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'Comets' to lead green charge in Philippines

Publication Date : 28-04-2014

 

The ubiquitous jeepney - the linchpin of the public transport system in the Philippines since the late 1940s - may soon be a thing of the past, replaced by a "Comet".

Made by US-based electric vehicle specialist Pangea Motors, the "Comet" - short for "City Optimised Managed Electric Transport" - is a 22-passenger shuttle that runs on lithium ion batteries. On a full charge, it can cover up to 100km at a top speed of 60kmh. Its battery can be topped up on a 220-volt outlet in less than five hours.

The electric van with its zero-carbon emission, however, is just half the story.

Global Electric Transportation (GET), a global partnership set up by Pangea which is marketing the van, plans to roll out 25,000 Comets in the next five years from an assembly plant it is building south of Manila. It is set to deploy the first 30 Comets - imported from Pangea's factory in Vancouver, Washington state - next month.

Pasang Masda, one of the Philippines' biggest transport groups, has committed to buy 10,000 Comets.

The Comet is not the first electric vehicle to hit Philippine roads. In 2008, the Green Renewable Independent Power Producers introduced the "E-jeepney". But the electric vehicles were more a novelty, for use mostly in resorts, industrial zones and university campuses.

Pangea and GET have a more ambitious plan for the Comet. It brings with it an "ecosystem" that will not only render the jeepney - a lorry atop a World War II-era jeep chassis, which is clunky and uneconomical - obsolete, but also upend Manila's chaotic public transport system. "It is just one piece to a whole puzzle," Ken Montler, GET's chief executive, told The Straits Times.

The Comet will run on a cashless, "tap-in, tap-out" fare system. There will be pick-up and drop-off points, and a "command centre" to track vehicle and driver performance for safety, as well as gather data on commuter behaviour for targeted advertising.

The Comet is priced at around 350,000 pesos (US$7,884) each, roughly the same as a jeepney, but costs 40 per cent less to operate, consuming roughly the same amount of electricity as two small refrigerators.

Drivers will get a monthly salary of about 30,000 pesos, plus incentives for lucrative routes, and health and social security benefits.

Now, jeepney, bus and cab drivers earn their keep by meeting a daily quota - anywhere from 450 pesos to 1,800 pesos. After deducting for petrol, they take home any sum they make in excess of their quota. On average, they earn about 18,000 pesos a month, slightly above the 14,500-peso minimum wage.

Taking the drivers off the quota system will free them from having to chase fare. This means they would not have to be on the road as long as jeepney drivers do now.

For the driver, the vehicle will decrease the risk of respiratory ailments. For everyone else, it means fewer vehicles on the road - Montler believes the Comet can take 40 per cent of the jeepneys out of operation. This means less congestion and less time spent on the road - on average, a commuter spends three hours travelling to and from work.

"Our goal is actually to improve the lives of the drivers and the owners and the people of the Philippines," said Montler.

*US$1 = 44.54 pesos

 

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