Human Face

Jeepney driver, multitasker

The “Basta Driver, Sweet Lover” and other epithets that go with risqué drawings stuck on the interiors of jeepneys seem to have disappeared or been replaced. Often seen, but this time on the exteriors (sides, hoods) of these vehicles, are airbrushed images of dystopian heroes and words written in fonts in the modern-gothic style. But the staple religious images still endure and adorn the exterior of many a jeepney, the prince of Philippine urban jungles.

Jeepneys are again the subject of discussion because of the impending phaseout of some 200,000 units all over the country, to be replaced by eco-friendly ones. An Inquirer news report said the Department of Transportation has signed the omnibus franchising guidelines “that would set in motion the three-year rollout of the agency’s modernization program.”


In this program, drivers will no longer be bound by the boundary system and racing dangerously for passengers, but will become employees with regular salaries and benefits.

The physical object that is the jeepney as Filipinos know it will become extinct. That is, the structure and design, the feel (also the garish decor?), and even the loud stereo that has long been banned. But there still are holdouts in the sounds department. When you are driving beside them, even with your windows closed, you can feel the pounding sound. (Grrr.)


Observers of Filipino culture and the symbols that define our world, better take a good, lingering look at the jeepney and everything that it represents before it zooms away into the sunset.

What will remain of it in the new order? The driver, yes, but what about its fare collection system—that is, the way driver and riding public transact with each other?

I have always been amazed by how a jeepney driver goes about his job—picking up passengers, dodging kotong cops, braving sun and rain, holding and emptying a full bladder, etc. But the most difficult of all, if you ask me, is fare collection.

For the driver, it is left hand on the wheel, right arm 180 degrees to the back. A passenger tells/yells to the driver where he boarded and where he is headed—say “from Welcome Rotonda to Taft-PGH”—then gives P50 which gets passed from hand to hand until it reaches the driver’s outstretched own. The driver must then compute the fare for that distance in his head, then also the change, which he hands to a passenger behind him, who then passes it on to the payer who is far back.

All these while the driver is looking at the rearview mirror to see how much space there is, but he must also look at the road ahead for people waiting for a ride, or look out for a vehicle he might hit.

Think of a group of, say, four. One of them yells, “Four—all from Cubao, one going down in Quiapo, two in Lawton and one in Kalaw,” and hands over P100 from behind. If you are seated right behind the driver, you’d notice him massaging the P100 bill and looking up at an imaginary calculator in the heavens.  Jeez, how does he do it?  Never mind that another passenger is demanding correct change.  Or a holdup is going on.

With fuel prices going up and down, which means new computations for distances every time, the driver must be a wiz in arithmetic (and algebra, too, you say?) in order to compute correctly.


In the short, balikan (back and forth) routes where fare is constant, passengers buy chips from a collector behind a makeshift table, and before they get into the jeepney that waits to be filled up (alas puno, it is called), each one hands over the grimy chip to the barker. How Pinoy cool is that. This collection method saves the driver’s right arm from all that stretching.

More than a “sweet lover,” the driver is a multitasker. What he does while driving his decrepit jeepney is more complicated and distracting than using a cell phone while driving or at a standstill before a red light (soon a no-no).

What will it be like with the eco-friendly vehicles?

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TAGS: Human Face, Inquirer Opinion, Jeepney drivers, Jeepneys, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, PUV modernization program
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