Philippine capital road-tests ambitious and sustainable scheme to ease traffic congestion and pollution problems
By Aya Lowe for The Guardian
Every morning, millions of commuters battle it out on Manila’s roads and railways. The city of 12 million swells to 15 million during week days, forcing traffic speeds down to 5km per hour. During the rush hour, a 30-minute journey can take up to three hours.
In 2012, the Philippine capital’s economy lost about 2.4bn pesos a day (£32m) as a result of its traffic jams. At this rate, the country stands to lose up to P6bn a day by 2030, according to the Japanese International Corporation Agency (Jica), which has been trying to reduce this mammoth infrastructure problem.
It is not only time and money that are the issue. The millions of cars, buses, Jeepneys and motorised tricycles that crawl through the city’s arteries belch toxic black fumes into the atmosphere. Jica estimates that greenhouse gas emissions will rise to 5.72m tonnes a year by 2030, compared with 4.7m in 2012.
But all this is set to change. The president of the national Electric Vehicle Association, Rommel Juan, plans to have 1m electric vehicles on the road by 2020. With government backing and private-sector support, the Philippines could soon become a regional hub for electric public transportation.
The eJeepney is poised to replace its diesel-run counterpart. Developed by the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC) and launched in 2007, the manufacturers of the eJeepney work with local firms who assemble the vehicles at low cost. The eJeepney’s holding bay and charging station are solar-powered.
A fleet of 30 ply the streets of Makati, an area of Manila, and a few more operate outside the metropolis. “However, this [number] is miniscule compared to the scale that is needed,” said Red Constantino, executive director of iCSC, who estimated that about 10,000 electric Jeepneys would be required to revolutionise the Philippine transport system.
Constantino said the institute’s aim was to sell fleet operations: “You can introduce 20 eJeepneys in Manila, but if you do not replace the Jeepneys that ply the street, all you have is more traffic.”
Drivers of iCSC’s eJeepney fleets are salaried employees, whereas other drivers work under the boundary system, where vehicles are leased for a certain amount and drivers keep any additional cash they earn. “Under that system, everyone has an incentive to violate, stop and pick up passengers wherever they are,” Constantino said. “When we established our fleet, we do it in a salaried way. If they violate the rules they can be reprimanded, suspended or fired.”
The biggest obstacle to the expansion of the scheme is financing. “The eJeepneys have already been proven technically viable; it’s financing that is the challenge. Investors don’t have the money to pay 50% upfront and 50% two months on. The department of finance has to back this, banking institutions need to open lending windows,” Constantino said.
The company has been testing the scheme in Tacloban, a city devastated by typhoon Haiyan last year. “We’re setting up solarised sustainable transport facilities in Tacloban because the typhoon wiped out a huge section of the public transport in the city,” Constantino said. “It’s a place where we feel we can bring in not only a new idea, but a new ambition for a city to reboot and take a different pathway.” They hope to launch the scheme by the end of August.
Another iconic form of transportation in the Philippines that is set to turn electric is the tricycle. In March, the Philippine government, in partnership with the Asian Development Bank and Meralco, the country’s largest electricity company, announced am ambitious $504m (£294m) project to put 100,000 electric tricycles on the streets of Manila and other provinces by 2017. It is estimated that this fleet of tricycles would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by an estimated 260,000 tonnes per year and reduce the transport sector’s petrol consumption by 100,000 litres a day.
The electric tricycles will be deployed to various local government units (LGUs) under a five-year rent-to-own scheme. The first phase, which will roll out 3,000 units, has already experienced difficulties, with LGUs delaying the contracts to supply the tricycles.
Though electric vehicles may make big strides towards reducing air pollution, the issue of congestion remains. Running freely alongside the lanes of backed-up traffic is the Pasig river, which runs for 27km through the heart of Manila.
The Pasig, which is as wide as a 10-lane road, has since the end of the second world war been in a state of deterioration, choked by litter and polluted by toxic substances and human waste from the shantytowns and factories that line the banks. In the 1990s, the river was declared biologically dead.
River ferries operated in the 1990s, however poor financial management and lack of maintenance of both the ferries and the river led to them being shut down. Attempts to restart a ferry service, in 2007, failed because of the volume of solid waste and foul odours.
A decade-long programme was launched by the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) to clean up the river. Almost 400 informal settler families were relocated, indoor plumbing was installed in nearby settlements and a mass cleanup, sifting out decades of human and toxic waste, was begun.
Following this rehabilitation, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) relaunched the ferry system in April. The MMDA converted three tugboats into “bus-ferries” by attaching the bodies of mini-buses on top of the 20ft boats, which can carry at least 40 passengers. “What we’re trying to do here is arouse the interest of private firms to operate a ferry system again in Pasig river,” said Francis Tolentino, the MMDA chairman.
Only six of the original 13 ferry terminals are running, with plans to reopen them all by the end of the year. According to Boots Nicolas, the information officer at PRRC, the ferries are transporting 5,000 passengers a week. “This figure is increasing, but only gradually, to about 6,000 people per week,” Nicolas said.
However, it is not all smooth sailing. “There are still some problems. The ferries are not air conditioned,” Nicolas said. “The river has not been not fully cleaned and there is still a stench and solid waste, which the ferries’ motors occasionally get stuck in.”
In the next two years, Manila is due to launch 13 transportation construction projects that will result in the city’s roads getting much worse before they get better. The future may look brighter – and cleaner – but for the moment it is business as usual for the city’s beleaguered commuters.#
This article was reposted from The Guardian.com.
Photo by Gigie Cruz/iCSC