Tuesday, February 28, 2006

zen and the art of jeepney maintenance

Jeepneys are the most dominant form of public transport in the Philippines. They’re a sort of jeep-bus hybrid. The early jeepneys were made by modifying jeeps left over by the Americans after World War 2, but now they’re manufactured from scratch, often using the parts of discarded Japanese trucks. The passenger area consists of two parallel padded benches that run the length of the rear section. In a full jeepney, two rows of passengers face each other. And a full jeepney carries more people than you would believe possible. There is an apt joke that goes:

Q: How many people can you fit in a jeepney?
A: One more.

Jeepneys are ubiquitous throughout the Philippines. They are also ornately decorated with images and phrases. The images can be flags of other countries (I think representing the country that is now home to the relative who sent back the money with which to buy the jeepney), airbrushed images of Jesus, or just about anything else you can imagine. The phrases range from the religious—“Gift of God” and “God bless our trip”—to my personal favourite, “Poor no friends.” I don’t know if this is supposed to mean that real poverty has more to do with lack of friends than it does with lack of money, or (my preferred interpretation) if it’s a searingly honest appraisal of the driver's station in life.

I have only been involved in one accident with a jeepney (details available here).

Jeepneys have a number of pros and cons. These tend to depend on whether you are inside a jeepney or not.


  • There are thousands of them so you never have to wait long to catch one.
  • They stop to pick up and put down anywhere and everywhere along their route.
  • You can usually negotiate with the driver to take you somewhere off the usual route (for a fee).


  • There are thousands of them so they clog up the streets and make the traffic hellish.
  • They stop to pick up and put down anywhere and everywhere along their route.
  • The drivers are blissfully unaware of any other car on the road that’s not directly in front of them.
  • Disembarking passengers tend to suddenly appear from behind jeepneys into the path of your oncoming vehicle.
  • They billow out diesel fumes that are impossible to avoid (this is about the only pro or con that isn’t dependent on one’s position relative to the jeepney at any given moment).

There are some more cons for 6’5” people. These include hitting one’s head on the ceiling, and elbowing and kneeing unsuspecting Filipinos as you try to make your way to an empty space on the bench.

Below are some Jeepneys driving down the street just around the corner from my house, a few nights ago. I could pretend that the appearance of movement was something I strived for, using a combination of my high-falutin’ technical knowledge of photography and raw artistic talent. But really, with a little point-and-shoot digicam, this was the only way I was able to take the shots.


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