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Time to Move the Philippine Jeepney Off the Streets and Into the History Books

One of the more colorful jeepneys of the Philippines

rom its inception, the Philippine jeepney has been a symbol of Pinoy ingenuity. In the war-ravaged streets of newly liberated Manila in 1945, Filipinos were faced with huge public transportation problem. The tram system (tranvia) that used to serve major thoroughfares of the city was completely destroyed; its metal rails uprooted, and the overhead electric cables gone. It was going to take years to put the entire system back in place. However, quick-thinking Pinoys saw that the city had a surplus of U.S. Army jeeps. There were so many jeeps in fact that the Army actually began burying a few just to get rid of them.

That was all the encouragement resourceful Manilenos needed to create the unique Filipino invention we know as the jeepney. At the time, there was no shortage of military jeeps so jeepneys began sprouting everywhere ... transportation problem solved!

For those came up with the idea, the jeepney was simply a stop-gap measure to get Filipinos around the war-ravaged streets of Manila. It was never intended to be a permanent fixture of Philippine public transportation.

The jeepney's garish colors and kitsch decor make it a sight to behold. Blinking colored lights, loud music, and fancy car horn just adds to its pizzaz.

For Filipinos, the ubiquitous jeepney is probably the cheapest way to get around. But like all things in this world, we believe the era of the jeepney unfortunately, must come to an end.

Why the jeepney must go

For starters, according to Wikipedia  "A recent study published in a Metro Manila newspaper compared the fuel use of a 16-passenger jeepney to a 54-passenger air-conditioned bus and found that the fuel consumption for both was the same."  So assuming that the study is accurate, it would take 3.375 jeepneys to move all 54 passengers of one bus. And if the fuel consumption of the Jeepney and the bus are the same as Wikipedia also notes, then a city with jeepneys uses three times as much fuel to move people, than it would if it relied only on buses.  That is one reason why when you go to any developed country in the world, you see buses or trams moving commuters around.

Secondly, jeepneys exacerbate the problem of overcrowded city streets. You need more of them to carry commuters around. Jeepneys can block traffic as they wait to fill up with passengers. Jeepney drivers weave in and out of traffic as they try overtake other jeepneys in order to be the first to reach waiting passengers up ahead. The cost of scrapes and dings on a jeepney are negligible and their drivers use that fact to cut off other vehicles on the road whose drivers usually yield to avoid costly collision repairs. As far as they're concerned, they're "king of the road" in the Philippines.

Jeepney passengers dangerously cling on to dear life.Thirdly, jeepneys are not safe. Passengers have no safety harnesses and in a rear or head-on collision, passengers are likely to slam into one another. The front windshield of the average jeepney is filled with stickers, trinkets and objects that can block the driver's view of the road. Proper maintenance is left to the discretion of the jeepney's owner or driver. So it is not unusual to see jeepneys with bald tires on the road. Overloading is routinely tolerated by local traffic enforcers. Tired and exhausted riders are allowed to stand clinging to the rear of jeepneys  sometimes with deadly consequences. It would be safe to say that passenger safety and comfort are notions unfamiliar to the jeepney riding public.

And the jeepney driver is constantly distracted by trying to keep tabs of who has paid their fare and who hasn't. On long routes, the driver must compute how much fare should be paid by passengers. How much money they gave and how much change they should get. And if all that is not enough to drive someone up the wall (no pun intended), the jeepney driver has to look out for passengers wanting to get on or off, weave through potholed streets, and avoid all other vehicles on the road. In short a jeepney driver's job as it exists today is an accident waiting to happen. Thank goodness for their ability to multitask that accident rates aren't sky high.  But going forward, this cannot be allowed to continue. The Filipino riding public deserve better ... much better.

Lastly, jeepneys are a significant contributor to the country's greenhouse gasses. The millions of jeepneys most of which are powered by "dirty" surplus diesel engines contribute to the smog that envelopes most major cities in the Philippines. Philippine delegates to climate conferences like to point the finger at developed countries because those countries pollute a lot. But that does not absolve us from being guilty as well. Acting proactively and gradually phasing out the jeepney in favor of more environmentally friendly modes of public transportation like buses and trains, will go a long way in cleaning up our own environment.

Getting jeepneys off the street is long overdue, and must happen, sooner rather than later. The jeepney was a great invention and truly served its purpose. But it has now overstayed its welcome on Philippine streets and must be retired. Like the horse and buggy or the steam locomotive, the jeepney should only be found in museums and not on Philippine roads. Published 11/24/2015

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