New E-Jeepney system cruises into Manila
Manila, Philippines – The ‘king of the road’ is cruising the way of clean air. And its proponents are literally holding their breaths as the e-jeepney attempts to change the image of the charming, but dirty air of the public utility jeepney.
The jeepney, refered to as “hari ng daan” (king of the road), is a mode of transportation unique to the Philippines, rarely changing its post-war design and powered by second-hand engines that were not very efficient, nor anywhere near the Clean Air requirements.
Recently, the City Optimized Managed Electric Transport or COMET was launched to introduce another form of e-jeepney – a cross between a mini-bus and the jeepney’s form.
COMET, is a pure electric alternative to the conventional jeepneys. COMETs are battery-operated and can be charged in any 220-voltage power outlet. Since the COMET is purely electric, it has zero-emission and promises a noise-free travel to its passengers.
Initiatives to clean the air and to offer commuters a better ride started in 2009 when the electric jeepneys first plied routes at the Central Business District in Makati City. Advocating for cleaner air, the Makati City Government made an investment to help jeepney operators realize that making money out of public transportation need not be harmful to the environment. But the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) did not classify Makati’s e-jeepneys as public utility vehicle. The Land Transportation Office (LTO) only gave the e-jeepneys orange plates and as such could not charge its passengers the way PUVs normally do.
But unlike the first generation of electric jeepneys, COMETs use Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries instead of Lead Acid used by the older version. Engineers in the United States of America that built it said this is because Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries are light and more energy dense, helping increase performance of the vehicle.
Standing Passengers Allowed
Compared to the older version of electric jeepneys, wherein passengers still crouch to ride, the COMET is big enough to accommodate standing passengers when its seating capacity of 16 is exhausted. A unit is about 5.75-meter long, 2.22-meter tall and 2.05-meter wide, and its seats are too wide for Filipinos since they are designed to fit American passengers.
“Sa COMET, ang mga pasahero ay pwede ng sumabit sa loob at hindi na sa labas,” Aurora Liongson of Global Electric Transportation (GET) said during the COMET prototype unit’s exhibition at the Makati Transport and Traffic Summit last Thursday. GET is the proponent of the COMET as a PUV in the Philippines with Filipino and American partners on board.
New Business Model
Under GET’s business model, individuals can buy a COMET for an initial investment of P250,000. The unit is actually priced at P800,000 and the remaining balance will be amortized using the unit’s fare collection profit within a period of 10 years.
Liongson said individual COMET owners can earn a minimum of P14,000 per month from fare collection alone, or an estimate of P400 a day, excluding profit from transit advertisement and extra earnings for extra passengers who board the COMET along its designated route.
“COMET is a good investment both financially and socially. You can realize payback in two years while your returns grow year on and year after. Plus you can rest well at the end of the day, knowing that you have contributed to the betterment of your community,” Liongson added.
Leasing The Battery
Purchasing a COMET doesn’t include the batteries though. Considering the cost of the Lithuim Iron Phosphate battery that COMETs use, GET decided to exclude it in the package and just lease it out to the owners.
“A unit with battery would cost P1.2 million. It will be prohibitive to the common jeepney owner or investors considering its cost. And if the battery is updated with new technology, the owner will have to purchase a new one,” Liongson said.
“This is why GET owns the battery and the unit owner will only lease it from GET so that if the battery manufacturer comes out with a new technology, GET will upgrade it at no cost to the COMET owner,” she added.
To protect the batteries from being submerged in flood water during inclement weather, Liongson said the vehicle has at least 10 inches clearance from the ground and the battery packs are contained in an air-tight packaging.
Another difference is that COMETs will be centrally managed, maintained and operated by GET. GET spokesperson Armi Consunji said unit owners have the option to let GET drivers drive the COMET or operate it himself only after undergoing the necessary training.
“COMETs will be part of a centrally managed fleet operated by GET because electric vehicles are not easy to manage. For you to be able to properly maintain the vehicle, you have to know it. That was the problem of the electric jeepney. The manufacturer let the owners maintain the units on their own. We don’t want haphazard maintenance of the units so as much as possible we want quality control and if you maintain the vehicle properly, you extend its life to at least 20 years,” Consunji said.
Consunji said GET’s business model is not only providing alternative to the archaic jeepneys but also creating a different way to manage public transportation. She even said that COMETs would be first rolled out as PUVs in the Philippines. GET is currently applying for franchise to operate the SM North-Diliman-Katipunan Avenue-SM Megamall, Ortigas route.
Cashless Fare System
GET will also use a propriety cashless fare system that employs reloadable cards called TITO or Tap In Tap Out. COMETs will be monitored by the GET Command Center using an intelligent system that enables constant communication between the Command Center and the drivers. GET has also partnered with Gawad Kalinga for the training of COMET drivers, technicians and dispatchers. GET will be the one to assign and compensate COMET drivers.
“For now, half of the drivers came from GK and the other half from Pasang Masda. One of our goals is not to displace jeepney drivers so we are allocating certain number of units for the jeepney associations so that the drivers can drive themselves,” Consunji added.
Although the COMET prototype has been created in the US, GET plans to eventually outsource parts in nearby countries or locally so as to lessen the cost of the vehicle and to also generate local jobs.
“COMETs will be eventually manufactured in the Philippines. We are fixing a plant in Laguna and in Makati.” Consunji said.