Jeepneys are an iconic form of public transport in the Philippines.
But their diesel engines are heavy polluters.
The Asia Development Bank estimates that 5,000 people die from air pollution-related illnesses every year in the country.
But now commuters in Manila have the option of using environmentally-friendly electric jeepneys.
It’s early in the evening in the business district of Makati. Many commuters are returning home by electric jeepney.
46-year-old Teresa Centeno used to work as a guard in a warehouse. She’s happy with her new job as an e-jeepney driver.
“This is much different from the original jeepney. Instead of using gasoline, we use batteries and charge them. We don’t emit smoke so we help the environment.”
The electric jeepney was launched 6 years ago by a non-profit group, the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities.
They are now domestically manufactured, and along with widespread electric vehicle charging stations, there is also an e-vehicle battery swapping program.
The Institute’s program coordinator Reina Garcia says the e-jeepney looks like the original version but is more environmentally-friendly.
“There’s no engine, so it runs on an electric motor and controller and batteries. You charge the electric jeepney like a cell phone because it comes with a charger for an overnight, or 8 hours. It can contribute to locally clean air and globally to reduce carbon emissions which contributes to climate change.”
There are currently 50,000 diesel-based jeepneys in the capital but only 30 electric ones operating in limited districts.
Many jeepney drivers are reluctant to give up their old vehicles as it costs 1,500 US dollars to buy a brand new electric jeepney.
60-year-old Rafael Carlos has been driving his old jeepney for 40 years now.
“That’s expensive. What about the poor like me? The batteries don’t live long and the e-jeepney is not as fast and strong as the diesel one.”
The country’s Climate Change Commission claims that diesel jeepneys, buses and trucks are responsible for 70 percent of emissions in urban areas. And air pollution costs the economy 1.5 billion US dollars each year.
But e-jeepney supporters are still struggling to get backing from the government.
Reina Garcia from the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities says they’re now expecting a new bill which will give legal support to the e-revolution.
“That bill is meant to give incentives to a variety of players in the industry so electric vehicles could propagate... tax incentives to importers, assemblers, manufacturers and users of electric vehicles. We’re waiting if it will go through the same process and what is the reaction and general enthusiasm of the government to help that bill passed.“
Commuters in Makati district, like Nova, are now using e-jeepneys every day.
“It’s efficient, environmentally-friendly.”
Driver Teresa Centeno says everyone should give e-jeepneys a try.
“Those who have not tried them, should experience them for themselves, what the commuters are saying... It’s a quiet ride. Even children say it’s a smooth drive. Some are taking the e-jeepney just for fun.”