Natural gas for vehicles (NGV) is compressed natural gas for use in vehicles with petrol or diesel engines. In Malaysia, many taxis with petrol engines are installed with a conversion kit to run on NGV, and switching to petrol when out of gas.
Similar to electricity and water, it can be channeled across vast distances using pipes but the cost of laying the pipeline is high. Although 2,583km of high pressure natural gas transmission pipeline runs across Peninsular Malaysia, it was not extended to Penang Island.
Hence, the regulated taxi fares in Penang are higher than the Klang Valley and Johor, as cabbies on the island do not have access to cheap NGV.
The cost of installing NGV pumps at petrol stations is high and profits low. As such, petrol station operators do not wish to sell NGV, except for the 128 Petronas stations in peninsular Malaysia.
But the majority of NGV stations will be closed for one to two months after a maintenance worker was killed in an explosion at a Petronas station in Taman Mount Austin, Johor Baru on Oct 25.
This has resulted in long queues at stations that are open, and reminded me of my days when I drove premier and budget taxis from 2000-2010.
Queuing to refill NGV and sending the taxi for inspection at Puspakom were the two most dreaded tasks taxi drivers face, as they are free to choose when and where to work.
While driving taxis, I could produce a report on the number of hours worked, trips, passengers, fares and tips per day, month or year.
Apart from pick-up and drop-off points, I also recorded the time queuing to refuel NGV and money spent on fuel and maintenance. For example, the fuel (NGV petrol) cost for my Proton Iswara taxi was 6.5 sen per km, and 3.5 sen per km for maintenance.
My fuel cost could have been lower if I had refueled NGV more frequently. I normally waited until my NGV cylinder was quite empty, and often felt the pain of using petrol when out of gas.
Other than the shortage of NGV stations, the long queues were also the result of two other factors.
When the gas pressure at the station was low, it took a much longer time to refuel and the gas cylinder could only be filled up to 60 percent capacity, unlike full tank for petrol. This happened frequently at stations located far from the gas pipeline and NGV had to be sent there by truck.
Also, many drivers would refuel when their gas cylinders are half full, paying RM5 on average. If a fixed rate of RM8 was charged for budget taxis, the long queues could have been cut by half. Adding to the taxi drivers’ woes were private vehicles fitted with NGV kit joining the queue.
Exactly how much more taxi drivers now have to spend running on petrol can easily be worked out.
At RM1.05 per litre for NGV, running a budget taxi is around 10 sen per km. Petrol costs about 85 percent more, at RM1.95 per litre.
However, petrol gives better power and mileage, so it would cost no more than 75 percent higher. If so, running on petrol would be around 17.5 sen per km, or 7.5 sen per km more than NGV.
Therefore, taxi drivers clocking 200kms a day would have to spend RM15 more, and higher for those travelling longer distances or using bigger vehicles, such as MPVs for executive taxis.
Instead of spending time to queue at NGV stations twice a day, taxi drivers could easily get two short trips with fares exceeding RM15.
But taxi drivers would not consider this alternative as they are too used to cheap NGV. It would hurt them badly when running on petrol.
The equation will change once the government reduce subsidy on NGV. If gas price were to be pegged at 80 percent of RON95 compared to 54 percent now, it will be pointless to install NGV kits.
NGV was introduced in 1998 in the Klang Valley at 68 sen per litre and was increased by 55% last October. With the government rolling back on subsidies, the future of NGV is uncertain.
Unlike 18 years ago when NGV was promoted as a cheap and clean fuel, the initiative had run out of steam. Taking one to two months instead of weeks to complete maintenance work showed there is little urgency.
With ride-hailing services legalised soon, taxi drivers are left to fend for themselves after so much have been promised to them prior to the last General Elections.
Source : Y S Chan@The Heat Malaysia Online