Electrifying the Jeepney: How Manila Is Modernizing a Transportation Icon

, , Senior policy and legal analyst | May 19, 2014, 10:24 am EDT
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One of the main options for getting around Manila, Philippines is hopping in the back of a jeepney – a small bus-like Jeep that has become a national symbol of transportation. These vehicles are about to undergo a major shift in how they are fueled thanks to the COMET (City Optimized Managed Electric Transport), a fully electric-powered city shuttle similar to the jeepney. As President Obama recently experienced first-hand, replacing jeepneys with COMETs is a fantastic way to reduce the fuel and emissions associated with this transit option and one innovative way that the Philippines is reducing their oil use.

Colorful Jeepneys are one of the most ubiquitous transportation options in Manila, Philippines.

Colorful Jeepneys are one of the most ubiquitous transportation options in Manila, Philippines. Photo Credit: saiko3p via Shutterstock

A Jeep-what?

The first jeepneys were actually made from U.S. military jeeps left behind after WWII. The discarded jeeps ended up being remodeled to accommodate more passengers and some became bedazzled with colorful ornaments and painted bright colors.

Over the next several decades, the jeepney emerged as a popular and inexpensive means of public transportation and a symbol of Filipino culture. Jeepneys now make up an estimated 40 percent of public utility vehicles in the Philippines and travel along fixed routes between cities and towns, periodically picking passengers up either at designated stops, or wherever along the way. Check out this video below that details an average day in the life of a jeepney driver.

Jeepney Problems

These vehicles, while iconic and ubiquitous, are not the most efficient. As you can probably tell from the video, these vehicles are heavy (Jeepneys weigh about 6,000 lbs and a Cadillac Escalade weighs about 7,000 lbs) and are powered by old diesel engines that maximize torque over efficiency. As a result, they are a major contributor to the climate and air quality concerns that plague the Philippines and especially Manila. The capitol region holds more than 20 million people and frequently faces concentrations of air pollutants that are five times higher than the World Health Organization Air Quality Guidelines.

This post is part of Other Countries At Work, a series on oil-saving solutions abroad.

COMET to the Rescue

So, enter the COMET, a fully electric passenger vehicle that is propelled by an electric motor connected to lithium ion phosphate batteries that have a range of 80 to 100 kilometers per charge. The joint business venture behind the COMET is set to roll the first 30 units out onto Manila streets this summer. The venture is seeking to deploy closer to a thousand by the end of the year and are targeting 15,000 COMETs on Metro Manila streets in the next three to five years.

Aside from the obvious climate and air pollution benefits, these vehicles will also save drivers money. A COMET driver is estimated to spend nearly half as much on fuel when driving on electricity compared to diesel fuel. Filipinos are excited about this development, and so too was President Obama, who stopped by to hop on a COMET during his recent trip through Asia.

I’m also excited to see the COMET take off in Manila, and serve as a model for electrifying other oil-powered transit options in similar cities. So next time you find yourself in the Philippines be on the lookout for a COMET – though I expect they won’t be too hard to find.

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  • Randy Siltanen

    Great article. We will eventually have not choice but to abandon all forms of carbon based energy production — either due to harmful environmental effects or eventual resource constraints. It is illogical to delay the inevitable transition to clean renewable energy technologies, when so doing will eventually result in very painful and possibly devastating scenarios. Unfortunately, short term economic considerations — at individual, corporate, and government levels — are clouding our collective judgment.

  • hebintn

    Where does the energy come from to charge these things? If it is fossil fuels, aren’t we cutting off our nose to spite our face? We critically need to accelerate the transition to non-fossil fuels. By switching to vehicles that use electricity we’re just transferring the problem from individuals to the power plant. Of course, the owners of the power plants are getting richer all the time.

    • Joshua A. Goldman

      Thanks for the comment. You’re right, we do need to think about where the energy comes from that will be used to charge electric vehicles, and it matters how that energy is produced. UCS has examined how the upstream emissions coming from power plants effect the environmental performance of EVs in our State of Charge report (http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_ve…. This report found that no matter where you plug an EV in (in the U.S.) it will produce less emissions compared to some of the most efficient gasoline-powered vehicles. And don’t forget, electricity generation, and therefore EVs, can become cleaner if we continue to replace coal plants with renewable power from solar and wind sources.

      • hebintn

        My home is Appalachia. That should be enough said, but I die a little sooner every time I see another mountain destroyed to extract a little bit of coal. I AM a supporter of the concept of EVs, but not as long as my mountains are being destroyed to run them. There is no argument that allows me to condone what is going on in the name of energy from fossil fuels, especially coal. I understand and sympathize with the neighbors that make their living in coal which is why my driving force is to accelerate the transition to alternative energy. We can have a win-win if these folks can quit coal and feed their families working in non-fossil ventures.