Radical Ideas (Part V)....

Radical Ideas for the Philippines (A continuing series)

Part I of this series.
Part II of this series.
Part III of this series.
Part IV of this series.

Yeah, I know its been a while since I posted anything in this series, but I managed to come across one of my old drafts, and decided that its about time that I come up with a fresh installment. For a refresher on this series, on what its all about, just check out the links above, particularly the introduction included in Part I. :-) Now, on to my latest radical idea...

V. Get Rid of the Jeepneys

The ubiquitous jeepney has been the staple form of public transportation for the masses in the Philippines for the past sixty years or so. At the end of World War II, enterprising Filipinos managed to salvage surplus American jeep engines and chassis and using their ingenuity, ended up creating an improvised form of transportation characterized by being festooned with garish decorations and ornaments.

After six decades, hardly anything has changed, except for mild improvements. In the extreme, jeepneys have gotten longer, from an average of eighteen to as much as twenty-six passengers (using a modified flatbed truck chassis). Artistically, some sport artwork delicately made with an airbrush and probably more appropriately viewed in a museum than passing by on the street. Eight track and cassette players have given way to CDs in the 90's and MP3 players at the turn of the millenium, connected to homemade sound systems rivalling those available commercially. There are even those with complicated lighting systems which blink in sync with the music, rivaling the lights of any dance hall. Truly, the jeepney has become the quintessential symbol of the ingenuity, artistry, and self-expression not only of their drivers and owners, but of the Philippines as a country.

Yet, for all of its culture and history, the jeepney has to go. As a form of transportation, it is grossly inefficient. The smallest buses can carry at the least twice as many passengers in relatively better comfort, without using up significantly more road space. The passenger/roadspace ratio disparity is even greater for larger buses.

The vast majority of jeepneys are manufactured using reconditioned or surplus diesel engines, which are not exactly friendly to the environment due to the huge amounts of pollutants that they release to the atmosphere. Buses, being more efficient in terms of numbers of passengers and road space used, make more efficent use of their engines as well, carrying substantially more passengers for the price of slightly increased fuel costs.

Basic jeepney design has basically remained unchanged since the first ones came out at the end of the World War II, and lack even the basic safety features that we take for granted. No, I'm not talking about high end safety features like airbags and antilock braking systems. I'm referring to relatively simple and common features like padded dashboards and interiors, crumple zones, disc brakes, and seat belts. As a consequence, an accident while on board a jeepney leaves much to be desired as far as protection and survivability is concerned.

In a nutshell, in terms of efficiency (number of passengers, road space used, fuel costs), comfort and safety, a bus wins hands down, compared to ordinary jeepneys. If you go as far as compare it to modern mass transport systems, jeepneys are outdated, pure and simple.

It is virtually impossible to modernize our mass transport system as long as jeepneys are still in the equation. Sooner or later they have to go, the same way as calesas (horse-driven carriages) did not so long ago.

Of course, it is not suggested that the phasing out of jeepneys be done abruptly. Perhaps a phase out period of several years in which annual numbers for new jeepney franchises be slowly reduced until such time comes that no new franchises will be issued anymore. As for those holding existing franchises, let them use it until it expires, or perhaps even keep renewing it for the lifetime of the franchise holder.

There are a lot of ways to make the transition as painless as possible. Of course it's sad that something as uniquely Filipino as the jeepney has to go the way of the dodo, but its inevitable. That's the price of progress.

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