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New publication on urban transport by ITDP and UC-Davis

There is a new publication on urban transportation from Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) and the University of California-Davis. The link may be found here:

Three Revolutions in Urban Transportation

The content reminded me of similar exercise we did back in 2013-2014 for ASEAN where we did visioning and simulations for low carbon transport in the region by 2050. Electrification was a major assumption for the Philippine case as electric vehicles were gaining ground (they seem to be in a limbo now) back then and on the verge of a breakthrough. Not yet evident for the Philippines was the eventual rise of sharing, and though the idea is out there, automation seems to be too high tech for the country (even Metro Manila) for now.

Latest model electric jeepney

In case my readers missed my feature on the recent electric vehicle summit hosted by Meralco, here are a few photos of the latest model of the electric jeepney. Note the passenger door is no longer at the rear but at the side across from the driver. They have also added a distinctive snout to the vehicle. This model is the latest from PhUV, which also manufactures electric tricycles.

IMG_1570Profile of the electric jeepney currently in use for a Department of Energy-funded project being undertaken jointly by the National Engineering Center (NEC), the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) and the Vehicle Research and Testing Laboratory (VRTL) of the Department of Mechanical Engineering; all of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

IMG_1571A peak at the interior shows the passenger seats in bench layout and a more generous headroom for passengers.

IMG_1572Driver’s seat and panel. There is space to install fare collection machines like the ones that can enable the use of BEEP cards by passengers.

IMG_1573E-jeepney front showing the distinctive face from its conventional ‘ancestors/predecessors’. A colleague noted that perhaps the manufacturer should add some accessories like horses or airplanes on the hood.

This model is already similar in size with the big COMET electric jitneys. They also run on a more powerful electric motor that will enable these vehicles, according to the maker, to climb slopes like those along the route of Antipolo jeepneys. We hope that this design gets mainstreamed (read: replace conventional jeepneys) along the many existing jeepney routes not just in Metro Manila but in other cities as well.

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.

Locally made AGT

I got my first look at the vehicle currently being developed by the DOST-MIRDC at the DOST complex in Bicutan. This was the same vehicle that was shown on some news programs a couple of days ago when there was some buzz about a MOA being signed between UP and DOST for the development of an automated guideway transit (AGT) prototype and test track at UP Diliman. The DOST Secretary was supposed to have said that it would cost somewhere between a fourth or a fifth of those developed elsewhere (read: other cities abroad) and that it would have a capacity of 60 passengers. The Secretary also was reported to have said that the AGT would eventually be travelling at 100 ¬†– 120 kilometers per hour! That’s quite fast for something that’s being packaged as an urban mass transit system.

Together with the reports, both on TV and print (I haven’t heard anything from radio.), were images of a transit vehicle used by DOST in publicizing the project. What appeared was an artist’s impression (or so it seems) of what looked more like a monorail than an AGT. But coming to Taguig for a meeting, I made it a point to ask our friends at DOST to give us a brief tour of the test track they constructed at the complex where the MIRDC with a little help from another agency involved in rail transit was testing a prototype vehicle that was shown on TV. I wasn’t able to catch those news reports so I was a little excited to see the vehicle being developed and by local engineers and scientists. Below are a few of photos of the vehicle together with the test track.

I’m sure a lot of pundits out there were disappointed with what they saw after getting all the hype about the UP AGT. However, it turns out that this won’t even be what will run along the test track to be constructed at UP Diliman. Our friends at the DOST say that this was just a practice vehicle of sorts that DOST staff experimented on just to prove that we (Filipinos) are capable of ¬†developing a transit vehicle and the track that will carry it. Of course, the future track and the proposed loop in UP Diliman will be overhead. Also, there will be other challenges pertaining to the superstructure (foundations, columns, girders, stations, etc.). Then there is the vehicle itself that should be safe and comfortable with designs adhering to ergonomic standards, an efficient motor and controller (it will be electric), and a suspension system that should give a smooth ride. Needless to say, the vehicle should also look good to be able to attract people and for it to be marketable. These are tremendous expectations indeed and it could really use all-out support from the government and maybe the private sector. I would not be talking about the funds and other resources required for this undertaking. Info on these are already available from the DOST and UP, and there are already initiatives to attract the private sector into having a look at the project and perhaps provide support in whatever way they can.

I can’t help but be proud of what has been accomplished and what is still to come in as far as the project is concerned. I believe we should be eager to pitch in what we can in order to ensure the success of this collaboration between UP and DOST. Who would not want to be involved in a project where Filipino engineers and scientists will come together to come up with a product we can not only showcase as home-grown but something that would have a significant impact on public transportation in this country.

Meanwhile, it would be better for DOST and UP to temper expectations so as not to put undue pressure on those who will be involved in the project. Pronouncements claiming that the system will replace the IKOT jeepneys are at this stage premature and only raises flags that would not be in the interest of the project. Claims, too, that the vehicle will run at 100 kph is unfounded and unnecessary considering, for one, that the average running speeds of such systems would be between 30 and 40 kph and probably top at 60 kph if there were sufficient distance between stations. I understand that the statements made were probably words of encouragement but I guess we have our work cut out before us and the challenges have been revealed on the way to the development of a home-grown AGT.

Going electric in the Philippines

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.