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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.

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.

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.