The streets of Manila, Philippines, are always swarming with people and vehicles of all kinds, moving along a serpentine maze of asphalt arteries and other byways. Whether in the performance of the day's business or in the pursuit of less mundane preoccupations like transporting well-heeled glitterati to various palaces of pleasure, living in Manila requires a certain knowledge of vehicles to be found in its streets.
While rickshaws and oxcarts are not in evidence, (although there are varieties of transport that faintly resemble them) there are certain conveyances unique to Filipino streets. Some are listed here...
Tricycles are motorcycles with distinctive sidecars. They can seat two in the sidecar and one other riding shotgun with the driver. Amazingly manoeuvrable in rutted and congested back roads, tricycles go for a contract price of eight pesos per trip but the amount may be split among several passengers going the same way.
Pedicabs are bicycles with sidecars. Man-powered vehicles have become rare in Manila1. Pedicabs are used mainly for soft drink deliveries and park recreation (you rent it, you're on your own). Safety is your responsibility and speeding is not encouraged. This Researcher once had one turn turtle on him and ended up caged under the sidecar like a zoo attraction.
The ubiquitous Jeepney is the so-called King of the Road in the Philippines. They are everywhere: in the cities, towns, hamlets, even in mountains; anywhere the simplest suggestion of a path exists. Adapted from army jeeps at the end of the Second World War, they sit higher and are longer to accommodate more passengers. Jeepneys, before the Metro Rail Transport System was inaugurated, hauled most of Manila's commuters.
You can't miss them. They are garishly decorated, with pewter stallions on the hood, streamers and flags on the antennae, covered in imaginative if unskilled art, every unpainted surface festooned by gleaming chrome. The interior and windshield are covered with so many stickers, ornaments, and God Bless Our Kids artwork that visibility is reduced to that of a tank driver's. They don't stop at visual decorations. Special horn sounds range from gay manic laughter to wolf whistles, even classical music for the cultural wannabe.
Jeeps can accommodate 18-20 people, with two up front with the driver and the rest seated in upholstered benches, each facing the other. Fully loaded this way, up to four more people can still ride by clinging to the bars at the rear exit, with their back ends at the mercy of trailing vehicles.
The jeep designers seem to have chosen utility over comfort. And safety. There are no seat belts on board. Passengers must steady themselves with the overhead running bars or just cling on to any piece of metalwork. There is virtually no accommodation for inclement weather. At best, there is a plastic tarpaulin over the running side windows, which flaps in the wind and makes a racket if not fastened down. Even in the best weather, it is not exactly comfortable, packed in with 18 other people elbow-to-elbow and nose-to-nose in the rear passenger area.
The standard jeep fare is four pesos, which supports the driver and auxiliary positions, such as hawkers, who guide boarders to their rides, and assistants, who sit in front, collect and make change for the fares that are passed over from the back.
Jeeps run regular routes, covering the city in interlocking and redundant networks. The scope of their route is told by the names painted down the sides, which list the general area and narrows down to particular stops, using movie theatres, drugstores and housing projects as landmarks. This system is often confusing, even for natives. If you're not sure where it's going, don't hesitate to ask or you'll be calling home with cows lowing in the background.
While there are regular jeep and tricycle stations at the extreme ends of their routes, you can hail them anywhere; regular stops do not apply. This goes the same for crossing anytime, anywhere. Just don't get caught.
Tamaraw FXs are the link between cabs and jeeps. Vans with seating space in front, behind, and in two benches in back, they are more plush than jeeps and air-conditioned. They run similar routes as jeeps; fare runs from ten to 20 pesos.
There are hazards. An entire party of noisy pub-crawlers may board the FX with you and you'll spend the entire trip frozen and fearing for your life.
Kalesas, horse-drawn carriages, used to be the only form of transport in Manila, but are now unknown in most parts except in older sections, like Chinatown. Not a swift ride, they are no competition to motorized cars and buses, which are faster and more durable in the event of a crash.
They're around mostly for ambience, for the feel and the perspective they give. People with an old-fashioned bent still prefer them and fares run from 30 pesos up.
One hazard specific to the horse-drawn carriage is when the horse's tail whisks the waste bag it literally flies.
Taxis are the most comfortable, private, and expensive mode of public transport in the Philippines. They are generally indistinguishable from taxis in the US, except that like most Filipino vehicles, they're decorated with all sorts of trinkets, with rosaries and leaflets hanging from the rear view mirror, bobbing-headed dogs, king's crown air fresheners and multiple religious icons. Fares go from 40 pesos and there's no shortage of them anywhere in town. One other thing about Filipino cabs: none of the drivers know to use the overhead lights, and often light when the cab occupied and turn them off when unoccupied. When hailing them, just hope for the best.
These are the vehicles you will find in the Philippines. Colourful, loud, and downright cantankerous, they will still get you where you need to go with a modicum of comfort and safety.