There are several countries around the world that have a mode of transport that are so symbolic, they have become synonymous in the countries image. For example, if you think of England, red double decker buses or black cab taxis come to mind. In India, perhaps the Rickshaw, or Thailand you might think of a Tuk Tuk speeding around Bangkok. Well, the Philippines have their brightly coloured Jeepneys, and the story behind them is truly one of ingenuity and creativity.
In 1941, just 9 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Empire of Japan invaded the Philippines where many American bases were located. By mid 1942 the American-Filipino forces fell and the Philippines were under Japanese occupation. The war came and went and the Philippines were finally liberated with the Japanese surrender in 1945. The USA then decided to give the islands their independence.
As the soldiers were relocated from the islands, thousands of American jeeps from the war were given away to the Filipinos. In one case, a U.S. Army Lieutenant named Harry Stonehill involved in the vehicle give away created an illegal Jeep black market, earning himself $67,000 from the trucks.
The resourceful Filipinos instantly employed the surplus vehicles in civilian roles. But first, the vehicles underwent some DIY conversions. The rear of the Jeeps were lengthened to fit two benches down the side, meaning commuters would sit with their backs to the side of the vehicle, facing the other bench. A roof was also added to provide shade for the riders. A groovy paint job and some chrome ornaments and the Jeepney was born.
There are 2 varying origin stories for the name ‘Jeepney’. The more likely story is that Jeeps were originally called General Purpose or GP, hence Jeep, combined with ‘Jitney’ which was a popular term for the American taxicabs. The less likely story is that the word ‘knee’ was added on to Jeep because of the close proximity in which the customers would sit.
The Jeepney was widely loved. With the old public transport destroyed during the war, the reinvented new system was welcomed with open arms.
A whole industry soon emerged of companies using the idea of the Jeepney. A bigger chassis was a natural progression, increasing passenger comfort and fitting more customers. The new wave of vehicles surpassed the originals, the engines became outdated, the body work began to rust right through and the braking system was simply unsafe.
As the stock of Jeeps began to die out, the new phases took over, keeping with the boxy square look, but with each phase becoming more modern. New Jeepneys even have a contactless payment system called ‘beep card’ and are fitted with air conditioning.