Jeepneys are the backbone of the public transportation system in the Philippines. They are also a bone of contention for those trying to modernize the public transport system and make the roads less congested. As most people already know, Jeepneys were first converted from left behind jeeps after WW2. Hey still make them today but anti-pollution regulations are getting stricter and even enforced now and then, making it harder for the jeepney drivers and owners to get away with driving moving violations on the roads.
The Three Things A Jeepney Needs
Jeepneys must have three things to make them genuine jeepneys. They need a lot of hood ornamentation, preferably plastic horse statues. The more horses, the more girlfriends the driver is supposed to have. In some cities, like Olongapo, the jeepneys are unadorned and come in two colours. Brownish-red ones going one way and yellowish-red ones going the other, more or less. It is rather organised and civilized compared to the plethora of different designs you see elsewhere.
The second thing a jeepney must have is a bald spare tyre bolted to the driver’s door. This protects him, makes it difficult to get in, out or at him and complies with the legal requirement to carry a spare tyre. If there is any tread on it then it will be on one of the axles, right?
The third ‘must have’ item is the route plied by the jeepney painted on the sides and across the front under the windscreen. Believe it or not, there is a system of routes and licenses and even numbered routes. Once you know the jeepney you need, finding it among a maelstrom of motors clogging up the thoroughfare isn’t that hard. Until then you tend to wave at every jeepney that passes by, then peer at the names painted along the side and then either get it or wave it off.
Travel Anywhere and Everywhere
When I was working in Quezon City teaching Engrish to Korean students, my favourite Saturday pass-time was jeepney hopping. I would walk out to Quezon Boulevard and hop the first jeepney that went past with sufficient room for this bear to squeeze in. A few time I managed to score the front seat, which saved me from cranking my neck to look out the side window spaces to watch where we were going.
I would ride the jeepney to the end of its route, taking note of the route number. Then I’d explore the area before either hopping the same numbered jeepney back or hopping another to somewhere else. In this way I travelled all over metro Manila and saw a lot of traffic. I also wound up in some pretty out of the way enclaves of this fascinating city. I used to enjoy the freedom of roaming around, the only Kano in sight and seeing parts of Manila few foreigners ever got to see. I did make sure I was heading back to my room, or Makati or Ermita where there are other foreigners well before dark on a Saturday night but I never felt in any danger; well, not often. I’ll keep those anecdotes for Part 2.