The Jeepney is often regarded as a cultural icon of the Philippines. When people think of the Philippines they often think about brightly painted Jeepneys that are often used in tourism adverts.
While you might see the odd brightly painted Jeepney that could be classed as a cultural icon of the Philippines, most of them are far from being any sort of icon.
Some locals will tell you they are converted WWII jeeps that the Americans left behind after the war, while this is the origin of the Jeepney I suspect you will not find any WWII jeeps on the road today.
One place you do find some Jeepneys that are brightly painted like you see in the adverts is Marcos Highway heading towards Antipolo, however riding in them is not pleasant. The drivers are often young and treat Marcos Highway as a race track, they fly along at high speed with heavy bass music pumping out at full volume.
So what is the truth about the Jeepney?
Most Jeepneys are far from brightly coloured cultural icon, the majority are made from galvanised steel or stainless steel that has tarnished, mixed with rusty metal.
They are not WWII jeeps that have been converted, they are in fact made up of parts from Japanese surplus parts, that are in chassis that have often been welded in small workshops, with a body that has been beaten out of galvanised steel or stainless steel, again in small workshops.
The suspension is a leaf spring suspension that does not give a comfortable ride.
There was some large factories building Jeepneys but most of them have gone out of business.
The driver sits on a seat that in many Jeepneys does not line-up with the steering wheel meaning they have to sit at a strange angle. This really can not be safe, I would think driving for long hours like this is not good for the driver and will cause problems in later life.
Overloading is a major problem as the drivers seem only interested in making extra money and have no thought for passenger comfort or safety.
If you get on a Jeepney at the terminal where they start their journey you will often sit thinking why is the driver not going as the Jeepney seems to be full. Passengers are already sat there with no space between them, yet the driver will insist that he can fit another 4 people in. It is more like a tin of sardines than it is a vehicle that is there to serve the public.
So the Jeepney sets of from the terminal with the passengers packed in like sardines, hot sweaty and some times stinky bodies pressed against each other and you are relieved to get some air flowing into the Jeepney. However it is not long before the Jeepney stops again, and you think why have they stopped for more passengers when there is no more room. The people waiting jump on and stand on the back step hanging on.
Before I got my own transport I used Jeepneys and always seemed to be getting viruses, no sooner had I recovered from one illness I got another.
It really is not surprising that virus get spread in Jeepneys, as I said they pack you in like sardines so bare flesh is pressed against other peoples bare flesh sometimes of the flesh that is not very clean.
People sit there coughing and sneezing in a vehicle that is overcrowded and you are sat facing each other, some people even draw up phlegm and spit it out of the back door or the window, they seem to be totally unaware that when you spit phlegm small partials float about in the air.
This is in a country Tuberculosis (TB) kills 73 people everyday and it is estimated that 600,000 People have active TB.
You don’t have to see many Jeepneys to realise many of them are not roadworthy.
In a joint operation by enforcement agencies in Manila in January 2018 nine out of ten Jeepneys were found to have defects, the defects included, bald tyres some with wire showing, lights, indicators, brake lights etc. not working, brakes not working, holes in the floor, belching black smoke. They also discovered some were not registered and some of the drivers had expired licences. The last 2 mean there is no insurance so if they have an accident there is no insurance to cover the passengers.
The steering is often so warn on Jeepneys to keep it in a straight line the driver is constantly turning the wheel, they look like they are in a 1940s movie there is so much play in the steering.
In most of the world professional drivers take pride in what they do, it seems normal for the public to complain about professional drivers the world over, so most professional drivers do their best to change this attitude of the public, but it is rare to see a Jeepney driver with that attitude.
It is common for them to stop in the middle of the road to drop off or pick up passengers, causing other drivers delays and no concern for the safety of their passengers or other drivers.
They pull away without even checking their mirror or indicating.
Many just pull out at junctions using the size of there vehicle to intimidate other drivers.
Change lanes with out indicating or even checking their mirrors.
I understand driving a Jeepney is not an easy job, it is sure a job I would not want. Driving a poorly designed wreck of a vehicle in heavy traffic is not easy, I know because of when I first started truck driving many years ago. However that is no excuse for driving badly and losing respect of all other drivers makes the job even harder.
Many Jeepneys belch black smoke from the old Japanese surplus diesel engines. It is claimed a Jeepney burns the same amount of fuel as a 56 seater bus, so they are not economic at all.
I once lived in a Condo 6 stories up in Manila and every day there was a layer of black soot over surfaces from Jeepney exhausts. People are breathing this soot in.
The End of the Jeepney
Many Filipinos would like to see the days of the Jeepney come to an end as they are such a nuisance to other drivers, other Filipinos that use them wonder how they could live without them.
I can see both sides of the argument and it would be sad to see the days of the Jeepney come to an end, as at one time it was a cultural icon of the Philippines, however it is now becoming a cultural embarrassment for the country.
The future of Jeepneys
Alternatives are being tried, in some areas they are trying out electric buses to replace them, in other areas they are switching to more modern and more fuel efficient diesel vehicles such as the Isuzu.
One thing for sure is the Jeepney in its present form has to change for the future of the Philippines.
There are some vehicles that have been built in the style of the Jeepney but are cleaner safe and more comfortable that are used to transport tourists, I think this should be expanded on so the Jeepney will still be seen and will still be a cultural icon. However for everyday transport the standard Jeepney needs to go.
I am sure this article will upset some people it is not meant to. I respect that Jeepney drivers work hard to make a living, but they could do that while driving better. I also realise it is difficult for them to afford to maintain their Jeepneys.
I realise for some people Jeepneys are the only form of transport they can afford, but something has to change alternatives are being found and the sooner the better for their safety and health.