Manila: A fleet of more than 200 vehicles — modernised versions of the Philippines’ ubiquitous “jeepney” — have started plying the roads of Metro Manila and other parts of the country as part of a massive transport overhaul programme.

“It’s about time that Filipinos start using public transport that in not only comfortable, but also efficient, environment-friendly and safe,” Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade said as the Philippines launched the new, modernised jeepneys.

King of the road

Regarded as the “King of Philippine Roads” the jeepney has come a long way from its roots as converted “general purpose” US military jeeps left behind in the Philippines by American soldiers after the Second World War.

Aside from a more modern look, which does away with the long front end engine bay, the new iteration of the public transport vehicle is now more roomy and features WiFi, GPS, dash cameras, CCTVs and speed limiters, among other modern comforts.

While the old jeepneys are notorious for their smoggy emissions, noise and minimalist amenities, the new iteration of the Philippine transport workhorse now has air conditioning, automatic fare collection systems and emergency exits for differently-abled passengers.

“The new modern jeeps are as safe as any other public transport can get. It is like a big bus in a lot of things except for its size which is just right for the narrow Philippine roads,” Tugade said.

He said that initially, there will be more than 200 in operation in Metro Manila and in Clark in Pampanga, but the government will eventually replace the more than 240,000 jeepneys that are in operation in the country.

The Department of Transportation (DoTr) plans to replace all public utility vehicles (PUV) aged 15 years or older under its PUV Modernisation Programme (PUVMP).

Public utility

Tugade said the new public utility transport vehicles are more environment-friendly.

“They either come in versions that use Euro4 compliant gasoline on diesel engines and even electric motors,” he said.

The PUVMP was first launched in Tacloban City, Leyte, in January where it initially deployed 45 solar-powered jeepneys. In June, 15 out of 35 modern jeepney units of the Senate Employees Transport Service Cooperative were rolled out.

The new transport mode are being welcomed by old hands who had spent years driving the old, smoggy.

“I had lost a number of my driver friends through the years from lung disease such as tuberculosis and emphysema because of the dirty air they were exposed to from driving old, diesel-fed jeepneys.

"Truly, the new jeepneys are a welcome relief for us,” Nicanor Perez Jr, who had been a public utility jeep driver for more than 27 years, told Gulf News in an interview.