The CuriousPages Sketchbook

Jeepneys, the backbone of public transport in the Philippines

Jeepneys, it is said, can only be seen in the Philippines. They are mostly in a state of disrepair (even with headlights and rear lights not working, which is a common sight in the Philippines, on other vehicles too). On one particular rainy day, I was struck by our driver’s manual operation of his windscreen wiper. There was no motor attached to the wiper (it had presumably fallen off some time previously), but instead there was a handle protruding through the top of the windscreen (which handle looked like a bent wire coat hanger), and every minute or so, the driver would manually twist this improvised handle to operate his single wiper blade to clear his windscreen.


There seems to be a standard technique for the drivers to carry their money. They all hold a number of peso notes curled around their fingers and protruding like the blades of a fan. This technique is also used by the “conductor” who rides in the back of some Jeepneys. These are usually a close relative, or son, of the driver. Frequently, they stand on the back step of the Jeepney and hang on to the rail over the door, with their “fan” of money flapping in the wind as the Jeepney speeds along. And when the Jeepney pulls up, such conductors will yell out for passengers and pack in as many as possible. On some rides, the amount of passengers that could be packed in needs to be seen to be believed.


The passengers all seem to know what fare to pay, and, when the time comes (which each passenger must decide for himself) they will hand over their fare to the passenger sat next to them, who will then pass it along until it reaches the driver or conductor, who will, at some stage, then shout back to enquire about the destination, and then pass back any change that he judges might be due.


In my own case, the amount of the fare varied considerably. I quickly realized that the colour of my skin would double the fare charged to me (as is the usual case in many transactions in the Philippines), so I would hand over the fare to Rhyan before we reached the jeepney and he would pay the fare, as if doing so from his own pocket, and this usually meant that we could avoid the “Westerner” tax that is usually levied, though this was not always the case; the fact that he was accompanied by a Westerner and was paying for the both of us, meant that some conductors would sometimes decide to double the usual price; whenever possible, we adopted the habit of working out what the fare should be and paying the exact amount, which usually did the trick, and the drivers accepting that fare would usually simply look at us suspiciously and accept that they had been out manoeuvred. It seemed that it was only when Rhyan handed over a larger value note and the driver had to then think about the amount of change he should give, that the price of our fare became mysteriously higher.



29 December 2009



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