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Is Now the Time for Electric Jeepneys in the Philippines?

Sagie Evbenata
Jun 16, 2023

Guidehouse Insights

A previous post discussed the electrification of motorcycle and tricycle taxis in the Philippines; this blog focuses on jeepneys, the other major form of shared transportation in the country. Jeepneys originated after World War II, when American troops departing the country sold their surplus jeeps to Filipinos. To address the destruction of transport infrastructure during the war, these jeeps were modified to operate as buses, with extensions for two benches along each side to accommodate up to 20 passengers in total. Each jeepney is individually decorated, often with bright graphics, religious imagery, and large, bold messages. These distinctive vehicles, known locally as “kings of the road,” are as iconic as black cabs or double-decker buses in London. Jeepneys have become the main form of public transport in the Philippines, completing 40 million passenger trips daily, with low fares starting at 9 pesos ($0.16) for the first 4 km.

A jeepney in the Philippines

A colorfully painted jeepney parked outside a building

(Source: Monica Volpin, Pixabay)

Time to Modernize

Today, the average jeepney is 20 years old, noisy, and uncomfortable in the tropical climate without air-conditioning. Their engines are typically reconditioned Japanese diesel engines that can often be seen belching black soot from their exhausts. Jeepneys have been identified as a major source of air pollution, contributing more than 15% of road transportation greenhouse gas emissions in the country and 48% of airborne particulate matter in Manila.

The Philippine Department of Transportation announced a modernization program in 2017, scheduled to be enforced starting in December 2023, that requires jeepneys over 15 years old to be replaced with safer and cleaner EVs or internal combustion engine vehicles meeting Euro 4 emissions standards. However, there is strong resistance from operators due to the large investments required. Current jeepneys cost $2,700-$4,500, compared with $47,000 for a modern electric version. The vast majority of jeepneys are driven by owner-operators who own a single vehicle; even after government subsidies, upgrading to a modern jeepney could push them to unmanageable debt levels if they are able to secure financing and could result in a tripling of fares.

Zero Emissions Vehicles Are in the Nation’s Interests

As with the electrification of motorized tricycles in the Philippines, the major challenge is financial. The country’s public transport infrastructure is undeveloped, even in comparison with its ASEAN neighbors, and because of the heavy reliance on jeepneys, a higher level of government investment can be anticipated. While greater subsidies are important to stimulate the purchase and local manufacture of electric jeepneys, other emerging trends can help with the electric transition:

  • Investments in charging infrastructure to support e-jeepneys. Wireless charging could play an important role as a scalable charging solution that minimizes vehicle downtime. Local manufacturer Francisco Motors Corporation has been developing e-jeepneys with this capability and a charging network powered by renewable energy.
  • Local and overseas OEMs focusing on developing low cost e-jeepneys. Chinese manufacturer Jiangsu Feng New Energy Power Technology has been developing a low cost e-jeepney for under $35,000. The company is trialing its e-jeepney in Bacolod before potentially manufacturing these vehicles in the city.
  • Availability of affordable financing for operators, and innovations to reduce upfront investments, such as battery swapping. Philippines-based Global Electric Transport (GET) has started deploying its e-jeepney, dubbed the COMET, as a corporate shuttle on certain routes. GET has formed partnerships with transportation stakeholders to subsidize half the vehicles’ cost and organizes government loans for the remaining amount for its customers.

The Philippines is particularly vulnerable to climate change, and air quality is a serious health problem. The country has the third-highest numbers of deaths attributable to air pollution in the world, and jeepney drivers and their passengers are particularly at risk. Action is needed now to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, with electrification of shared transport as a key path forward.