution and noise, reduce fossil fuel consumption, and also has a potential to reduce road crashes. Cheaper operating costs from e-vehicles can also help increase income (i.e., take home pay) of public transport drivers and operators. It would be nice to find champions for electric vehicles in the incoming government especially from the heads of agencies like the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Department of Energy (DOE), among others that have a direct hand in transforming our fossil fuel dependent transport sector to an environment-friendly one.

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.