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On e-trikes again

I saw this electric tricycle while traveling along Marcos Highway in Antipolo City. There are already a number of e-trikes operating in many cities around the country including several in Metro Manila but this one seems to be the inferior to the designs I have features in previous articles in this site (Note: Refer to the post on Vehicles at the 3rd Electric Vehicle Summit for a sampling of e-trike designs). Those designs were mostly inspired by the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s concept electric tricycle design for their project that sought to replace conventional tricycles with electric ones.

IMG_0824Antipolo e-trike along Marcos Highway

This e-trike appears to be a clumsy design and I have questions regarding its stability and operating characteristics, which have implications on road safety. Note that the e-trike in the photo above is not registered. Otherwise, it should bear an orange plate from the Land Transportation Office (LTO), which incidentally classifies e-vehicles as low-speed vehicles. This classification basically restricts most e-vehicles from traveling along national roads such as Marcos Highway. Did Antipolo secure an exception or exemption for these vehicles? Are traffic law enforcement personnel turning blind eye to the operation of these vehicles along busy highways like Marcos Highway and Sumulong Highway? How safe are these vehicle designs?

Some setbacks for sustainable transport

There have been a few setbacks for sustainable transport in the news recently and not so recently. One is the burning of an electric vehicle, a COMET to be precise, that saw one unit burn to the ground near the UP Town Center along Katipunan Avenue. I am not aware of any official or formal findings being released as to what really happened to the vehicle but that is basically a big PR problem now as detractors of e-vehicles will point to the incident as proof that e-vehicles still have a long way to becoming a viable and safe option as public utility vehicles. E-vehicles have a lot to prove especially as an option for public transport and such setbacks only strengthen the argument against them and leaves us with the current conventional options.

Another is the discontinuance of service inside the Bonifacio Global City (BGC) of hybrid buses operated by Green Frog Transport. This one is due to what Green Frog described as exorbitant fees being charged by Bonifacio Estates Services Corp (BESC) for their buses to enter BGC. This is making the rounds of social media but there seems to be no response from BESC nor from the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), which is supposed to also have a say with policies in BGC. Perhaps BESC thought it best to just give Green Frog the silent treatment for what appears as a trial by publicity approach by Green Frog. One commuter commented that maybe BGC authorities should push for their Fort Buses to be hybrid and phase out the jeepneys in favour of higher capacity transit inside BGC.

There have also been issue on road safety including many incidents of pedestrians getting run over by vehicles. Many of these have been captured on video particularly by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), which has set-up a network of cameras in many intersections along major roads. Many show vehicles Given that many cases feature jaywalking, it is still the responsibility of any motorist to exercise caution when manoeuvring, especially when turning at intersections. Drivers will always have blind sides or weak sides when they manoeuvre so they should be very careful when in doubt and not immediately proceed when it is not clear that they have a clear path. At BGC (again) one will notice that many motorists do not give way to pedestrians even when the latter are crossing at the right locations and according to the sign clearing them to cross the street. In one case involving two speeding SUVs, one lost control and hit a pregnant woman crossing the street. While a significant number of vehicles in BGC are through traffic, it is still the responsibility of BGC’s traffic enforcers to ensure motorists follow traffic rules and regulations including prioritising safety over haste. Simply attributing such safety issues to through traffic is no excuse for traffic enforcement being as lax as or par with the rest of Metro Manila, especially for a CBD that packages itself as better than the rest of Metro Manila.

Resistance is futile? The case against electric jeepneys

There is a strong sentiment against electric jeepneys along the route where the COMET is currently operating. This opposition has always been there even before the COMET came about. I would like to think that this is partly due to the perception among many operators and drivers that conventional jeepneys would be phased out and replaced by e-jeepneys. But then isn’t this replacement supposed to be an upgrade in terms of having a more energy efficient and therefore economical vehicle that had a significant bonus of being low emission as well.

I finally got a photo of the sign Katipunan jeepney operators and drivers put up at the terminal below the Aurora Blvd. flyover.

IMG10352-20150322-1704Protest against electric jeepneys written on Manila paper and posted on overpass column at the Katipunan jeepney terminal

Given the recent innovations and the rapid advances in electric and other fuel vehicles, it should come as no surprise that more reliable and more efficient models of these vehicles will be available in the market. In the case of the Philippines where the thrust for e-vehicles is focused on public transport, there will eventually be a model that will comprehensively beat conventional jeepneys in every aspect. That is, if there is not yet a model that good. Arguably, the COMET and the latest e-jeepney model (BEEP) are already better than conventional jeepneys. However, their acceptability is pending with operators and drivers who seem uninterested with the case against conventional jeepneys. Perhaps these people are being fed false information by another party? Hopefully, they will open their eyes and mind to the reality that will eventually catch up with them if they do not embrace change.

Future jeepney: COMET

Another vehicle being considered for the study on the comparison of customised vehicles being used for public transport is the COMET (City Optimised Managed Electric Transport). This is a 20-seater vehicle that we have written about in previous posts and was touted by its makers and supporters as the best and most suitable replacement for the conventional jeepney. Unlike the BEEP that was featured in the previous post, it is currently operating along a route with trip ends at North Avenue and Aurora Boulevard via Mindanao Avenue, Congressional Avenue, Luzon Avenue and Katipunan Avenue. This route overlaps in operation with established jeepney routes in those areas and thus competes directly with these jeepneys.

spec sheet COMET

Notice that both the COMET and the BEEP have seating capacities of 20 passengers (except the driver). However, the COMET is the larger vehicle as it is both wider, longer and higher than the BEEP. In fact, a passenger can stand inside the COMET without having to bow his/her head so as not to bump against the ceiling. Perhaps the more significant difference with current operations is that COMET drivers have been trained to drive more responsibly (i.e., less aggressively) than the typical jeepney driver. So far they do not weave in traffic and stop only at designated points along their route. Future jeepneys should have drivers like these but they should also be compensated according to the requirements of their jobs as drivers. Such compensation schemes are among the biggest factors for the way jeepney drivers behave in traffic. Technology-wise, current and subsequent developments in motors, batteries and other components of the vehicle itself should make electric and other environment-friendly vehicles more attractive as replacements (successors?) to jeepneys.

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 – 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.

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.