Greener transport offers hope for Metro Manila

Zak Yuson
A world class hybrid bus will soon roll out in Makati City offering commuters a greener choice

GREEN RIDE. A Green Frog hybrid bus is parked at the depot, waiting for LTFRB certification. The bus runs on both diesel and electric engines simultaneously. Photo by Rappler/Zak Yuson

MAKATI CITY, Philippines – Veterans of the daily commute to and from work know that air pollution and traffic are part of the whole routine. But one bus company hopes to change that by offering something never before seen on Philippine roads: a world-class city bus that runs on hybrid technology.

Green Frog Zero Emissions Transport (GFZET), established in 2010, will soon roll out the country’s first hybrid diesel-electric buses in Makati City. The initial route will run the entire stretch from Kalayaan Ave down to Sen Gil Puyat Ave (formerly Buendia Ave). The company plans to open up 3 more routes in the future.

According to GFZET managing director Philip Apostol, Green Frog buses are Euro-4 compliant and emit 80% less than a typical diesel bus would on the road. “Five of my buses would emit the same pollution as one normal bus,” he told Rappler. At the moment, the government only requires bus operators to follow the lower Euro-2 standard for emissions.

Many of these typical buses are imported second-hand and refurbished. And because the bus simultaneously uses its diesel and electric engines, it can go farther on the same amount of fuel. “If a typical bus will travel 1 kilometer, for the same amount of fuel, my bus will travel 2 or 2.5 kilometers,” Apostol said.

Green Frog buses are ahead of their time in many other aspects. They are modeled after buses that ply highly urbanized cities like Singapore and New York, with lowered floors to ease entry and exit. They also have 6 security cameras, a tap card system for cashless payments, fire extinguishers and a GPS tracker.

CASHLESS PAYMENT. Green Frog buses will utilize a tap card cashless payment system. A one way fare costs P12 and stored cards will be sold for P120. Photo courtesy of Green Frog's Facebook page

The drivers of the buses, who just happen to be all women, will be paid a fixed salary and will pick up and drop off passengers only at designated bus stops. The GPS tracker will also help monitor speed to ensure drivers don’t over speed or clump together.

All these features add on to the total cost of the bus, but Apostol was insistent they be included. “This is my way of saying, ‘look we cannot think 1st world and act 3rd world. There’s a little pain, a little expense, but let’s do this.’”

HYBRID DRIVER. Green Frog's Managing Director Philip Apostol hopes to put more hybrid busses on the road in Makati City. He is a former investment banker who lived in the US and Europe for 25 years. Photo by Rappler/Zak Yuson

Apostol, son of former Rep Sergio Apostol, is a retired investment banker who lived in the US and Europe for some 25 years before returning to the Philippines in 2007. He says he rarely drives a car, preferring instead to commute or take a taxi. He also shuns the use of air-conditioning, despite the intense heat of summer. Together with friends and investors, he set up Green Frog to address what he saw was a clear problem in the metropolis.   

Like cancer

With a daytime commuting population of around 4 million people, air pollution is a major threat for the residents and transients of Makati City. The DENR’s Environment and Management Bureau (EMB) estimates that every Filipino spends an average of P2,000 a year on health care as a result of air pollution. But unlike other, more tangible, forms of pollution, air pollution is easily ignored or forgotten.

According to Reina Garcia of the non-profit Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), about 65% of air pollution, especially in Metro Manila, comes from vehicles. This results in high health care costs and lost revenue for the metropolis’ residents.

Though there is more interest in solving the air pollution problem, “action from the government could be a bit faster,” said Garcia. She added there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, particularly in terms of policy support that would encourage  the reduction of emissions in the country. “We need to address this…yesterday.”

“Pollution is like cancer,” said Apostol, “you don’t die right away from it. And until you feel the pain, you don’t do anything about it. That’s the way I see certain people reacting to this. And I’m telling the government officials, don’t wait until we can’t breathe the air anymore, because we can’t do anything at that point.”  

METRO HAZE. In this file photo taken on September 24, 1997, a layer of haze, caused mainly by industrial and traffic pollution blankets the skies over the Philippine capital. Photo by AFP/Romeo Gacad

Incentives matter

Green Frog is not the first initiative in the country to push for the use of “alternative fuel vehicles” (AFVs). A public-private partnership between Makati City, ICSC, and a private firm has set up the country’s first electric E-jeepney route in the city.

The Asian Development Bank has also funded a similar effort to introduce E-tricycles in other cities. 

Even the government has gotten involved with its support of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses that ply provincial routes.

GREEN INITIATIVES. Electric jeeps now ply a regular route in Makati City not serviced by traditional diesel jeeps. Fares cost P12 for a one way trip. Photo by Rappler/Zak Yuson

Green Frog is probably the first fully private enterprise to bring in hybrid buses without the help of government support. But that could change soon.

Both houses of Congress recently passed the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Incentives Bill. The law, if signed, will give tax breaks and other incentives to operators of AFVs. However, with only two session days left in the 15th Congress before it adjourns, both houses have yet to convene the bicameral conference committee that will reconcile the final bill for the President’s signature.

Garcia is optimistic that the President will be able to sign this law on time but Apostol is more cautious. He is already looking at another incentive package being offered by the Board of Investments. But until hybrid technology gets cheaper, traditional buses and jeepneys will continue to ply the roads of Metro Manila.

Ultimately, the decision on whether AFVs remain an exception rather than the norm lies with the commuters and the general public who must bear the burden of a polluted metropolis.

Green Frog and other like-minded groups are hoping to send a clear message to commuters: you now have a choice. –

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