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When the informal becomes illegal

When we talk of electric vehicles in the Philippines, we are primarily talking of e-bikes and e-trikes. They make up 95 percent of the market. Ironically, the term EV has been largely understood to refer to electric cars produced by the major car companies. This predominance of e-bikes and e-trikes in the Philippine market is according to “The Philippines EV Market, Forecast to 2022” available at ResearchAndMarkets.com. The study provides a strategic review of the current EV market in the Philippines covering the period 2017-2022. The study segments the EV market into (a) e-bikes, (b) e-tricycles/e-trikes, (c) e-jeepneys, (d) e-quads, and (e) passenger electric vehicles.

The predominance of e-bikes and e-trikes in the mobility landscape in the Philippines, especially during the 18 months so far of the COVID-19 pandemic, indicates the extent to which these low-end electric vehicles have been a critical coping mechanism of poor, vulnerable, and marginalized Filipinos. The lockdowns, the social distancing that reduces the capacity and predictability of public transportation, and the high cost of taxis and alternative means of transportation have made manual and electric bicycles and trikes extremely attractive to people, millennials and senior citizens alike. They have become a virtual social innovation in inclusive mobility, the way community pantries are an innovation in community hunger alleviation.

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While this is plain to see, there is much ambiguity in the government’s promotion and support for these electric vehicle forms, in contrast with the higher-end e-jeepneys, e-quads, and passenger electric vehicles.

LTO chief Edgar Galvante announced in September last year that electric bikes and scooters that have a maximum speed of 25 kilometers per hour will not require registration papers. Riders who use these are also not required to obtain a driver’s license. However, these vehicles shall be limited only to barangay roads and bicycle lanes. Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade also said that he is personally not inclined to regulate e-scooters under pandemic conditions. Galvante said the LTO and the Department of Transportation encourage the public to use alternative modes of transportation not only during the pandemic but even in normal times.

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OPINION

The policy toward the whole range of EVs should not be addressed through mere agency regulations. They should be addressed by proper law. This should not be difficult to do, considering that there is currently a substitute bill in the House of Representatives creating a national energy policy and regulatory framework for the use of electric vehicles in the country that has been approved by three committees in the House. This bill consolidates 15 similar bills on electric vehicles.

A reading of this bill reveals, however, that it contemplates only electric vehicles that are legal on public highways. It is as if the e-bikes and e-trikes that a large number of Filipinos depend on for their livelihood, employment, social functions, and other mobility needs do not exist. The bill should be more explicit about the types of electric vehicles it encompasses through an enumeration of the covered categories. It should spell out by legislative fiat how these lower-end electric vehicles figure in the energy, transportation, trade and industry, finance, local government, science and technology, and environment and natural resources policies of the country.

The Philippine EV Market study indicates the challenges to the growth of the EV market similar to those addressed by the EV bill in the House of Representatives: (1) limited charging and road infrastructure, (2) underdeveloped supply chain for battery and parts, (3) ambiguous regulatory standards and requirements, and (4) ownership and usage restrictions. These provisions would remain ambiguous unless the bill provides a clear definition and segmentation of the electric vehicles contemplated in the bill.

If the bill can be more inclusive, we can then avoid scenes like Mayor Isko Moreno completely banning e-trikes from the City of Manila because they lacked “franchises,” and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority labeling e-bikes and e-trikes as “toys,” even as the DOTr has been promoting e-trikes and e-jeeps as efficient and environment-friendly modes of transport.

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TAGS: bicycles, cars, LTO, pandemic, Transportation
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