Jeepneys are to Manila what Red double-decker buses are to London, and you simply cannot come to this city without taking a ride on a one. These rugged beasts of Manila’s perilously busy streets offer a convenient and affordable way to get around. You just stand on or beside the road and look at the signs in the front window of a Jeepney that tell you where it’s going, then you flag it down, jump in the back and pass your money forward to the driver.
Common across the Philippines, the Jeepney has become a ubiquitous symbol of Philippine culture. flamboyantly decorated and nearly always crowded, Jeepneys hark back to when American troops began to leave the Philippines at the end of the second world war. Back then, US troops left behind hundreds of Jeeps that locals altered and decorated. As the vehicles evolved Jeepneys quickly emerged as an inexpensive public transport system in place of the previous public transport network that had been virtually destroyed in the war.
While original Jeepneys were refurbished and customized military Jeeps, modern Jeepneys are now predominantly built from second-hand Japanese trucks by independently owned workshops and factories in the Philippines.
As with many public transport experiences in Asia, riding a Jeepney for the first time can be a little overwhelming. The noise, the pollution, the crowded seating and seemingly crazy driving can make it an exciting exposure to Philippine life.
I chatted with the two drivers of a Jeepney I rode. Raylan, 25, and Jonathon, 22, were sharing the sixteen hour shift that began at 6am. Raylan had a broad smile on his face as he honked and jostled his way through the streets and clouds of exhaust fumes being belched out by other Jeepneys. Raylan proudly told me that in his five years as a Jeepney driver he had never crashed. I asked Jonathon if, in his four years driving Jeepneys, he had ever crashed. “Yes sir. Five times” he said. Needless to say I was glad that Raylan was at the wheel.
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