Jeepney: Blessing or Curse? (Updated)

Instead of being the blessing that it had been in the past 60 years, the jeepney has become an archaic relic of the past, an invention that had its day, and should be encased in a museum of Philippine history.

The jeepney had been a symbol of Filipino culture and ingenuity. Modified from surplus American jeeps to accommodate many passengers, it had been around since the end of World War II as the staple of public transportation all over the country, especially in big cities.

I admit that my frustration with Manila traffic contributed much to my thoughts in this post. But I believe that the jeepney today, instead of being the blessing that it had been in the past 60 years, has become an archaic relic of the past, an invention that had its day, and should be encased in a museum of Philippine history.

Its predominance in the highways and byways has turned from a blessing to a curse. Because of the lack of discipline, and knowledge of and obedience to traffic rules, regulations and signs, it is the main cause of the horrible Metro Manila traffic. It is the primary culprit of the noxious smog that envelops most urban areas. (How do these chimneys pass the anti-smog inspection?) Most of them have little or no insurance, and coupled with lack of discipline and knowledge, they cause many costly accidents.

The secondary problems that jeepneys cause are many: long commute hours, low-productivity, respiratory health problems, waste of gas, and corruption among traffic police and enforcers, in addition to hearing problems because of the blaring radios!

According to a paper co-authored by Professors Ricardo Sigua and Noriel Tiglao of the University of the Philippines’ National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS), the annual economic losses due to the traffic mess in the metro area is a staggering 100 billion pesos ($2.2 billion)!

Possible Solutions

The jeepney has turned from a blessing to a curse. Because of the lack of discipline, and knowledge of and obedience to traffic rules, regulations and signs, it is the main cause of the horrible Metro Manila traffic.It is difficult to pinpoint one or two causes of the huge traffic problems in metro areas because there are many. But in addition to the lack of discipline among all drivers and out-of-control motorcycle and tricycle drivers, I can see two other major contributors.

The first is the number of commuters all day long because, for one thing, even the simplest transactions cannot be done by phone or online, but only in person. What can be done about this? Not much, really, until corruption and dishonesty are kept in check. Online shopping, banking and document processing are probably years, if not decades away from reality, but doable.

The second is the so-called boundary or surcharge system among bus and jeepney operators. How does this contribute to traffic congestion? Simply, in the mad scramble for passengers because their earnings depend on the number of passengers they can get in a day’s driving, drivers stop and park anywhere, even in the middle of the roads, tying up traffic.

As an engineer, I always get into a solutions mode when I see problems and think of ways to improve on how things are done—I also had experience as an industrial process engineer. It would be extremely difficult—some would say even impossible—but nothing less than a comprehensive mass transportation overhaul would suffice, beginning with government ownership. First, jeepneys should be phased out from all major roads and highways and replaced with urban mass transit such as buses and trains. Second, employees of this government-owned transport system should be salaried, which means they get paid fixed monthly salaries that are even better than what they earn today with their hard work. Third, these buses and trains should be operated according to a fixed schedule, being dispatched with frequency based on the time of day. Fourth, all buses from outside Metro Manila should be allowed only at the fringes of the metro area. Fifth, designated bus stops should be strictly enforced.

What happens to all the jeepney drivers and barkers? They would be absorbed and retrained into the mass transport system as drivers, conductors, inspectors, dispatchers, mechanics, janitors, etc. Drivers should be retrained and reprogrammed so that discipline and obedience is hardwired into their brains. The traffic enforcers, in addition, should also be paid regular fixed salaries.

One other thing that seemed to work for the MRT and LRT trains is the seating configuration. The buses could also be configured in the same way, with seats only on the sides for women, elderly and the handicapped, so that the aisles are wide maximizing the density of passengers per square meter of road. There could even be segregation of women, elderly and the handicapped from the rest of the bus, as in the trains. There should be wide doors in the front, middle and back, so the time to load and unload is minimized.

I’m sure that there are many more improvements that mass transport experts can think of to untie the big traffic mess and lessen the misery of commuters.

The above may sound like a pipe dream, but would be a small start and would only work, obviously, if corruption is minimized. The transportation czar should run the system like a business for profit, but with rules and regulations strictly enforced throughout the system.

Now the big question is where to find that honest, incorruptible transportation czar.

UPDATE: A few additional thoughts on the Philippines’ Stone Age transportation “system”:

1. It encourages teenage vagrancy and other criminal activities, since jeepneys and buses operate all through the night. Once I was on a bus in Ortigas about 11 PM, and two high school girls still in their uniforms were on the bus. I believe in all big cities in the States, public transport stops operating at about midnight.

2. One of the big reasons for non-stop traffic jams from 5 am till midnight is that the number of public transport vehicles is basically the same all throughout the day. Notice that jeepneys and buses during non-peak hours, especially mid-day, are running to and fro practically empty, thereby uselessly clogging the road. This is easily visible at EDSA and other major roads. This makes an inefficient system even more inefficient, particularly with regards to gas and diesel consumption.

3. Make ownership of cars and motorcycles very expensive, such as charging 100 percent tax on sales and registration renewals. Criminals use motorcycles almost exclusively, and limiting their number would lessen these crimes.

4. There should be a Three Strikes Law for all drivers. Those who commit moving violations three times within a year should have their licenses suspended for one year. Those who commit moving violations with serious injuries or death should have their licenses revoked for life after conviction.

Related Post:

Top Ten Curses of Driving in the Philippines

About Nollie

Associate Pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church in Walnut Creek, CA. Assigned as missionary to the Philippines. Lives just outside Metro Manila with wife and daughter. Three older boys live and work in CA.
Nollie says:

No progress with the current corruption from top to bottom. The jeepney is actually not something to be proud of, but a stone age contraption that has contributed much to a lack of progress in the country. If one looks at other countries, there is nothing in them that contributes to so much traffic misery, corruption and pollution like the jeepney.

What Manila needs is not a facelift, but a complete overhaul, with a new generation of disciplined drivers, traffic police, commuters, and government officials.

Roadethic says:

Someone should propose a facelift of the transportation in Metro Manila. Starting by removing the Jeepneys. I know many people will complain but if showed a better solution and alternative, it would work out. Specially now where the PNR(Philippine National Railways) is being rehabilitated, the new LRT – MRT extension is being constructed, buses in Edsa is lessen. I think we are in an optimistic path to a cleaner and better Metro Manila..:)

Nollie says:

Two days ago, a jeepney dented and scraped our right side at 5:15 am! What can we get out of the jeepney driver? Probably not even the cost of a little can of spray paint. Lost money, time, hassle, aggravation with police report, insurance and repair.

A recent study by UP professors Noriel Tiglao and Ricardo Sigua concluded that the annual economic losses due to the traffic problem (mainly due to jeepneys) is about 100 billion pesos!

Anyway, maybe I deserved it for writing this piece.

Nollie says:

I’m sure with an honest but iron-willed manager, a mass transport system like those in San Francisco could be successfully implemented. There would probably be a near-revolt from the jeepney industry, but in the end, they and everyone else will reap the long-term benefits.

Russel DG says:

We were discussing similar topic last Saturday after the BS. Ate Evelyn mentioned the government-operated transportation system in the US. Which is by far, the most effective system I think. My brain would explode while thinking how to implement the same in the Philippines since corruption and lack of discipline is rampant among many Filipinos. No one is paying attention to traffic rules. Everyone seems to think they’re the king of the road. Some even have the guts to shoot someone just to prove that they own the road and that they’re a better driver (worst actually). Perhaps, everybody’s thinking they have the right of way.