Jeepney, King of the Road: From Cultural Icon to Cultural Nuisance

(Photo by The JAVA JIVE)
It is the most popular and the most affordable mode of public transportation in the Philippines and it is a symbol of Filipino’s innovation and ingenuity.   This popular public transport has already been around since post World War II (1945) up to the present and served the masses from all walks of life from the under privileged to the fortunate ones.  Even visiting Public Figures from different countries, legendary sports figures and Hollywood movie stars will try to pose for the cameras and sometimes ride it with amazement.  Technically the Jeepneys were already part of our daily lives and have a bigger percentage of contribution for mass transport system in the Philippines.


Old Jeep (Photo by Tourism in the Phil )
At the end of World War II, American Military Personnel began to leave the Philippines and hundreds of equipment and arsenals were left and sold to the Filipinos including surplus jeeps.  During the rehabilitation and rebuilding phase, Filipinos stripped down the jeeps and altered by the locals; metal roofs were added for shade and added decorations with vibrant colors, with chrome –plated ornaments on the sides of the hood.  They reconfigured the back seat into two long parallel benches with passenger facing each other to accommodate more passengers.  Its size, length and passenger capacity had increased as it evolved through the years.  The original jeepneys that were refurbished were the Jeep’s Willys and Ford eventually modern jeeps are now produced with surplus engines and pats coming from Japan.

The jeepney was used just as a temporary means of mass transport replacing probably the tramvia since most of the public transport in the Philippines especially in Manila had been virtually destroyed during World War II.  Recognizing the widespread use of these vehicles and re-establish as the transport of the masa, the Philippine Government began to regulate their use and drivers must passed (in reality pre-passed) to acquire a professional license, regular routes and reasonably fixed fare.

Cultural Icon

Jeepney Maniature (Photo from "The Salitype Society)
If London has the red double-decker bus, New York- the Yellow Taxi, the Philippines has the Jeepneys.  The jeepneys rapid emergence as a popular and creative way in mass transport, have become a ubiquitous symbol of Philippine culture and arts.  Manufacturing of jeeps were pioneered by two motor companies in Las Piรฑas:  Sarao Motors and Fransisco Motors.  Sarao Jeepneys is more popular than its rival and was synonymous to the vehicle itself and promoted as the symbol of Filipino culture.  A Sarao Jeepney was used as an exhibit at the Philippine Pavillon during the 1964 New York World’s Fair as a national image for the Filipinos.  In 1971, a Sarao Jeepney traveled from Manila to London and all over Europe as the Philippine icon of the London-Manila Express, a roadshow sponsored by the Philippine Tourism and Travel Associations to boost the country’s tourism industry.  Even back home at manufacturing plant in Pulang Lupa, Las Piรฑas, it was also being visited by tourists and declared as one of the tourist spots in Las Piรฑas, the other one is the Bamboo Organ.  However, Fransisco Motors had different path in manufacturing passenger jeeneys and also produced the Popemobile during Pope John Paul II’s visit here in the Philippines last 1981 and the mass production of Anfra.  Eventually they were followed by small jeepney workshops and factories around the country and already produced passenger jeepneys as well as owner type jeeps.

Issues and Decline as Cultural Icon

Vin Diesel in Manilla ( Photo by Pia Ranada)
With the introduction of the Light Rail Transit or LRT, aircon buses, and share taxi system (e.g. FX and Passenger Vans) and even the introduction of the multi-cab; manufacturing of Jeepneys are now more on a decline.  People these days want more riding comfort than the old system.  In spite that some manufacturers produced longer passenger seats and more stylized modernized jeepneys, commuters still wanted to go for comfort in spite of paying a higher fare.

 According to the BBC article, “End of the Road for Jeepneys,” stated that the Jeepneys are more expensive to operate and repair rather that other vehicles on the market because they do not have standardized parts that are available.  Another is that Jeepneys emit the amount of carbon di oxide from their diesel engines that caused massive pollution in the metropolis.  Another issue is that Jeepney routes were only limited to some roads especially to tourist potential spots like in Roxas Boulevard.  Next is the never ending vicious cycle of fuel price hike which cause a lot of steer and fiasco in the motor business affecting the operation of the Jeepney.  With high prices in fuel and spare parts, the jeepney tends to operate even the vehicle has less than 100% efficiency to operate which cause a lot of stop overs and breakdowns during operation sometimes would cause traffic and inconvenience of the passengers.  The real main reason for the decline of Jeepney being a cultural icon is because of the Jeepney drivers themselves.

Vin Diesel rides jeepney in Global City in Taguig
 Moreover, Majority of the Jeepney drivers in general in which their behavior were gradually decrease ever since post-EDSA, this was due to increase deprivation and uneducated drivers in the metropolis that cause major traffic jams, accidents, corruption and even theft or robbery however not all Jeepney drivers exhibit rude and discourteous behavior, some still exhibit civility and courteous manner especially to commuters and elderly passengers.

Jeepney Driver’s Image
Jeepney Driver (Image by Jojo)
During the 1950’s when the jeepney started to gain grounds, jeepney drivers were properly hygienic and respected due to their mild and courteous manner.  However due to the rapid increase in population growth and also an increase of drop outs in secondary and collegiate level due to stricken poverty from time to time especially in Metro Manila, jeepney drivers were becoming a nuisance to society especially to commuters and fellow motorist due to their rudely and Pilosopong Tasyo behavior.

In the same manner, Jeepney drivers becoming more increasingly inconsiderate with their hygiene and image which cause the public’s perception to them as a goon behind the wheel and can never be trusted.  During the administration of MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando, he passed an ordinance to all Jeepney drivers should be well groomed and proper attire should be properly observed without the use of sando and shorts.  The campaign and the implementation was successful and most of the drivers actually comply to the rules implemented by MMDA however, professionalism and road courtesy has a long way to the jeepney drivers’ criteria and cannot be learned overnight, at least a start of something good for the image of the drivers and gave the commuters a different perspective towards them.  As expected the policy did not last long due to a change of administration and of course the culture of “ningas cugon.”

Parades of Jepney (Photo by Iligan Today)
Associated with a bad public image, jeepney drivers were became a subject of exploitation by the traffic enforcers and kotong police whenever they do have violations by asking for a bribe.  The illegal barters along the unofficial jeepney stops when the driver gave them only a 5 peso coin, the adik and parasitic barter will definitely threaten to punch the face of driver and sometimes they will break the glass of the front view mirror or steal one of the accessories.  Another is being exploited by the leftist and other politicians to destabilize the mass transit system and even the economy.  Even lawless elements like the robbers and criminal gangs often use the drivers as an accomplice for their criminal activities.  Due also to the poverty stricken status Jeepney drivers did not mind the condition of the vehicle and its maintenance status since which cause a lot of inconvenience transfers for the passengers.

However in the rural zone, the Jeepney drivers have a different perception towards their passengers, besides for their source of income, they gave consideration to the passenger’s needs and of course time.

1.In Metro Manila, most of the Jeepney drivers were only after the passenger’s fare even if the change is only P1.00 they will not give the change to the passenger.  Sometimes they just tell the passenger’s, “mam/sir, wala pong barya mamaya na lang,” then the jeepney driver will intentionally forget the passenger’s change when the passenger reminds the driver of their obligation.

2.Another is the time that some Jeepney drivers are inconsiderate about the passenger’s time which some wind up late at their work or never arrive in time due to accident; it is up to them to drive the jeepney slow as a tortoise and as fast as a bullet.  Their only reason for this attitude is that, “kami ang nasa manubela, kaya kami ang masusunod, kung ayaw mo ma-late o sumakay sa jeep ko, e di mag-taxi ka!”

3.Another is waiting time for the jeepeny drivers even in jeepney terminal and the unofficial terminals.  In the jeepney terminal, it is a good thing that passengers will line up for the ride however, the only seating capacity for the jeepney depending on the size, let’s say the average is 20.  The jeepney drivers and the barkers will insistently direct the naรฏve commuter to sit on the jeepney when the total capacity reached its maximum limit of 20 and they will insert more passengers with a total of 22 to 24 depending on the space.  Jeepney drivers will not tolerate even a little space in the passenger seats and will fill the space even the passenger is larger than space that needs to be seated.

Image from Trek Earth
 In the provinces, commuters will tend to ride in a jeep epscially if the passenger seat is full they can do a sabit and sometimes sits on the roof or simply “top loader”.  Jeepneys in the provinces have specialized seat or passenger railings in the roof.  There was a bill made by Congressman Winston Castelo that jeepney must have a standard seating capacity including that manufacturers should also adopt a standard measure for the seating space to assure passenger safety and comfort and avoid overloading.  This was known as House Bill 5850 known as the Seat Space Requirement of Jeepney Act of 2012.  The proposed anthropometric dimension of 357 mm hip breadth or 14 inches for every passenger has been based on scientific studies however, a lot of complaints and uncivilized reaction by the jeepney drivers and the reason is, “malulugi kami sa boundry.”  As usual the bill still on hold in Philippine Congress as well as other bill which is beneficial for the Filipino people since the Congressmen are busy on their swine harvest.

4. Another is the Jeepney drivers were stalling for not only two minutes to wait for the passenger but also stall for five or more minutes in an unofficial jeepney stops.  It was also adopted by bus drivers that caused all major traffic in the metro as well as pollution and road accidents.  With that, not only jeepney drivers but all public utility vehicle drivers adopted this kind of a third world attitude, instead of the passenger’s safety they only care about passenger’s fare.

Jeepney Should be Abolished?

There were a lot of proposals to abolish the once called Cultural Icon of Philippine Culture.  During the launching of the LRT last 1984, President Marcos made a study for the abolition of Jeepneys in Metro Manila.  With the success of Mass Transport system in the Philippines during Martial Law, if you can remember the California Bus Line in EDSA, the Metro Manila Transit Bus and the Double Deck Bus in Roxas Boulevard, mass transport is quite successful, and the jeepney’s route will be limited only to secondary roads.

 However mass traffic jams and accidetns were recored at that time and since road courtesy is adopted generally by the Jeepney drivers, Presdient Marcos decided to abolish the Jeepney in Metro Manila and could use any other means of new mass transport system.  The proposal did not materialize due to cause of unemployment and criminal rate will increase because most of the drivers’ only cost of living is driving a Jeepney.  President Marcos decided to re-design the jeepney known as the “Bagong Lipunan Jeepney.”  The Bagong Lipunan Jeepny looks promising in which it is like a mini bus with an air condition and the passenger’s entrance is at the side of the driver.  The design was scrapped and never produced due to the unit is much expensive compared to the ordinary jeepney.  During Post-EDSA, massive bus franchise was implemented cause the high rise in mass transport system but also cause congestion and pollution.  Jeepney drivers increase as increase of migration of people from the provinces.  However, with the increase influx of people in the metropolis cause a lot of chaos and anarchy in the roads just like what happened today.

 Massive traffic jams and pollution contributes to the damaging of the Ozone Layer and climate change that also cause to the recent floods in the metropolis.  Another is the soon to arrive Bus Rapid Transit or BRT which will be implemented in Cebu City.  In Metro Manila, there are proposals that will be implemented in Commonwealth Ave, Buendia to Bonifacio Global City.  Many jeepney drivers were concerned about their route, but the advised of the DOTC that jeepneys will serves as auxiliary transport for secondary roads which the BRT’s only route is the major thoroughfares.  However with the increase of F/X, Vans (Shared Taxi), increase Taxi use, existing projects of LRT and MRT extensions and increase use of automobile in the metropolis, the jeepney status will be much like of a dinosaur because, the passenger load increase only during rush hours but during midday, few passenger were only observed that also increase wait time for the passengers.  Most of the motorist who use their vehicles everyday advised that they would rather use their vehicles in spite of the traffic and high price of fuel rather than to depend on the skills of the PUV drivers.  “Freedom behind the wheel is what we want,” one of the motorist advised due to the privacy in nature and comfort.

 Another reason for the abolishment is the cause of hazardous pollutants in the city.  Jeepneys added carbon monoxide and other hazardous air in metropolis that cause asthma and other problems in respiration.  Due to the traffic jams around the city and the jeepneys emits those dangerous pollutants it cause a higher volume of pollution in the air not to mention the bus and trucks that cause the smog around the metropolis.  A solution was made by the DOTC and the production of E-Jeepneys.  The E-Jeepneys did not use the classical fuel but use electric and have the same efficiency with the diesel jeepney.  The e-jeepney does not emit pollutants and it is an eco-friendly vehicle and it is now one of the major transports in Makati City and even in Palawan.  E-jeepney is very successful and the government order additional units in Canada for mass transit from SM North to SM Megamall.


E-Jeepney in Makati City (from green peace)
Even with the arrival of the e-Jeepneys and the BRTs, the jeepney still serve as the most affordable from of mass transportation in the Philippines.  However with the increase in population, increase in unemployment, increase in poverty, Jeepney drivers will definitely line up to get a professional driver’s license in spite and will seek to find operators around the city or in suburbs.  I remember when I was an OJT in LTO in FTI, there was an individual who does not know how to read and write and was accompanied by a casually dressed man.  They approach my desk and ask for an application form.  The gentleman wrote the applicant’s info due to his illiteracy and as I know that the pre-requisite for being the driver is literally capable to read and write and applying for a professional driver’s license rather than the student permit which is a pre-requisite.  I pointed them to the LTO Officer because I did not accept the P500 bribe which is insulting to my intelligence and principles.  So no wonder why the image of the Jeepney drivers was becoming a nuisance.

My suggestion is since we are in a K-12 system of education, add basic driving as part of the curriculum in Junior high school as an elective subject and advance driving for students would want to drive 6 to 10 wheeler trucks or construction trucks like bulldozers or  army trucks.  Another is for the LTO to regulate the application of Jeepney drivers.  Not all drivers can become jeepney drivers.  This is to prevent over influx of jeepney in the metropolis that caused traffic jams.  Make some re-routes for the Jeepneys in which some roads were in need of a public transportation.  In the Jeepney terminals, MMDA should supervise the dispatch of jeepneys, prevent the overloading of passengers and ban the annoying adik-adik barter.  LTO or LTRCB should commissioned quality assurance agents for Jeepney drivers who will evaluate the jeepney drivers indiscriminately during the driver’s operation and will have a feedback of how he performed as the driver.  LTO should strictly use dress code for jeepney drivers not only in Metro Manila but in the whole Philippines as well.  LTO should ban Jeepneys that are junked and close for being disclosed.  LTO should encourage Jeepney operators to check the vehicle for possible maintenance to avoid accidents and breakdown of the vehicle.

Another in the provinces, local government officials should implement a law or an ordinance to prohibit passengers of using the roof as an extension as passenger seats and sabits.  The government must give emphasis to jeepney driver’s salary and benefits and should be absorbed into the mass transport system as drivers instead of the boundary system or surcharge system that caused traffic congestion in a mad scramble for passengers in which the driver can park anywhere, even in the middle of the road.  Those were only my suggestions just to improve the mass transport system in the Philippines and help to improve the traffic situation in Metro Manila.  Another suggestion is for every Jeepney drivers should try to drive in SBMA and will know the possible violation occurred in one day which results as crash course in driving.

The status of the Jeepney can still retain the glory as the Cultural Icon of the Philippines if the government will implement strict rules especially in the major thoroughfares and leaders must have the political will to change the landscape of the bustling and polluted metropolis to a clean, green, eco-friendly city with the Jeepneys and the Jeepney drivers as the symbol of our country’s ingenuity and a hard working Filipino respectively.

Rommel Caguiat
Guest Writer
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  1. Really nice pictures ! Looks like you guys had an awesome time.You make good share.

    1. Thanks Ella for dropping by and leaving your footprints


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