Simply put, the jeepney is not the most comfortable means of public transport. Passengers sit side-by-side on what looks like a bench made of foam, facing each other as two rows. Some of them may be carrying bags, boxes, and similar stuff. Some passengers take up more space than others. Now the jeepney is more crowded. Even worse, a so-called ‘barker’ shouts at the top of his lungs to call the attention of people who also want a ride. What used to be a passenger capacity of eight per row now becomes nine, even ten. The typical jeepney does not have air-conditioning. You must endure tropical heat at noontime, made more intense by cramped bodies and the vehicle’s sheet metal body. Furthermore, you are partly exposed to soot and the occasional black smoke from faulty automobile engines if the top half of the jeepney’s sides are virtually open.
Regardless of its downsides, the jeepney has a vital role to play in Philippine society. It serves as the lifeblood that keeps the nation going. Thousands, if not millions, of employees ride the jeepney for another day in their career. Government workers sort out documents, giving the populace the necessary paperwork in the first place. Teachers educate the next generation who will inherit the country. Retail and food service workers satisfy those seeking a desired item and a full belly. Then there are the farmers and fisherfolk who haul their harvests and catch, respectively, into privately-owned jeepneys to sell them at wet markets. Food, goods, and even services reach the consumer via roads and the jeepney can be considered more of a postal carrier.
Standing along the highway, I wait for a jeepney that will take me to my destination – or at least drop me off at a point closest to where I am headed. When I see the right placard, I wave my hand and the driver stops. The eye-catching combination of colors and images testify to the creativity and optimism of the Filipino people. As far as my travels have taken me, I found the jeepneys in Rizal province to be the most captivating. Then I enter the vehicle’s open rear. At times, it is closed with an attachable door when the jeepney is rented. I take my seat, sometimes squeezing myself between two fellow passengers. After that, I pass on the fare until it is received by the driver. Sometimes the jeepney’s interior can be as elegantly decorated as its exterior.
The flashy elongated automobile that roams the Philippines’s roads started life as a drab-colored military surplus. By the end of World War Two, followed by the formal proclamation of independence from the United States, Filipinos were left with a large number of the iconic four-wheel drive vehicle nicknamed the “jeep.” (One could easily notice that its front resembled that of the modern-day jeepney.) Then a trend arose when jeeps were redesigned to be longer for increased passenger accommodation and also painted with striking colors. Eventually, this mode of public transport underwent regulation.
Decades have passed and the jeepney is still evolving. With the environmental impact of vehicular emissions an ever-growing concern, jeepneys have been modified to run on electricity or solar power rather than fossil fuel. Yet these ‘green’ variants are currently built only on a limited basis. The jeepney has already demonstrated how resourceful and artistic Filipinos are. Perhaps it is time to also show the Filipinos’ commitment towards pollution reduction and renewable energy.