Part 2 of a two-part series
“A just transition to jeepney modernization entails putting critical infrastructure in place and empowering small cooperatives while developing renewable energy sources.”
By MAVIC CONDE
TACLOBAN CITY – Rodrigo Almocera has worked as a jeepney driver his entire adult life. Now 69 years old, Almocera now works for a firm in Tacloban City driving an electric vehicle but earning less compared to pre-pandemic years.
“Our minimum rate is P400 pesos, with a P75-peso bonus if we complete the eight trips from Robinson to Robinson,” Almocera told Bulatlat as he waited for his electric vehicle to be fully charged. He had been there since 11 a.m. and was back on the road by 5 p.m. for his fourth journey of the day.
He claimed that the quota was easy to meet with new batteries. However, after eight months to a year, its efficiency has depleted, so did his productivity. This has shrunk not only his daily income, as he rarely meets the daily quota anymore, but the entire firm’s financial viability, as more fleets were parked due to battery issues, among other things. The pandemic also necessitated social distance, which reduced the firm’s revenues even further.
His employer, Jay Rosas, was in Manila with other managers to discuss the challenges they face. “We’re looking into better batteries,” he explained over the phone. Solar powers 20 percent of the firm’s electric vehicle batteries and 80 percent from the grid, with each unit having a maximum travel capacity of 88 kilometers and costing the firm more than P200,000 per month.
In a Zoom interview, Maria Golda Paz Hilario, associate for Program Development at the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, said “the transition would have been easier if the supply side was in place, the cooperatives were ready, and the industry was better prepared.”
Hilario said that at first, “everyone became fascinated with the technology.”
In 2017, forty-five e-jeepneys began operating in this city to transport supertyphoon Yolanda survivors from their resettlement areas to the city. The fleets, which were supplied and initially managed by the Star8 Green Technology Corporation, have 22 seats, free Wi-Fi on board, an overhead electric fan per passenger, and a USB power port. According to reports, the EVs can travel “approximately 100 kilometers on a full battery charge, and another 10-15 kilometers from solar production during daylight hours.”
Hilario said that things started getting messy when the transportation system’s components weren’t working and interacting harmoniously.
‘Just transition, not jeepney phaseout’
Transportation workers and operators are among the most important components.
Quoting the International Trade Union Confederation, Jaime Aguilar, chairman of the National Confederation of Transport Unions (NCTU), said that a just transition, should be “the transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy that maximizes the benefits of climate action while minimizing hardships for workers and their communities.”
Aguilar stated that the group is not opposed to the PUVMP and supports this as one of the government’s climate mitigation goals in the transportation sector. The Philippines is one of the countries most affected by climate change, which is man-made warming of the planet at a faster rate than ever before, exacerbating the plight of already vulnerable people such as jeepney drivers and their families. However, he lamented that what’s happening is a jeepney phaseout, which is forcing driver-operators to consolidate and immediately take out large loans for modernized fleets.
According to Aguilar, a just transition to PUV modernization entails putting critical infrastructure in place and empowering small cooperatives while developing renewable energy sources. He believes that if the government is serious about decarbonizing the road-based transportation sector, it will prioritize these issues, particularly given the country’s lack of model cooperatives.
“Driver-operators come from a different working culture, and skills training and capacity building are required for them to succeed as a cooperative,” he explained.
One significant change for current small-scale traditional jeepney operators, according to German development cooperation and technical support provider (GIZ), is the need to take a longer-term view of investment returns rather than focusing on day-to-day profitability, [especially since] “much of the return on investment is realized over the longer term, particularly once the vehicle finance has been settled.”
Without financial resources and government subsidy, many operators cannot afford to wait for long.
According to mobility advocate Move as One Coalition, around P306 billion-peso budget is required for mobility projects in the Philippines, which includes “paying for transport workers through better service contracts and higher equity subsidies for them to undertake a just transition and expand public transportation supply.”
Public budget analyst Zy-Za Suzara agreed, saying, “Support for PUV [public utility vehicles] workers, such as jeepney drivers, should be elevated as a budget priority,” including from local government units.
“Plans can only be implemented if they are concurrently funded,” she said.
Suzara said that while the Department of Transportation (DOTr) budget has increased by 91.45 billion (121.53 percent) due to the restoration of rail projects, the department has failed to consider road-based public transportation.
Aguilar criticized the government for attempting to reduce emissions with the public utility vehicle modernization program (PUVMP) while continuing to rely on coal-fired power plants as its primary energy source.
Only 22 percent of the country’s current energy mix is from renewable sources, while 78 percent is from fossil fuels, with 55 percent imported, according to Michael Sinocruz, acting director for Energy Policy and Planning Bureau of the Department of Energy.
In his presentation for a Pre-COP 27 forum, Sinocruz shared the government’s recent studies to increase renewable energy (RE) in the mix. According to him, the government is looking into offshore wind energy, which has the potential to generate 178 gigawatt (GW) as well as non-offshore solar and wind energy, which have potential power capacities of 16,000 megawatt (MW) and 19,000 MW, respectively.
Sinocruz stressed the importance of investment, including bringing transmission facilities closer to these infrastructure. Under the Clean Energy Scenario, the country will need at least 10,000 MW of additional RE capacity by 2040, which would require at least US$121 billion in investment.
The Electric Vehicle Industry Development Act (EVIDA), according to Sinocruz, will also increase EV market penetration. EVIDA’s roadmap for developing the country’s electric vehicle industry, however, has yet to be completed, prompting cooperative managers like Frank Ileonos of Iloilo to express concern about the lack of clear requirements for renewable-powered fleets. “I prefer solar panels for the cooperative’s ten new electric vehicles because it is a one-time expense,” he said.
Isabella Suarez of the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air said, “The priority for new generation capacity must be renewable — a combination of quickly deployable solar and wind, as well as longer-term projects like geothermal.”
She said that importing gas, particularly liquefied natural gas, would make the country vulnerable to market volatility, and risk stranded gas assets in the long run.
Similarly, Sinocruz mentioned EVIDA should be a means of supporting local manufacturing.
Aguilar also believes that a one-stop economic hub for local manufacturing of modernized fleets would benefit the industry.
This is “an opportunity to serve communities for their own sense of development,” according to Jose Antonio Montalban, a pro-people and engineers and leaders’ member, because this approach goes beyond “fully understanding [their] plight, but also recognizing their collective capacity and resources for self-sustenance.”
Jay Bazar, the owner of a talyer (PUV mechanic shop) in Camarines Sur, stated that his business will join the transition by adapting this process: the Hino brand provides the head, and they will produce the body.
Bazar’s talyer also made the province’s two retrofitted jeepneys, which served as affordable alternative to the modernized fleets. Although the government does not consider it a legitimate intervention because the polluting engine is retained, GIZ stated in a report that “recognizing the existing operators’ [capacities] within an insufficient regulatory framework in the past” is critical to the program’s implementation.
In the meantime, Almocera must drive until the evening to meet the daily quota, and the conductors have little choice.
“The pandemic and dwindling operational fleets forced us to work every other day to make ends meet,” Alvin Kenneth Ladera said. Conductors have a four-round quota and earn P80 pesos per round, which is less than the minimum regional wage rate of P345 to 375 pesos. They used to receive the same benefits as drivers, such as double pay on holidays, overtime pay, and cash advances.
Rommel, 27, claimed that many of their fellow conductors have already left. He sells siomai in the city proper when he is not working as a conductor.
Angelica, 31, a pioneer conductor, is hoping that payments for social benefits, such as PAG-IBIG contributions, will be reflected on their pay slips again. “Management asked us to be patient,” she said.
While long-term cooperative mindset preparation and further strengthening of the industry and governance framework are essential, Hilario believes that rethinking the business model may help too. Some players, according to her, now start with Euro fleets before moving on to electrification, while others go straight to electrification.
GIZ conducted an early evaluation of the program in 2019 and found that “operations on modernized routes performed better in terms of vehicle operating hours, number of staff employed per vehicle per day, fuel economy per passenger-kilometer, and daily ridership.”
The same level of transportation data is critical, both for providing commuters with reliable information so they can be encouraged to use multimodal transportation services by anticipating their trips and for planners to determine which stage of transition each route is in.
This story was supported by the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities under the Jaime Espina Klima Correspondent Fellowship.