Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rules of the Road: Jeepneys

This will be the first in a series of posts regarding the transportation system in the Philippines. Today we talk about Jeepneys! (Etymology: Jeep + using it so your knees are usually uncomfortable = jeepney)

Jeepneys are one of the main symbols of the Philippines. Many(/most?) are surplus US Army troop carriers that have been converted to passenger use. They are diesel, and they will probably run forever. Long before MTV debuted “Pimp My Ride”, Filipinos were upgrading jeepneys in all sorts of creative ways. Some in Manila are a dull metal gray, but many feature lavish paint jobs and all kinds of accessories, sometimes with fixed up interiors. Consider the most flamboyant jeepney in my area:

Jeepneys run on a fixed route, picking up and dropping off passengers anywhere along it. The fare varies by how far you’re going – there’s usually a minimum charge of 5 pesos, and you can roughly add a peso for every 2 kilometers traveled. The larger ones usually have a younger male hanging off the back who yells to the driver when to stop to pick somebody up, and collects the fares. To get on the jeepney, you must flag it down from the side of the road, either by raising your arm, or doing the Filipino motion for “come here”, which looks like “get away, shoo, shoo!” to Americans. To stop the jeepney so you can get off, you usually rap a coin on the overhead bar, or yell “Lugar lang!” (Roughly “Just here!”). Once the passenger is off, the money collector makes a sound that I had to think about a while in order to describe. It’s like you say “Yeah” slowly, as unenthusiastically as possible, but also loudly and while throwing your voice a couple octaves lower, and not really pronouncing the Y. It’s not really a word. I believe they’re just trying to sound cool.

The seating arrangement in a jeepney is two long benches facing each other, with an aisle down the middle. All entering and exiting is done from the rear. There are bars from the roof running parallel to the benches to hold on to when the ride gets bumpy, or when braking and acceleration are erratic (so, always). Open windows run parallel to the benches, and only have tarps put down if it is raining hard. True jeepneys are actually usually quite comfortable on the Filipino transportation scale, because the dimensions are built for American soldiers. There is typically enough leg and head room, and getting out of them requires nothing more than walking while bent at the waist. Of course, there’s always room for one more, even when all the seats are filled (I would estimate that the typical Jeepney can hold 20-24 passengers sitting comfortably inside). If you’re a female, a child, or an older man, small 2-person wooden benches are brought out and put into the aisle, and passengers sit facing perpendicular to those on the main benches. This makes getting in and out much more complicated. Males from the age of 15-40 tend to hang off the back (there are platforms for standing), or even sit on top. It’s not uncommon to see a jeepney cruising down the highway at a busy time with 12 or 15 people riding.. on the outside. I can vouch for the fun of hanging off the back – provided you have adequate foot-anchoring space. It’s much fresher than inside, and you have a better view of the surroundings. I’m not crazy enough to have ridden on the top yet.
Here’s what can happen when things get tight:

My friend Matt Kucharski(about 6'5") gettin' down in Manila

My other friend Matt McCleary (also about 6'3"?)demonstrating the proper back-ride technique
It’s all a part of getting close with your neighbors. "Community integration" if you will.

1 comment:

grant said...

sup son. its odd how many parallels there are between developing countries. tanzania had their own jeepney type things all with the young guy hanging off the side who collects the money from you.

recommend some books for me man. I dont know what to read but i feel i should.