By Brian James Lu

The diverse landscape of e-vehicles in PH

On April 15, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) implemented a ban on e-bikes, e-trikes, and similar vehicles on approximately 20 major roads in Metro Manila. The MMDA apprehended hundreds of such vehicles on its inaugural day and impounded those lacking registration and driver's licenses. The MMDA sets the penalty for first-time offenders at PHP2,500.

The rationale behind the ban stems from the escalating presence of light electric vehicles on the streets and the corresponding surge in road accidents involving them. According to MMDA reports, there were 907 e-bike, e-trike, and e-scooter-related accidents in Metro Manila in 2023, compared to 309 accidents in 2019. Numerous videos circulating on the internet depict collisions involving e-bikes and e-trikes, some even featuring minors driving with their peers.

Primarily utilized by individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who cannot afford cars, e-trikes and e-bikes have gained prominence in the Philippines in recent years as viable alternatives to traditional modes of transportation. The surge in purchases of e-vehicles during the pandemic underscores their practicality amidst transportation challenges.

Shortly after the ban was imposed in the National Capital Region (NCR), President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. instructed the MMDA to grant a one-month grace period before enforcing the prohibition on national roads, perhaps recognizing the significance of these vehicles among the populace. During this grace period, e-bike and e-trike operators are exempt from fines or impoundment.

E-vehicles are a practical transportation solution, especially in communities. I often see a lot of parents sending their children to school using e-trikes. These are more practical than single motorcycles because they can accommodate multiple passengers, depending on the size, and are cheaper than a motorcycle.

Like many other nations, the Philippines faces the urgent need to combat pollution and reduce its carbon footprint. Data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) shows that 74 percent of air pollutants come from transport sources such as cars, motorcycles, trucks, and buses. The price of oil products has also increased significantly over the years, and the continued fuel dependence poses a burden on the country’s energy security, the economy, and the public.

Promoting e-vehicles emerges as a promising strategy to mitigate air pollution and address climate change.

Government initiatives like the Comprehensive Automotive Resurgence Strategy (CARS) Program and the Electric Vehicle Industry Roadmap aim to encourage e-vehicle adoption through tax incentives, subsidies, and infrastructure development.

Environmental concerns and the desire to lessen the country's notorious traffic congestion drive this transition. However, within this burgeoning e-vehicle landscape, a stark disparity emerges between those accessible to the affluent and those adopted by the less privileged segments of society.

For the wealthy in the Philippines, e-vehicles represent more than just a mode of transportation; they embody status, luxury, and environmental consciousness. High-end electric cars have garnered attention among affluent Filipinos for their cutting-edge technology, sleek designs, and prestige associated with owning a luxury vehicle. Naturally, owners of e-vehicles (cars) and hybrid vehicles are fully exempt from the number coding.

Moreover, electric luxury cars offer exclusivity, serving as symbols of affluence and social standing. Owning such vehicles not only aligns with the ethos of sustainability but also enables the affluent to showcase their wealth and commitment to environmental stewardship. However, the prohibitive cost of luxury e-vehicles remains a significant barrier for many Filipinos, limiting their accessibility to the privileged few.

On the other hand, e-vehicles embraced by the majority of Filipinos are characterized by their affordability, practicality, and adaptability to the country's urban landscape. E-bikes and e-trikes have become ubiquitous modes of transportation in the country, and electrification efforts have been made to reduce emissions and operating costs. These e-vehicles serve as lifelines for commuters, parents, and small businesses, offering an efficient and cost-effective means of traversing congested city streets and rural areas.

E-trikes have gained traction as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional gasoline-powered tricycles. With their lower maintenance requirements and reduced fuel expenses, e-trikes present an attractive proposition for a lot of Filipinos seeking affordability while minimizing environmental impact. Similarly, electric jeepneys, or e-jeepneys, have emerged as an innovative solution to modernize the iconic Philippine mode of public transportation, providing commuters with a cleaner and more comfortable ride.

While the adoption of e-vehicles signals progress toward a greener and more sustainable future, it is imperative to address the socioeconomic disparities inherent in their deployment. The dichotomy between luxury e-vehicles favored by the affluent and utilitarian e-vehicles relied upon by the masses underscores the need for inclusive development strategies that prioritize accessibility and affordability.

While it is true that e-trikes and e-bikes are dangerous to operate, especially on major thoroughfares, the need to regulate them is a must, such as compliance with motor vehicle registration and the mandatory acquisition of a driver's license. Moreover, parents must refrain from allowing their minor children to drive e-vehicles without the necessary training and licenses. Children not only put themselves at risk with their ignorance of traffic signs and simple road courtesy, but they also endanger motorists and commuters.

The proliferation of e-vehicles in the Philippines represents a promising step towards a cleaner, greener future. However, efforts to bridge the gap between e-vehicles used by the rich and the poor are essential to realizing the full potential of sustainable transportation and promoting equitable development nationwide. By fostering an inclusive e-vehicle ecosystem, the Philippines can pave the way toward a more equitable and environmentally sustainable future for all its citizens.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.


About the Columnist

Image of Brian James Lu

BRIAN JAMES J. LU, MMgt, is an entrepreneur, business adviser, government consultant, and is deeply involve in civil society organizations. He advocates good governance, ethical business practices, and social responsibilities. He is the President of the National Economic Protectionism Association (NEPA) and Chairman of the Foundation for National Development (Fonad). His broad experiences in the private and public sectors give him a unique perspective to advance his advocacies.