In a country where the average person earns little more than a dollar a day, public transport has to be cheap. The Jeepney certainly fits the bill. A journey of five kilometres (3.12 miles) costs just five cents In the 1930s, most transport in the Philippines was four-legged. But the second world war changed all that. When the guns finally fell silent, a mass of war surplus littered the country in particular, thousands of American jeeps in various states of repair, as well as a glut of cheap parts. The first primitive Jeepney was pieced together from cannibalised U.S. war surplus in 1946.
“This is the home of SARAO Jeepneys on the outskirts of Manila. Sarao is the largest of four big Jeepney manufacturers. Unfortunately for the factory owners the days of cheap American war surplus parts have long since gone. These days, everything from the steel chassis to the smallest screw, is produced in the Philippines.
Only the diesel engines are imported, second hand, from Japan. The Jeepney bodywork is of hand-beaten galvanised iron welded onto a framework of thin steel rods. Under the skilled hands of Sarao’s two hundred and fifty workers, the Jeepneys take shape with astonishing speed. At this labour-intensive production line, they turn out eight Jeepneys a day.
The engine and the body-work are only half the jeepney story, for it seems that no Jeepney can take to the streets without its plumage. The skill and speed of the self-taught Jeepney painters and decorators is extraordinary. Swarming over a new model like ants, they can turn a utilitarian vehicle into a minor work of art in a matter of minutes. Everything is tailor-made to fit the whims of the new owner. It takes around twenty-five days to complete a Jeepney, from the first steel chassis girder to the final mirror. A top-of-the range jeepney complete with all the necessary horse and mirror options, now costs around for and a half thousand dollars (2,250 pounds). In the early sixties, they could be had for less than a thousand dollars (500 pounds). There are twenty thousand Jeepneys in Manila alone, thousands more in other parts of Philippines.
The Jeepney’s future is assured and not just in the cities. Throughout the Philippines, on rugged dirt roads, you can see the jeepney working hard, laden down with passengers, agricultural produce, chickens and pigs. Other cities may have their double-decker buses or their fast commuter trains, but in Manila, the jeepney is king, a unique solution to the problem of cheap mass transportation.