Dispatch from Manila 2: Jeepneys

One thing I agree with Cato-style libertarians on — up to a point — is jitneys. Public transit that uses small vans, individually owned, really can be flexible and do things centralized urban systems can’t. A case in point is the Philippines, where a jitney offshoot called the jeepney (I’ll explain in a minute) is the main means of transportation. The things go everywhere, from downtown Manila to remote farm areas. And at all hours. This morning at 3:00 AM, my wife, son and I, temporally disoriented and tossing in the heat, took a walk out to the road. Jeepneys were going by, along with big trucks, the drivers of which apparently have the sense not to try to make it into the city during the day.

Where jeepneys don’t go, a mosquito fleet of motorbikes with sidecars — called “tricycles” here — does. Tricycles literally swarm at food markets and just about anywhere people might need a ride. They solve two problems that bedevil mass transit in the U.S. One, they are an answer for people who need to stop for groceries etc. on the way home. Two, they can carry people who live too far from the jeepney routes to walk, or else just don’t want to walk in the heat. (Did I mention that it is hot here?)


Jeepneys are a Commuter’s Dream

Freedom can mean different and even opposite things. It can mean the freedom to emit muck into the air, for example, or the freedom to breathe clean air. In regard to transportation, it can mean the freedom to drive a car or the freedom that comes from not needing a car.

A beacon of that latter freedom is an unlikely place – the Philippines, a nation known mainly in the US these days for political melodrama and Muslim rebels. In the Philippines you can get virtually any place you need to go – from downtown Manila to the most remote rural barangay (village) – with little waiting and for very little money, without a car.