The Philippines Jeepney is the symbol of Filipino ingenuity and artistry. Descended from US Military Jeeps left in the islands during World War 2, they have since evolved to become the country’s’ major mode of public transport. You can see jeepneys plying the different routes that interconnect the country’s’ cities and municipalities.
Jeepneys are built by a number of local manufacturers and even some backyard mechanics. Using very basic equipment, the entire body is literally assembled and built by hand from welded sheets of galvanized and stainless steel. Except for the surplus diesel engine imported from Japan everything else is locally made. The different design possibilities together with an assortment of decorations ensure that no two are exactly alike. Stainless steel hood ornaments, multi-colored streamers and stickers are liberally used. Airbrushed scenes and pictures have also gained popularity. Wood is also used for ceilings and speaker housings.
A unique feature is the use of signs and labels to adorn the body inside and out. They proudly declare how the jeepney was acquired such as “Katas ng Saudi” (Earned from Saudi) or for quotes and jokes like “Nasa Diyos ang Awa Nasa Tao ang Gawa” (With Gods’ Mercy and through Mans’ Efforts) and Basta’t Driver Sweet Lover (Drivers are sweet lovers). In the center of the dash, the driver has his own version of a cashier box in which he inserts different denominations of rolled paper bills and coins to be used as change. It can be detached whenever he takes a break to safeguard his earnings.
Jeepneys normally seat 16 passengers, 7 on each side (both sides facing each other) and 2 in the front. However, for westerners and large Filipinos this could be a very tight (and uncomfortable) fit. A list indicating the places that the jeepney will pass through is painted along its’ sides. Jeepneys have only one line or assigned route and different jeepney trips are taken if there is no direct route to a particular destination. Fares are based on the distance from where a passenger gets in and where he will get off. The first 4 km is about Php 7.50 (U$ 15 cents) and every succeeding kilometer is an additional Php 1.25 (U$ 0.025). Payment is made by passing the fare to other passengers until it reaches the driver. Saying “Para” (Stop) informs the driver that you are getting off. However, you may have to shout especially when you are at the back or when the driver is playing very loud music. Remarkably the driver somehow manages to maintain control of the vehicle, accept fares and return exact change while combing the streets for additional passengers.
Drivers do not have salaries and earn by keeping anything above the Php 500 (boundary) paid to the operator (owner) for lending the jeep for the day. The fuel consumed is shouldered by the driver. Many contend that the setup cause drivers to drive aggressively and become reckless to earn enough to take home. The current trend of increasing oil prices is an additional burden. Traffic jams in the country’s thoroughfares are often blamed on undisciplined jeepney drivers. Loading and unloading zones are simply ignored and most stop, pick-up and drop-off passengers anywhere along their route. They converge on crowded areas, backing up traffic and resulting in jams and road congestion. Because of the worsening traffic situation the government has considered the phasing out of jeepneys from major roads to be replaced instead by mini busses.
Recently a new system has gained popularity that increases safety, normalizes driver earnings, eliminates competition for passengers and limits the number of jeepneys on the road. This involves the setting up of terminals from source to destination and vice versa. Passengers buy tokens from a booth and then orderly line up for boarding. The tokens are collected by dispatchers who ensure that each seat is occupied. Each trip is maximized, fuel is not needlessly, drivers are not bothered by paying passengers and each has an equal opportunity to earn. However, terminal space availability and routes longer than 4 kilometers has hampered the formal adoption of the setup. The solution may lie in using bigger air-conditioned jeepneys, such as those that are currently being used in business districts, with a higher fixed fare.
In an effort to curb demand for imported oil, the government has encouraged the use ecologically friendly Bio-diesel as alternative fuel for jeepneys. Internationally, the jeepney has gained popular acceptance in developing countries as a reliable form of public transport because of its’ rugged construction and low maintenance cost. Bigger air-conditioned versions (almost twice the normal size) will be exported to Papua New Guinea and some African nations.