A Jeepney: the national transport of the Philippines

12 Apr


A Jeepney in full flight

I remember the first time I ever saw Jeepney. Or at least I think I do. This strange caucophany of colours and steel (below), rumbling toward me and kissing out diesel fumes into the air. It looked a bit like a steel elevator on wheels. Full of colour, noise and smog.  This is what is known in the Philippines as the Jeepney. The distinct elongated but robust shape of the Jeepney is apparently a legacy of World War II and its aftermath, when United States soldiers effectively ploughed through the Philippines, and doing as they usually do, left all their military equipment behind, including their standard issue military jeeps. However, in a manner very symbolic of Filipino culture, the Jeeps were embraced and rejuvenated with a distinct Filipino flavour and flamboyance, transforming these moving sheds into the transport fiesta that is the Jeepney.

If you ever stay in the Philippines, you will be sure to jump into one of these banner-filled floating parades of paraphernalia. The first couple of times I did, I thought they were just about as fun as they looked.  But do not jump on your own, not at least until you have ridden them a couple of times with your team leader until you have a good idea of where you are going, and how to navigate Jeepney culture.

While they may look like fun, and they are, if you don’t know what to read on a Jeepney, you will be a bit lost. As you can see, Jeepney’s are covered in different graffiti-style logo’s all over them, you may even find a few that say Sydney, Australia on them. They are about as eclectic as things get. But if you are looking for where a Jeepney is headed, there are only two things to look for. They will usually have a single (final) destination written in the driver’s side front window, and have a more detailed description on the side  (as pictured).

If you are looking for a Jeepney, no matter where you are, you will probably be able to find one in no time at all. That is one of the great things about Jeepney’s. They are the perfect of example of the idea that the customer comes first. While most Jeepney’s do have places where they will regularly stop, there is little need to try and find some sort of Bus stop. A jeepney will stop anywhere. Even if it means screeching on the breaks and throwing all of the passangers cascading into a pile at the front barrier like a deck of dominoes tipped over each other. Jeepney’s pretty much stop anywhere you are.

If you see one you think will be able to take you to where you need to go,  just put out your arm, and unless the Jeepney is full (an almost impossible concept as in my experience seeing as Jeepney drivers are always keen to pack at least one more person in – we once had about 25 in the back, and I think the driver still thought there was room for one more ) it will most likely stop for you.

When you get on a Jeepney, in general, enter from the back, and crouch your way up the Jeepney until you find a seat. In general, Filipinos will shuffle towards the back of the Jeepney, which means that you will most likely have to walk all the way to the front. This shuffling makes sense, as you will most likely be on the Jeepney longer then the passengers who got on before you, and you need to pay the driver, who is obviously seated at the front. Saying that, sit anywhere you can. But do try and have some style to your seating decision. An unplanned sit got me in a lot of trouble a couple of times; not knowing where to go and then falling on someone as my driver turned the corner, bumping my head on the steel, 4 foot roof, or slipping over and ending up lying on the corridor floor in the middle of the Jeepney carriage.

Getting on and finding a seat can be a bit of a challenge sometimes (understatement), but once you’re on, take some time to relax.  Jeepney’s are customer orientated, and instead of harassing the customer to pay like we do in Sydney, Jeepney drivers will wait until you are ready to pay. In order to pay, simply say: Bayad po, and hand your money to the Jeepney driver. Usually Jeepney’s are the cheapest and in many cases, the only transport option for medium to long journeys, and may cost you from P5 to P30 ($0.10 to $1 AUS).  

  • Pass your money through each other’s hands to the front
  • Barad Po or tap the roof 2x to stop or get off
  • Don’t forget to pay
  • Driver’s are a bit crazy, but trust them, they have been doing it for a long time, and other cars are used to it!
  • Enjoy it, and look around!

I loved riding in Jeepneys. And I always think fondly of these rolling elevators with graffiti tattoos all over them. They remind me a lot about the Philippines.

A little snapshot of Filipino flamboyance...with a Jeepney on the side

They remind me of the somewhat mess of traffic that is replicated in Manila’s urban design and market places. They remind me of the colour, fun and tremendous flavour of the Philippines. They remind me of the syncretism of the Filipino culture, food, music, even the way the kids I remember like to pose for photos, often with a fan blowing their air back. And they remind me most about the Filipino ability to remake something new out of something old.

In many ways, that’s what happened to me on the trip. The people and places I encountered remade me, maybe not as flamboyantly as a Jeepney…but definitely added a little Pinoy spice.


3 Responses to “A Jeepney: the national transport of the Philippines”

  1. jyd89 April 12, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    Enjoyed your story of the jeepney it reminds me of my travels to the Philippines and my limited jeepney encounters (mostly driven by family). Most memorable encounter was en route to Borocay, I think, and the whole journey I had a live chicken between my feet that was later to be our diner. Great times!

    • whitepageblank April 14, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

      haha…I never had a live chicken…but once rode on the roof…my friend had been riding on the roof for about 30 mins and I was getting a bit envious, so I jumped up and joined him…I waited till we had slowed down a fair bit tho


  1. Travel + Illness (an almost inevitable occurrence) « EthnoSense - April 20, 2011

    […] next morning I was ushered into a  Jeepney (after a bumpy ride on a tric) with my group’s in-country team leader. After a switchover to […]

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