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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.

Transport and Energy

With the recent blackouts and all the talk about energy security and the high costs of electricity in the Philippines, I guess it was only fitting that the first full article on this blog will be about transport and energy. I reproduce below the full paper I wrote on Transport and Energy for the UP Diliman Academic Congress:

Sustainable Transport and Energy


Sustainable transport is often associated with emission control and improving air quality, mass transit, and environment and people friendly transport systems. It also refers to energy efficient transport and the use of green fuels and renewable energy. The transportation sector represents a significant portion of the total energy demand in the Philippines. Its share of about 38% is the highest among sectors that include residential, commercial and industrial uses. About 80% of this share is associated with road transport. The promotion and realization of sustainable transport seeks to address issues pertaining to the dependence on fossil fuels as well as inefficiencies due to high fuel consumption especially for public transport. While there are many options already in use including interventions on vehicles like hybrid cars, CNG buses, LPG taxis and electric jeepneys, these represent only one part of a whole range of options that include traditional travel demand management techniques. The formulation of a national strategy for environmentally sustainable transport (EST) and its implementation at the local level will be critical to ensuring the transport sector’s effective contribution to energy security in this country.

1. Introduction

Dependence on fossil fuels is part of a vicious cycle that stems from rapid urban development. As cities keep growing in size and population, there is also increasing motorization that has led to traffic congestion, worsening air pollution and an alarming increase in the number of road traffic accidents. All these indicate deterioration in the quality of life for Filipinos and are regarded as manifestations of unsustainable transport.

The transport sector represents more than 40% of the total demand for energy. This share is larger than the shares of the industrial and residential sectors and is expected to increase further. From 1980 to 2008, transport energy use increased steadily from 1.9 million tons equivalent of oil (MTOE) to 10.9 MTOE – an average of 6.4% per year. Over 80% of the share of transport is attributed to road transport, which is overwhelmingly dependent on fossil fuels. Most private transport use gasoline while most public and freight transport utilize diesel.

There is also a strong correlation between inefficient fuel consumption and air pollution. A 2007 national emission inventory conducted by the DENR revealed that mobile sources account for 65.13% of total emissions. Such information dispels perceptions that stationary sources such as factories contribute more to air pollution. Clearly, addressing fuel efficiency concerns will have far-reaching impacts including potential curbing of air pollution in our cities.

2. Issues

The dependence of transport on fossil fuels has led to varied and usually negative reactions to fluctuations, particularly the increase, of crude oil prices. In fact, fuel price increases have always affected our lives as they trigger a chain reaction in the rising prices of commodities; fuel price increases are felt most in urban areas where consumers absorb the high cost of transporting goods. The high prices of food items especially fruits and vegetables are attributed to transport costs that are passed on to the consumers.

The commuting public is affected by fuel price increases as transport groups lobby for fare rate adjustments whenever there are gas price hikes. Such requests are articulated as demands that are accompanied by threats of transport strikes. In cases where transport strikes do push through, cities are often crippled by the limited availability of transport services leaving people to ponder what life would be like if there were other transit options.

In the interest of coming up with a clear picture of transport services in the Philippines, we must examine the characteristics of the three most dominant modes of public transport in relation to fuel efficiency. These modes are the tricycle, bus and jeepney. Tricycles are motorcycles with sidecars. Motorcycles were designed to carry at most 2 persons. Engines are forced to work harder with the additional load of the sidecar, passengers and in many instances even freight. Such have led to more emissions and higher fuel consumption when compared to normal motorcycle operations.

Many buses in the country are poorly maintained. In small cities served by few buses (mostly provincial operations), buses are often overloaded not just with passengers but with freight as well. Overloading leads to higher fuel consumption and is manifested in more emissions as engines are forced to work harder due to the loads they carry.

Jeepneys use surplus or second-hand engines originally designed for trucks. A study conducted by the U.P. National Center for Transportation Studies in 2008 revealed that jeepneys’ average fuel consumption is less than 6 kilometers per liter. Most efficient are short routes (coverage distance of 5 kilometers or less) consuming 6.0 km/L and about 11 L/day. Meanwhile, least efficient are medium routes (coverage distance of 6 to 9 kilometers) with about 5.5 km/L on 20 L/day.

It is easy to see that fuel inefficiency translate to higher costs borne by users even for private transport users. Prospective buyers of cars take note of mileage especially for used cars and are presently more aware of the implications of having gas guzzlers on their budgets. This is perhaps due to their experiencing first-hand the cost of travel based on fuel and maintenance costs.

The inefficiencies of public transport are often passed on to the commuters while service providers do little to ensure that their vehicles are well-maintained and therefore efficient in fuel consumption. Meanwhile, the commuting public is not at all aware of such and their implications on their wallets as they absorb rising fares that are partly due to high fuel consumptions.

3. Sustainable transport

Sustainable transport is the response of the transport sector to the challenge of attaining sustainable development. The EST approach adopts the pro-active integration of environmental consideration in the planning process itself. Thus, negative impacts are minimized and environmental sustainability is achieved. On the other hand, the traditional planning framework considers the environmental impacts after planning and thus mitigation measures are formulated after the implementation of the project.

When the concept of EST was first presented to the DOTC and the DENR, it was unclear how the agencies would work towards incorporating sustainable transport in their plans and programs. It was proposed and eventually decided that a national strategy was needed to have a practical framework to guide the development of plans and programs. The overall goals for the formulation of an EST strategy are the reduction of the annual growth rates of energy consumption and green house gas emissions, and mainstreaming EST through the promotion of low carbon transport systems and a shift towards sustainable transport modes.

Sustainable transport incorporates all aspects of transport including social and economic The EST thematic areas as defined by the Aichi Statement of 2005 are as follows:

  1. Public Health
  2. Strengthening Roadside Air Quality Monitoring and Assessment
  3. Traffic Noise Management
  4. Vehicle Emission Control, Standards, and Inspection and Maintenance
  5. Cleaner Fuels
  6. Public Transport Planning and Travel Demand Management (TDM)
  7. Non-Motorized Transport (NMT)
  8. Environment and People Friendly Infrastructure Development
  9. Social Equity and Gender Perspectives
  10. Road Safety and Maintenance
  11. Knowledge Base, Awareness and Public Participation
  12. Land-Use Planning

All thematic areas are related to efforts toward energy efficiency in the transport sector. Some are more strongly connected, like cleaner fuels, public transport planning and travel demand management, non-motorized transport, and land use planning. These thematic areas directly address the question of efficiency in the sense that initiatives under them deal with travel. Promoting public transportation and non-motorized transport over private transport, for example, results in significant fuel savings. Meanwhile, TDM focuses on interventions influencing trip making behavior. Cleaner fuels include CNG, LPG and biofuels and the use of renewable energy to power vehicles.

It is important to note at this point that the objective should be towards the efficient movement of people and goods rather than vehicles. There are principles of equity that allow us to understand that individuals driving cars should have less priority compared to a jeepney load or busload of passengers especially given the limited road space available.

Emissions and noise are by-products of fuel inefficiency. As such air quality monitoring, noise management and vehicle inspection and emission control go together in addressing the symptoms of fuel inefficiency. Meanwhile, proper road design and maintenance ensures safe and smooth flow of traffic that is also fuel efficient as vehicles are able to run on higher gear.

The interaction between land use and transportation has been the subject of much discussion in both academic and planning circles. There is a close relationship between the two since land use patterns have implications on the transport system and vice versa. Unfortunately, land use and transport are often planned separately. Dense areas are associated with shorter trips and require efficient public transport to move people and smaller vehicles for goods movement. Meanwhile, urban sprawl involves longer trips that, with the absence of a good transit system, encourage car ownership not to mention larger and often overloaded trucks to carry freight. While there are proponents for transit-oriented development, the reality in the Philippines is that land development will come before transport enters the picture. The type of transportation that evolves is usually reactionary and most likely informal. Therefore, there is a need to optimize land use planning in relation to sustainable transport.

4. Barriers to sustainability

Technology and its costs have always been the top concerns when it comes to providing the best solutions to problems. Technical feasibility is usually constrained by the availability of funds. There are also prevailing perceptions that effective solutions need to be “high tech” and that such solutions are expensive when measures such as TDM do not require significant capital outlay or operational costs. In fact, schemes like MMDA’s number coding was successful for some time until rapid motorization eventually caught up and rendered it marginally effective.

Transport groups have been successful in blocking efforts to improve transport, citing social and economic implications including unemployment. As such, the positive traffic impacts introduction of more efficient modes including rail and bus services where these mass transit systems are already required are diminished as conventional transport remain, increase in numbers and compete with them. Social and economic implications of rationalizing transport services have always led to friction with a sector that has been, from one perspective, coddled or pampered. On a number of occasions, government has acquiesced to the demands of the transport sector, which have used the threat of public transport strikes as a powerful instrument to bring government to the negotiating table.

There are also efforts involving the upgrading of conventional transport. Among these are proposals to replace old inefficient engines with new ones using CNG, LPG or diesel. Transport groups have resisted these, citing the costs of acquiring a new engine or conversion, lobbying instead for quick fixes such as devices claiming to reduce emissions and improve fuel efficiency. These quick fixes are not validated and approved by the Department of Science and Technology.  Instead, they reflect the mindset of transport service providers while exposing the government’s inability to deal with a problem that has worsened as transport groups have become more aggressive in pushing for their sector’s agenda, including seeking representation by way of the party list system.

Bus companies have threatened to withdraw from the Natural Gas Vehicle Program for Public Transport (NGVPPT) over the government’s alleged failure to address the issues plaguing the program. There is a single daughter station for CNG in Mamplasan but this has been operated on a very limited basis, rendering CNG buses acquired through the program to be unused while continuously depreciating. This example can be seen as proof of government’s failure to provide the necessary infrastructure to support EST.

5. Initiatives towards energy efficiency

A study conducted by the Korea Transport Institute in 2009 shows the way towards energy efficiency for the transport sector by identifying the most effective initiatives. These initiatives are the following:

  • Expansion of energy efficient transportation facilities
  • Creation of public transportation-centered cities
  • Enhancement of traffic demand management
  • Establishment of incentives for energy-saving
  • Utilization of new energy technologies
  • Establishment of an energy saving cooperation system
  • Establishment of an execution system for efficient energy consumption

Example applications of these initiatives are already found in the Philippines and are identified as good practices. Makati City has a system of pedestrian walkways interconnecting office buildings and malls that encourage walking as mode as opposed to using cars or motorized public transport for short trips. This has effectively decongested the city’s streets from cars previously being used for such short trips as office workers taking their lunch in Glorietta or Greenbelt.

Marikina City has a bikeways network that was constructed with assistance from the World Bank. The network serves as a good example for the promotion of non-motorized transport (NMT) in cities or municipalities seeking to provide energy efficient modes that are suitable for short trips. In this case, it is quite obvious that NMT’s do not require fuel and have zero emissions.

Cebu City is currently exploring public transport options via a strategic plan study being conducted in the Metro Cebu area. Such a study is envisioned to provide the city with a blueprint for establishing a suitable mass transit system for a city that is already comparable to Metro Manila in terms of urbanization and experience of traffic congestion. A pre-feasibility study is also underway for a proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for the city. BRT systems are currently popular and favored by many cities that have budget constrains that prevent them from investing in expensive rail systems. The cities of Bogota in Colombia and Curitiba in Brazil have demonstrated the effectiveness of bus systems when combined with a strong effort in rationalizing conventional transport to complement mass transit.

San Fernando City in La Union has successfully implemented a program to upgrade tricycles from 2-stroke to 4-stroke while enforcing a limit on the number of tricycles in that city. The program incorporated a health awareness campaign that sought to educate tricycle drivers and the general public about the hazards of emissions through check-ups and sputum tests for drivers. Such programs address concerns (i.e., health) that are easily understood by the public. Limiting the number of tricycles employed a criteria that included residence (previously, many tricycles were operated by residents of neighboring towns) and compliance with the motorcycle conversion program. Moreover, an information campaign was also conducted to show drivers that more tricycles meant less income for them as they compete with others for the same market of passengers.

Puerto Princesa City is well on its way towards completing a green cycle that involves waste management, energy generation and sustainable transport. The concept for this is very simple in that energy is produced from waste and is used to charge the batteries of electric vehicles including e-jeepneys and e-tricycles. Fossil fuels are not utilized and zero emissions are achieved through the use of renewable energy.

6. Conclusion

Road public transport in the Philippines is comprised mainly of paratransit modes like the jeepney and the tricycle. These modes are perceived to be inefficient in terms of fuel consumption and impose costs on the general public by way of eating into our finances, air pollution and other externalities. In truth, many of our vehicles, whether private or public modes of transport, collectively contribute to the continuing rise in the share of energy attributed to the transport sector and consequently, the deterioration of our environment. We have to realize that the externalities brought about by the transport sector are strongly related to inefficiencies that have plagued the sector due to mismanagement on the side of transport service providers and a lack of planning foresight and political will on the side of national and local governments.

The need for extensive social marketing, employing a participatory approach in awareness building and the need for incentives and creative mechanisms to encourage engine replacement or upgrading of transport services cannot be overstated or underestimated. Indeed, there is a need to have a clear vision of the future and EST presents a framework for the vision to become reality. The traditional approach of forecasting scenarios and the mitigation measures for potential problems is set aside in favor of backcasting approach. That is, a future vision is set and we go back to the present to examine what steps must be done from now on to realize the vision.

In the end, leadership at both national and local levels is required to effect the changes necessary to ensure sustainable transport and sustainable development. The next administration must provide an enabling environment for national agencies like the DOTC and the LTFRB to succeed in rationalizing (read: overhauling) a transportation system that is seen as inefficient, ineffective and unsustainable. The same leadership must also be able to convince local governments to do their part in transforming their transport systems with proper guidance from national agencies. Policy formulation must be followed by a firm and consistent implementation of plans and programs consistent with the principles of sustainability. A strong commitment to sustainable transport will go a long way into ensuring the transport sector’s contribution to energy security. Security in this context, after all, is synonymous to sustainability.