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Philippines pioneer eco-friendly public transport in SE Asia

MANILA, April 19 (Xinhua) — The Philippines recently launched the first franchise of electric public utility vehicles — a move seen to pioneer the Southeast Asian region’s shift to a more eco- friendly public transport system.

Starting March 1, a 20-vehicle fleet of electrical jeepneys, or ejeepneys, the “green” version of a popular vehicle originally made from American military jeeps left over from the Second World War.

The ejeepney, which runs via a set of electric-charged batteries, is now plying the streets of the business district of Makati and charging a minimum fare of eight pesos (0.19 U.S. dollar) per commuter.

Diesel-powered jeepney remains the popular public vehicle in the country, but proponents believe that this is just the beginning of a more sustainable form of transport in the Philippines and in the region too.

There is no doubt that the Philippines is leading Southeast Asia in terms of developing sustainable transport options, particularly electricity-powered alternatives, for public utility vehicles, said Red Constantino, director of policy think-tank Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC).

Fast growing Southeast Asian economies may have created more opportunities for its citizens, but rising prosperity came at a cost. Rapid urbanization has led to massive use of motor vehicles, contributing to air pollution and endangering public health. This, combined with threat of climate change, pushed stakeholders in the region to look for ways to develop public transport system that will reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality.

This includes looking for alternatives to fossil fuel-dependent vehicles. Singapore has developed and deployed one hydrogen- powered public bus. An inventor in Thailand has devised a solar- powered tuk tuk — Bangkok’s iconic three-wheeled vehicle.

In the Philippines, sustainable public transport starts with ejeepney. Constantino said that for ejeepney proponents like him, ejeepney is about making the “transport solutions of tomorrow available to working Filipinos first.”

“The jeepney is a cultural icon that can capture the imagination of the public. If one can change the jeepney — if we can improve it and yet retain its distinct place in our culture — everything else is possible,” he said.

But more than that, Constantino said it’s important to prove that ejeepney is a viable business.

“The real test is not just technical viability but commercial feasibility,” he said.

After all, the technology behind ejeepney is nothing new. Years before ejeepneys came to the Philippines, the electric-powered tranvia or cable cars roamed Manila’s streets in the pre-War era.

But Constantino said that the only way for green solutions and technology to be mainstreamed and adapted is for it to help ” create business models that work for everyone.”

This is a new investment agenda, he said, adding that it will generate green jobs while at the same time yield profit for businessmen who go into ejeepney production and operation.

Yuri Sarmiento, chief executive officer of franchise holder Ejeepney Transport Corp. said his investment in the ejeepney, is both an advocacy and a business decision.

“We are ready to help grow green enterprises. We can tap new revenue streams such as battery leasing operations, electronic ticketing and scaled-up replacement programs aimed at converting public and private fossil-fueled vehicles into environment- friendly transport,” Sarmiento said.

Editor: Lu Hui

Photo: An eJeepney stops at Landmark, Makati for passengers.  (iCSC/Gigie Cruz)