The magic of the Filipino electric jeepney

Feature story - 5 July, 2007
Over four years ago we dreamed of revolutionising some of the most iconic public transportation vehicles in Asia by powering them with renewable energy. Now our dream is real as we watched the first two electric jeepneys take off on one of the busiest streets of Metro Manila in the Philippines.

An Electric Jeepney, the first public transport system of its kind in Southeast Asia, coasts along Ayala Avenue in the Philippines' financial capital of Makati City.

Cultural icon of the Philippines, the flamboyantly designed jeepney wasinitially constructed from leftover American World War 2 troopvehicles. While providing one of the cheapest means of commuting, thediesel-guzzlers are notorious air polluters, posing a health risk fordrivers and commuters.

A 16 passenger jeepney uses nearly the sameamount of fuel as a 54 passenger air-conditioned bus. With major urbanroads clogged by empty jeepneys cruising for fares, there is a government threatto remove the jeepneys from the streets of major cities.

Athena Ronquillo Ballesteros is a long serving climate campaigner forGreenpeace based in Manilla and is passionate about making changehappen on a local as well as global level. She is also a GreenRenewable Independent Power Producer Inc. (GRIPP) founder and BoardChair.

"It was 4, maybe 5 years ago while walking down thestreets of Manila that we dreamed of an electric tuktuk for Thailand,and an electric jeepney for the Philippines. Now, our dream has cometrue. It's indeed a magical moment. People from all walks of lifegathered with much excitement as we watched the first two electricjeepneys take off on one of the busiest streets of Metro Manila, MakatiCity.

Working with GRIPP we launched the Climate FriendlyCities project to address climate change, urban air pollution and wastemanagement issues in major cities in the region. The trial is takingplace in Negros, a Philippino province that made history by stopping construction of a coal power plant because of sustainedcommunity-led opposition.

The fleet of electric jeepneys willgrow from a pilot set of six to 50. The vehicles will run on batteriescharged overnight by a power plant fuelled by biogas generated from theorganic waste from the city's markets and households.

For citieslike Makati, the environmental, economic, health and social benefits ofthis project will include cleaner air, better waste management, ahealthier population and most importantly a significant contribution tocurbing dangerous climate change.

Whilethe electric jeepney fleet is a first in Southeast Asia, each of theproject components already exist elsewhere - electric buses in Nepal,biogas generators in many parts of Asia and community charging stationsfor solar systems in off-grid communities. The 'magic' of the projectlies in the integration into a cohesive package of cleaner, safer,renewable energy options. It is a concrete embodiment of our energyrevolution vision.

By 2050 the transport sector willconstitute more than 30 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions.This small step if replicated and scaled up could make a significantcontribution to avoiding emissions from fossil fuelled vehicles. Theiconic jeepney remains, but without wasteful and carbon emitting diesel.

Video footage from the launch of the e-jeepneys in Makati city.

Theelectric jeepneys will also significantly increase incomes of thevehicles' drivers by reducing their expenses on fuel, demonstrating tooperators that electric jeepneys are a viable investment becausereduced maintenance costs increase financial returns.

Theelectric jeepney represents three good things in one: It's a good forthe local environment, a win for the climate and benefits the localeconomy.

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