Traveling in a Jeepney tops the to-do list of many a visitor to Manila. These iconic Jeep hybrids are a popular means of public transport, and no two are alike.
Emblazoned with religious and nationalistic artwork, cartoons, or anything that takes the owners fancy, they provide a pop of fun for the leagues of gridlocked Filipino travelers.
The cars can carry around 18 passengers, and due to the humid Philippine climate, are ventilated with glass-free windows.
But its glory days may be coming to an end. Once as intrinsic to the Philippines’ national image and identity as the red double decker bus is to London or the yellow cab to New York, the Jeepney is gradually being superseded by newer, more economical vehicles.
The cars first took to the roads back in the fifties, created from requisitioned jeeps left over by USA forces in the aftermath of WWII. Entrepreneurial Filipinos adapted the cars for mass transportation, and the rest is history.
the vehicle represents the multi-cultural history of the Philippines
According to Ed Sarao, head of Sarao Motors, one of the first makers of Jeepneys, the vehicle represents the multi-cultural history of the Philippines. He told the BBC; “There is bit of Spanish, Mexican traits there; how they incorporate vivid colours, fiesta-like feelings. There is a little of the Americans because it evolved from the Jeep. There is a little Japan because of the Japanese engine. But it was built by Filipino hands.”
The decline of the Jeepney began after the Asian financial crisis in the late nineties. Due to the fact that Jeepneys require specialist parts, they can be expensive and difficult to repair when things go wrong. Although they carry more passengers than other forms of public transport, increasingly operators are opting to run cheaper, more standardized vehicles.
Passengers also prefer modern comforts such as air conditioning, and are will to pay more to ride in vehicles which will give them some respite from the sweltering heat.
Another issue is the environmental impact of Jeepneys. Annually, around 5,000 Filipinos die every year as a result of air pollution. The government is working hard to combat this issue, and with their heavy carbon dioxide emitting diesel engines, Jeepneys are top of the hit list.
Nonetheless, Jeepney manufacturers are fighting back. Designers are investigating the feasibility of air-conditioned Jeepneys, and experiments are underway to find an economic new style of vehicle that can run on alternate fuels.