Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Endurance Test

I hesitated to bring up this topic because on the face of it, the subject seem rather inconsequential:  riding the jeepney (aka "jeep"), which is a ubiquitous and cheap form of public transportation in the Philippines, especially in the cities, towns and provincial roads. As I mentioned in my original post,  this vehicle might best be described as a cross between a passenger van and as the name implies, a military personnel carrier.  It has been around since shortly after WWII.  Almost everybody uses it at one time or another, and I'm no exception, especially if it's expedient and I don't feel like spending money on taxi fare.

However, my jeep experience the other day was just about the worst that I've ever had.  March through May  is the hottest season of the year in the Philippines , with daily temperatures reaching the upper 90'sF accompanied by a high humidity. This is especially noticeable of course in vehicles that are not air conditioned. Jeeps are partly open on both sides and in the back, but the metal roof of course absorbs sunlight.  So when the vehicle is at a standstill or  crawling in traffic (which is most of the time), the passenger area can become  sweltering.   Add to this the body heat of the passengers themselves who are crammed together side by side and you have the ride from hell.  

But the point that I'm getting at is not so much about my own discomfort. As I mentioned, in my case I at least have the option of taking  taxis instead which for all their own particular warts are usually air-conditioned. But in a way I'm glad that I made that trip. It reminded me about the the plight of  the people who must commute via  jeep every day in all kinds of weather. Demographically, most jeep passengers are adolescent  to middle age and so perhaps more likely able to tolerate it . But in extreme weather such  as we are now experiencing, woe unto the senior citizens or those in poor health who have to endure this form of transportation on a regular basis. Besides the unpleasantness of the ride itself, jeeps are difficult to board and alight from. They are poorly maintained, so diesel exhaust fumes often waft into the passenger area.  In order to attract attention and riders some operators add sound systems and ramp up the volume full blast including a thumping bass that literally vibrates to your innards.

As if traffic isn't already bad enough, jeeps stop anywhere even in the middle of the street to drop off and pick up passengers. The Metro-Manila Development Authority has talked about abolishing these vehicles or at least banning them from major thoroughfares where public buses and rapid transit run anyway.  But talk is as far as the matter gets. As my wife points out, jeeps are too embedded in the culture to be eliminated that easily, if at all (not to mention the political considerations.  Jeep drivers and owners, who number in the thousands, are strongly organized) .

The most that can be hoped for is the gradual replacement of those jeeps that are diesel-powered with models that run on electricity instead as is already happening in some locales such as Makati City. That of course would make a dent in the air pollution here to which the fossil-fuel models are a major contributor. But no matter which type of engine prevails, and for all its aggravations,  the jeepney is going to be a part of the social fabric of  this country for a long time to come.


Alan said...


Not only do your dispatches paint a colorful picture of life in the Third World, but each one makes me more glad that I don't live there!



Secular Guy said...


Thanks for your encouraging words about my posts.

For all the difficulties that Lydia and I encounter living in the Philippines, it would only be worse for us in the U.S. As I've previously mentioned (and I can't overstress this point) like so many expatriates, based on our income the life style that we have here is far above what we could afford in the States. If we had to repatriate now, we would be in the equivalent economic straits of the regular jeep riders here. In short, we'd be in deep sh**.