Saturday, November 28, 2009


By, Sudhir Gota
‘Josephine Guittu ‘drives a Hybrid for living in Manila.

In case if you are wondering if he has cracked the “technology” barrier to own a cheap non polluting vehicle then you are mistaken. Instead, few weeks earlier he used to be a part of problem which makes millions sick in Philippines i.e. air pollution. He used to drive what can be described as a modified re- engineered two wheeler with a sidecar, powered by a polluting non-efficient two stroke engine. He used to drive across the local streets in Manila, ferrying 2-6 people at one time, creating a visible “wave of smoke” from the tailpipe across the city. When the distance travelled is as high as 100 km/day, the problem is definitely injurious.

But past few weeks have transformed his life as he proudly displays a new four stroke tricycle which “pollutes” less and he saves valuable imported fuel while providing transport solution to poor-middle class people. He was extremely lucky to be a part of 20 drivers who got help from the government and other stakeholders like “Partnership for Clean Air” in becoming less polluting. They designed a revolving-fund scheme to grave his two stroke out of the system.

But, there are thousands of “Josephine Guittu” still waiting for help while people breath polluted air in Manila.

My colleague ‘Bert Fabian’ considers tricycles to be a tri-dimensional problem: “it’s a political, social and transport issue”. He is correct when he says that it’s beyond “cradle to grave” issue for the policymakers. It’s a “political” and “social” problem which needs equal attention. A typical tricycle driver earns daily 100-150 pesos on an average which forces him to have insufficient food and worse quality of life. Research has shown that driving in polluted environment and having insufficient food results in many health issues including very low blood vitamin C levels. But theyare helpless!

More and more people venture into the tricycle market due to ballooning unemployment, raising congestion and demand for more mobility. With limited number of old tricycles getting out of system and huge number of tricycles getting inside the system, even tricycle operators can see the reduction in the size of the “pie” of commuters. With increasing competition, comes increased fatality. Already 54% of all injuries occurring in Philippines are street-induced. Thus, high number of problems associated with its unique role in providing cheap (approx 10 pesos for 5 km is a bargain considering its accessibility) mobility, the issue needs immediate solutions.

Government and other agencies have been trying to use different strategies based on “convenience” to reduce the environmental impact thus facing limited success. Many strategies have been tested under different areas with different support system namely -

1. Tricycle capping by Coding scheme, Volume reduction program, Phase-out etc.
2. Identifying illogical operators (anti-colorum drive)
3. Tricycle lanes
4. Regularization with common color per zone
5. Integrated terminals
6. Restricted accessibility with speed controls
7. Promotion of four-strokes and alternative fuels etc.
8. Promotion of human powered transport
But, the problem is “magnitude”.

There are over 73,000 Two-Stroke tricycles in Metro manila alone. Research suggests that delaying action is expensive and unhealthy as it generates 22% more emissions and fuel use if tricycles in manila would be replaced in 10 years instead of 5 years. By acting within 5 years and replacing all two strokes we can save over 26 million liters of gasoline and 13000 tons of PM over next 20 years. This is a highly conservative estimate assuming that in no action scenario there would be only normal scrappage with slow replacement.

In fact, new replacement costs are 110 million$ for replacing all two strokes, with 20 million$ average savings/year for 20 years. In simple terms – we have to act fast as it makes a perfect economic-health sense. Designing a revolving fund with aggressive replacements can reduce the chunk of money involved but maximize the environmental benefits.

Dr. Manuel M. Biona who specializes in treating “tricycles” believes that “retrofits” can solve environmental problems of two strokes as many solutions are being designed which would further reduce the costs and maximize the social benefits. When I quiz him for the technological solutions being developed he suggests some phrases which sends my imagination for a toss - Gasoline Direct Injection Retrofitting, Four Stroke Engine Repowering, LPG Direct Injection Retrofitting and LPG Four Stroke Engine Repowering. Many solutions being developed needs governmental support in piloting in order to select the best performer in the group.

Also, considering the filipino ingenuity in keeping “alive” their tricycles we have to ensure that technology and non-technology solutions are cemented by political will to transform cities. We have to think of “sticks” with “carrots” like micro-financing schemes. When I describe the term stick – I mean regulation which is often lacking. Many drivers themselves know that by regulating we can increase the efficiency and income per driver but we often fail to react on time or take decision. The key to the solution is to design “micro finance scheme” with low interest rates for low income owners and drivers who can use the monthly money to pay back the funds. History has shown limited success if we don’t rely on low initial cost and low interest rates. Designing innovative “insurance” and “marketing” schemes is another option for the policy makers. This coupled with aggressive management strategies for limiting the numbers of tricycles and increasing the human transport facilities we can transform cities in Philippines.

Carrots with Stick can make “immortal” two stroke tricycles “mortal”. We just need the will to transform our cities. Thousands of “Josephine Guittu” are waiting for our help while millions are breathing polluted air, there is no time to lose.