jeepney jitters

14 02 2011

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the first time i truly got to know my way around Iloilo (please reference previous post as to how lost i truly was) was when my female cohort and i found ourselves laughing hysterically while wildly hanging off the back of a public transit vehicle (referred to as sabit in Tagalog, and kabit in Cebuano; both meaning ‘to hang on with your fingertips’). although insanely unsafe, this was the only way we could grasp the concept of the form of the city as we wove in and out of the densely polluted urban fabric – we finally had a visual of our route. as this dangerous behaviour is normally reserved for men only, we elicited some stares, giggles and rants from onlookers and from the public transit vehicle conductor. women do not normally hang off the back as seats in the interior of the vehicle are usually sacrificed for them to sit down. this interactive Philippines-wide public transportation vehicle is known as the Jeepney.

the phenomenon known as the Jeepney is legendary in the Philippines. a leftover staple army vehicle from the Battle of Manila, the Jeepney was an American product that was left or sold to the local population at the end of the war. lacking a form of public transportation, the local Filipinos transformed the Jeepneys into passenger carriers, and have since remained an affordable transportation option in Filipino cities.

there is an unspoken code, or etiquette, on these Jeepneys – which is unique in the way they operate. the Jeepney’s two long parallel benches are often filled beyond capacity with adults, children and oftentimes local produce or groceries. the Jeepney passengers sit with their legs at a 45 degree angle, facing the front of the jeep, and will often attempt to grab the seats at the back of the jeep first. a 7 PHP (0.16 CDN) payment is made by calling out “BAYAD!” and passing your money up to the Jeepney conductor through the hands of the other passengers. change is often required, and will be sent back to you through the same process.

the Jeepney acts as a hybrid between a bus service and a taxi cab. the jeep will pick you up anywhere along its route, much like a taxi cab, but contains numerous passengers all going to different destinations – much like a bus. the Jeep will also gladly drop you off wherever and whenever you please along the route if you bellow out “LUGAR LANG!” to the driver (very roughly translates to “stop at this place”). quite the efficient process, really.

the thing i love about Jeepneys the most is how customized they are to each driver. the design controls on the vehicles are lax, and the driver can make any modification to the body and interior of the vehicle. most often, the family name will be plastered loud and proud across the windshield, and the body of the Jeep will be splayed with colorful paints, decals, advertisements, or local flair.

despite their foreign, kitschy appeal, the Jeepney as a daily form of transportation can be quite agitating – especially for a woman who is 5’9 in height. add a bag full of work materials, groceries, and a laptop, and you’ve got yourself one uncomfortable ride. in addition to the lack of space, the diesel fumes of the jeepney somehow make their way into the body of the vehicle and flood your nostrils with a suffocating stench that you can taste – is unavoidable. most jeepney travelers will often be seen with a face mask or holding a hankercheif in from of their mouths and nose to prevent the fumes from making them completely nauseous.

making their way on the scene are the innovative e-jeepneys, or electrical jeepneys. e-jeepneys are the creation of of Green Renewable Independent Power Producers, Inc. (or GRIPP) in partnership with Mr Robert Puckett – the President of Solar Electric Company in the Philippines. being touted as the  “first public transport system of its kind in South-East Asia,” the e-jeeps  can be charged by plugging into an electric socket, which get its energy from biodegradable waste products. for the first time in iloilo, an e-jeepney was introduced to the streets of the city at the 2011 Dinagyang Festival – one of the country’s largest, and most elaborate street fiestas. introducing an electric form of transportation is a massive step for the Philippines, as Manila is often quoted as being one of the most highly-polluted cities on earth. it is hard to believe that throwing some electric jeeps on the road will help to solve this problem, but one trip to Manila to view the endless string of Jeepney vehicles lining the streets, and you might think twice.

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