Modernized fleet. LADOTRANSCO’s modern Jeepney Class 2. Source: LADOTRANSCO Facebook Page

In General Santos City, the Philippine Transport Alliance of GenSan (PTAG) found ways to sustain its partial operations while staying relevant amid the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) due to COVID-19. According to Mr. Robert Cang, Chairman of the Lagao Drivers Operators Transport Cooperative (LADOSTRANSCO) which is a member of PTAG, the suspension of public transport during the ECQ had great economic impact on drivers whose incomes are dependent on passengers. “For many of our drivers, it has been more difficult to buy food compared to normal days”, he said. LADOTRANSCO is one of the cooperatives that successfully modernized its fleet (to Electric Vehicles or EVs) under the PUV Modernization Program of the Philippine government.

Since shutting down operations was least of its option, PTAG looked for opportunities that can address the sustainability of its business while contributing to global fight against the coronavirus pandemic. PTAG partnered with General Tuna Corporation, Philbest Canning Corporation and Century Pacific Agricultural Ventures Inc. to hire its E-jeepneys to shuttle essential workers going to the factories and back to their homes. General Santos has earned the title of Tuna Capital of the Philippines with six of the country’s tuna canning plants located in the city.

Under the ECQ, the General Santos LGU imposed a curfew of 8:00pm – 4:00am thus the transport cooperatives issued certifications to all of its shuttle drivers. They also provided them a copy of Executive Order No. 24 signed by the Municipal Mayor which exempts all essential workers from the curfew hours.

In total, PTAG has provided 32 units of E-jeepneys and 52 units of Multicabs to shuttle around 3,000 essential workers for factories that supply food to the rest of the country. This does not only highlight the crucial role of sustainable modes of transport in curbing emissions and combating climate change, but also emphasizes how the low carbon transport sector can contribute to the economy even in times of uncertainty.

“Since all of our units are in good running condition, we can easily meet the demand of other sectors even amidst the COVID-19 situation—we see to it that our modern units undergo preventive maintenance to provide safe and comfortable transport services. I hope that during these times, we can make E-jeepneys and EVs useful more than ever.”

Nearly two months after the quarantine, there have been less cars on the road and less vehicle emissions. As a result, people are beginning to see clearer skies and more visible landscapes. They are also enjoying improved air quality in the metropolis which deliver public health benefits amid the COVID-19 public health emergency. These are just some of the environmental and health co-benefits that EVs and hybrid vehicles are contributing to even before the strict quarantine measures were imposed.

As the world transitions to a ‘New Normal’, the COVID-19 crisis reminds us that low-carbon transport development is essential to combat the effects of climate change and to shift to green, sustainable energy. The story of PTAG also challenges the government and public to think how Electric Vehicles (EVs) and modernized PUVs can contribute to the economy, environment, and the welfare of the people. To reiterate the call of the low carbon transport sector, there is a more pressing need to support air pollution and sustainable transport initiatives after the ECQ is lifted.