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The Comet: A Revolution of the Philippine Jeepney

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Buses Topics:  Pangea Comet

The Comet: A Revolution of the Philippine Jeepney

Melissa Davidson
October 24, 2013

The Jeepney has long been established as not only the most affordable means of transportation in the Philippines but also a symbol of Philippine arts and culture. Following the destruction of much of the Philippine public transportation infrastructure in World War Two, the jeepney emerged as a popular way to re-establish an inexpensive public transportation network utilizing surplus former US military jeeps.

A Congested and Polluted Urban Transportation Network

As American troops departed the Philippines, hundreds of surplus jeeps made by Willys & Ford were left behind. They were stripped down and transformed by locals into small buses featuring two parallel benches where passengers would seat facing each other. They were often decorated with chrome ornaments and vibrant colours. But while the length, passenger capacity, and size of jeepneys have evolved over the years, little else has changed with the post-war design and second-hand engines still remain a standard feature. Even modern jeepneys are still built from second-hand Japanese trucks including surplus Suzuki mini-vans and Isuzu elf trucks. What the country has been left with is an inefficient and congested public transportation network that rarely satisfies clean air requirements.

It is estimated that in the capital city of Metro Manila alone that there are nearly 55,000 jeepneys plying and congesting the streets. Unlike buses, jeepneys can stop anywhere to load and offload passengers even in the middle of the street often blocking traffic and risking the safety of passengers. According to the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, it is estimated that the Philippines loses nearly 2.4 billion pesos per day to the traffic created by jeepneys that stop anywhere they please. With many Philippine citizens complaining about the jeepneys as a major source of traffic and air pollution in the cities, a new modern vehicle has emerged that could revolutionize the jeepney transportation system forever.

The Comet: An American Solution

The Comet is an American-designed 16-passenger electric van that is built in Vancouver (Washington) by Pangea Motors. It was developed to help address the issues of extreme air pollution in congested cities like Manila that is home to fourteen million residents. Residents of Manila are literally holding their breaths as they wait for these new electric vehicles to replace the heavily-polluting diesel jeepneys that are currently littered all over Philippine streets. Unlike conventional jeepneys, the Comet is a battery operated pure electric alternative that offers zero-emissions and promises a noise-free experience to passengers. The vehicles can be charged at any 220-voltage power outlet. While previous attempts have been made to introduce Chinese-built electric jeepneys, what distinguishes the Comet from its previous electric predecessors is that the Comet uses Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries unlike Lead Acid batteries used by earlier versions of electric jeepneys. Engineers advocate that the Litihium Iron Phosphate batteries are lighter and more energy dense which assist in increasing the performance of the vehicle.

Pangea has already received orders from the Philippines totalling 200 Comets with the number expected to rise to 600 by the end of the first year alone. The Comet was the conception of CEO Michael Hippert and fellow electric vehicle industry veteran, Ken Montler. Both view the Philippines as a test site for a niche of urban transport vehicles that could be applied in a number of the world’s most congested cities. Manila’s air pollution is among the worst in the entire world which contributes to respiratory problems for residents but also severely reduces the life expectancy of jeepney drivers currently plagued by the polluted air emitted by the city’s 55,000 diesel jeepneys.

A Purpose Built Urban Commuter Vehicle

The introduction of the Comet is expected to address many of those issues. It is estimated that by replacing one diesel powered jeepney with a Comet, twenty-two million grams of carbon dioxide and one hundred and twenty thousand grams of nitrogen oxide are removed per vehicle per year. Unlike traditional jeepneys that are built with nearly 3,000 parts, the Comet boasts only 400 parts which helps to reduce maintenance and vehicle down time. The use of electricity is also estimated to reduce operational costs as operators must spend approximately $10 USD per day on electricity and $5 USD for the lease of the battery. That represents a forty percent cost reduction over the diesel-operated counterparts. In addition, the company has developed new financial streams for drivers in addition to passenger fares to generate revenue from video-based ad sales inside the vehicle.

The prototype vehicle is built with easy-to-assemble components that can easily be shipped overseas to the Philippines where final assembly will take place. This will help to reduce costs associated with labor and shipping while also creating jobs for locals in the Philippines. Each vehicle measures approximately 5.75 meters long by 2.05 meters wide and stands 2.22 meters tall. The new units will cost approximately a third of the cost of a standard diesel engine jeepney. The Comet vehicles have been optimized for use in urban areas with an eighty kilometre range and maximum speed of sixty kilometres per hour complete with power steering, air suspension, and disc brakes. Older jeeps are still using obsolete drum brakes. Each Lithium Iron Phosphate battery has a lifespan of 5 to 7 years and takes only four hours to fully charge from any 220-volt outlet. The gross weight of each vehicle is approximately 2,500 pounds with the ability to carry and transport 3,000 pounds.

It remains unclear whether drivers and owners of the new electric Comet jeepneys will take to decorating their vehicles using the creative and colorful techniques that have become synonymous with traditional jeepneys. The vehicles are known all over the world for their flamboyant decorations including everything from neon lettering to flashy graphics and shiny ornaments. What is for certain is that the new Comet vehicles will make an immediate difference on the roads for the millions of passengers in Metro Manila that ride jeepneys each day as they immediately reduce noise and air pollution. The modern and clean vehicles will be a welcome sight of relief replacing the smoke-belching diesel jeepneys that residents have come to hate. A local company has been set up in the Philippines to sell and manage the national fleet. It hopes to replace more than 25,000 old jeepneys with the new 16-passenger Comet vehicles by 2018.

While the new Comet vehicles may not look as clever and creative as their diesel counterparts, they will certainly provide a much more creative way of generating an income and transporting passengers in a clean and sustainable manner that will benefit riders and operators alike.

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