Thursday, November 25, 2010

Coming soon: commercial use of e-jeepneys
By Jessica Anne D. Hermosa, Senior Reporter
BusinessWorld, November 23, 2010

ELECTRIC JEEPNEYS may soon become more commonplace as proponents are looking at commercial use of the so-called "green" transports roughly a year after they first started plying public roads.

The government is poised to issue the first franchise next year, speakers at yesterday’s Electric Vehicle Summit claimed, thus allowing operators to run e-jeepneys for profit.

Coupled with the cheaper option of retrofitting existing jeepneys instead of buying brand new, this should prod drivers and operators to make the shift, they added.

But the speakers also continued to call for government incentives, banking support, and even public readiness to pay a premium to complete the transition.

"Lately, we’ve developed conversion. It’s a concept we want to use on passenger jeepneys," said Ferdinand I. Raquelsantos, president of electric jeepney assembler PhUV, Inc., at the event.

Interested jeepney owners need to shell out just P250,000 to have an electric system installed instead of the P625,000 for a brand new battery-powered vehicle, Mr. Raquelsantos said.

With savings of P3.15 per kilometer from nixing diesel, he claimed that electric jeepney operators would be able to earn back their investment in three years, thereafter enjoying a doubling of revenues.

The government, in turn, is expected to issue the first electric jeepney franchise next year to allow their commercial use, said Renato Redentor Constantino, director of the Filipino nonprofit Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, at the sidelines of the event.

While the vehicles have been allowed to take to public roads, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board has yet to authorize drivers to collect fares from their operation, Mr. Constantino explained.

This is why the e-jeepney fleet currently running on "green routes" in the Makati business district continuous to offer free rides, he told BusinessWorld, with revenues from advertising on the vehicles’ bodies and donations funding the effort in the meantime.

"Now we’re in the commercial viability phase. We’re on the verge of launching the first electric vehicle franchise," Mr. Constantino said.

Financing, however, still remains a hurdle with jeepney operators reluctant to make an investment, the speakers said.

"The biggest challenge lies in the realm of financing. People can go to banks to get financing for SUVs (sport utility vehicles). It should be time enough for banks to finance electric vehicles too," Mr. Constantino said.

Various schemes were proposed, ranging from using tradeable carbon credits as bank collateral to even hiking household power rates to subsidize the vehicles.

"[The] government is a huge player itself. The signals it provides is something the private sector will respond to," Mr. Constantino said.

The Metro Manila Development Authority, for instance, could sweeten the transition by exempting electric jeepneys from the color-coding scheme, Mr. Raquelsantos said. Income tax holidays for manufacturers would also help lower the vehicles’ prices, he added.

The country’s largest power distributor, Manila Electric Co., even heaped its support with a vague promise "to help" from its CEO Manuel V. Pangilinan, who declined to elaborate.

"More than technology, its’ about partnership and our ability to work together," Mr. Constantino said. #

Photo By Jonathan L. Cellon

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