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A Day in the Life: E-motionally enlightened
Behind the wheel of an e-jeepney, Steven Yu develops a better appreciation for our so-called kings of the road.
I have a personal belief that the best way to understand someone else’s perspective is to put myself in that person’s place, and it works. For example, after I started riding a bicycle and a motorcycle more frequently as a form of alternative transport and environmental consciousness, I became more considerate to fellow cyclists and motorcyclists. Of course, other cases, such as being considerate to the elderly and handicapped, shouldn’t require firsthand experience - one only needs a sense of decency. For me, though, personal experience is always the most effective medium for learning.
The e-jeepney is described by its manufacturer, Philippine Utility Vehicles, as an “electric mass-transport vehicle,” and it shares nothing except its seating layout with its antiquated, diesel-fed counterpart. Its very first use was implemented by the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC), a Quezon City- based NGO directed by former Greenpeace environmental advocate Renato “Red” Constantino, and funded by both the Netherlands-based Stichting Doen Foundation and the local revenues generated from advertising space on the e-jeepneys. This is in line with the Climate Friendly Cities (CFC) program, which is supported by the Motor Vehicle Parts Manufacturers Association of the Philippines and Makati City, and consists of three components to complete the “green circle”: a charging station/electric –vehicle terminal; a biodigester facility to convert biodegradable household waste into electric power; and the electric vehicles themselves.
Joining me for my e-jeepney experience is Jerome Palomar, iCSC’s operations head, who familiarizes me with the e-jeepney before I get behind the wheel. For starters, the e-jeepney does not have the traditional nose or hood because its 5kW electric motor is as small as a beer keg and – since it doesn’t require liquid cooling – is mounted under the passenger-area floor. It is mated to an ordinary four-speed manual transmission, but because an electric motor can generate maximum torque at zero rpm, shifting through the gears becomes unnecessary. It will start smoothly in fourth gear, so the only gears used are fourth for moving forward, and reverse.
With the Magallanes biodigesting facility still offline, the Makati e-jeepneys have to rely on commercial electricity for recharging. It takes eight hours at 2.5kW for a full recharge, which equates to approximately P160 at current electric rates. This provides enough power to travel 55km – or roughly 17 times around the 3.2km Legaspi Village loop from 9am to 5:30pm. Unlike gasoline or diesel vehicles, the e-jeepney doesn’t consume any power while sitting in traffic because the motor doesn’t run at all, so running costs are constantly kept low – P2.90/km. The most frugal diesel vehicles may cost as little as P1.75 to operate, but their emissions eventually make the case for electric alternatives.
As for the reception of regular jeepney drivers to the e-jeepney, they are more fascinated than threatened by it. After all, at P625,000 per unit, e-jeepneys aren’t cheap to acquire or upgrade to. Nor will the investment see a quick return, because one of its other benefits is free transport, so companies are encouraged to either advertise on an e-jeepney or “adopt” one to sustain the program.
After a quick briefing, its time for me to drive the e-jeepney around Legaspi Village with a Makati Public Safety Authority officer guiding me. Setting off takes a little getting used to because the electric motor doesn’t make any noise. The accelerator is light and, thankfully, requires some travel before the e-jeepney gently gets afoot. Once under way, though, everything is familiar, but the brakes – in absence of a hydrovac – require more effort to activate. Ventilation and visibility are great, and it’s surprisingly comfortable – cool, even, because the electric motor doesn’t generate the same heat as a diesel engine does.
Guided to my first designated e-jeepney stop, I delightedly pick up my first passengers, glancing quickly at the rear-view mirror to check if they’re seated before I set off again. One passenger, Jay Segovia III, tells me: “I just park my car in Glorietta, then ride the e-jeepney going to my office. I am reducing my carbon monoxide emissions by not using my car. The e-jeepney is also free, and the driver has a wide knowledge of the area.”
Several stops later, I’m ferrying several passengers and feeling accomplished. That is, until I hear the words, “Mama, sa tabi lang po.” I’m in between stops, so I have to find the nearest opening to pull aside. The more my e-jeepney fills up, the more frequently I hear “para,” and it’s rapidly becoming one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I never saw the task of a jeepney driver from this perspective before, but having strangers entrust their lives to me – and returning that trust by getting them to their destinations – is both humbling and richly rewarding.
While there are still a lot of undisciplined jeepney drivers, I now imagine that the discomfort, the heat and the pressure to make their boundaries cause them to drive like they do. But for the handful who do take their simple jobs to heart and drive responsibly, I now have more than just an understanding for them. I envy them.
And you know what color that makes me.
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Scanned images from August 2010 issue of Top Gear.