At a recent open forum on alternative fuel vehicles, various speakers and interest groups got together to discuss the future of transport. A timely topic, considering volatile oil prices, and an unsure supply. Senator Ralph Recto served as the keynote speaker, being the sponsor of Senate Bill 2846 - a bill that seeks to grant tax breaks and registration bonuses to importers and assemblers of electric and alternative fuel vehicles. If passed, the bill should drop EV (electric vehicle) prices by 20 to 25%. This measure should come as a relief for the operators of the E-Jeepney Transport Corporation (EJTC), as they’ve been trying to get a break for years.
Since the launch of the E-Jeepney in 2007, it’s been an uphill struggle, and progress has been slow. It even took a year just to get licensing from the LTO. While the first E-Jeepney route was established in 2009, it wasn’t until 2012 that the first public franchise was granted by the LTFRB.
Not that the group has been idle in the interim. See, the first E-Jeepney was somewhat crude. The 14-passenger load capacity was small and the original 65 kilometer range limited the useful operating hours of the E-Jeepney over the course of the day. With short operating hours, a 40 km/h top speed, and little space, it wasn’t a very attractive proposition for operators.
But through continuous development, the new E-Jeepney is worlds better in comparison. Both longer and wider than the first units, it seats 22 people in better comfort. Technical upgrades have also seen a switch from the old 5kW motor and inefficient shaft-drive to a direct drive 7kW motor, which should give a dramatic improvement in range and performance. With 84 volts worth of 12v Motolite deep-cycle batteries, it boasts a 115 kilometer range and a top speed of 50 to 60 km/h. The motor now also functions as a brake, though regenerative braking is not provided. But for low-cost low-speed vehicles of this type, regenerative braking is not worth the extra cost and complexity.
The improved hardware should boost the E-Jeepney’s income-generating capacity, and allow it to run an entire day without recharging. On that front, the group has also started experimenting with battery swapping, which helps speed up recharging time. The battery packs can be removed as a unit and replaced by a fresh set of batteries. While this is a cumbersome job, the ten minutes needed to swap batteries is not much worse than the five minutes needed to fill a fuel tank.
Still, the biggest hurdle will be getting operators to buy new vehicles. Currently, the 22 passenger E-Jeepney costs a considerable P730,000. But under Senate Bill 2846, the numbers can be reduced to just P545,000. And if operators lease the batteries from charging stations, prices could drop below P500,000, similar to a brand-new diesel Jeepney.
At 4 km/L in city traffic, a diesel jeepney costs P11 to run per kilometer. An E-Jeepney, on the other hand, only costs under P2 per kilometer at current electricity prices. That translates to potential savings of nearly P20,000 per month. Even if you own the batteries, battery replacement should only add about a Peso per kilometer to running costs. That still leaves the E-Jeepney 75% cheaper to run.
But will that convince operators to trade-in their old jeepneys which have already been paid for? Probably not. But the proponents of this project aren’t (merely) starry-eyed idealists. They’re aware of the major hurdles involved in a project of this magnitude, which they’ve been facing them for years. But now that they’ve blazed the trail, it’s hopeful that other groups will take up their cause. If the government finally stops paying mere lip service to the green movement and exerts a concrete and concerted effort to clean up its act and to clean up our streets, then perhaps the window of opportunity for the Electric Revolution will open just enough to get the ball rolling.