There may be a future for some Jeepneys - like this electric example - but the older and dirtier ones are facing phase-out - which creates a sizeable opportunity for replacement people movers in the future

There may be a future for some Jeepneys - like this electric example - but the older and dirtier ones are facing phase-out - which creates a sizeable opportunity for replacement people movers in the future

The  Philippines' government is demanding that old fleets of public utility vehicles, mostly comprising colourful iconic Jeepney vehicles, be replaced with safer, more comfortable and more environmentally-friendly vehicles. Tony Pugliese reports

The Philippines government is currently orchestrating a major overhaul of the country's local public transport networks under its so-called "public utility-vehicle modernisation programme".

Backed by President Rodrigo Duterte, the overhaul launched last June promises to modernise local public transport networks with safer, more comfortable and more environmentally-friendly vehicles.

Public transport networks are being reviewed up and down the country, with new routes being added and existing ones revised where needed to keep up with the changing requirements of one of Asia's fastest growing economies.

In highly populated areas, higher-capacity vehicles are being encouraged to help reduce road congestion and improve efficiency.

Public transport routes are currently mostly run by private operators and co-operatives comprising owner-drivers. These will need re-tender to obtain new route licences from local governments, once they have vehicles that meet the new standards.

The central government is demanding that old fleets of public utility vehicles, mostly comprising iconic Jeepney vehicles, be replaced with safer, more comfortable and more environmentally-friendly vehicles to better service the rapidly expanding army of Philippine commuters.

Under the new rules, public transport operators may also be required to fit their vehicles with speed limiters, GPS, CCTV and other systems to improve passenger safety and comfort. Minimum emission standards have been set at Euro IV levels, compared with Euro II at present.

Existing operators will be forced to buy new vehicles to meet these requirements, putting the many small-scale entities and owner-drivers under significant pressure and in danger of being squeezed out by larger corporations.

Operators have protested against the new regulations, with many especially unhappy with having to increasing borrowing to purchase new vehicles and the additional safety features. Soft loans are being made available by the government, but operators are warning that fares will have to increase significantly to meet rising costs.

There are an estimated 200,000 Jeepneys ploughing the Philippine roads at present, connecting small towns with other small towns and cities, and city centres with their suburbs, and have long been an integral part of the Philippine landscape.

Jeepneys are a throw-back to the Second World War, when jeeps left over by the US army were converted for public transportation use. Growing demand gave rise to ansignificant informal industry producing public transport Jeepneys of various sizes,but all invariably featuring jeep-like front-ends.

They were decorated in increasingly lavish and elaborate designs and soon became icons of Philippine craftsmanship, culture and way of life. They are mostly built on used light and medium commercial vehicle chassis' of varying origin and their bodies refurbished and refitted many times over during their long life-cycles.

Jeepneys are certainly rugged vehicles, but are well suited for the Philippines' often rough road conditions. The passenger compartments comprise bench-like seating running lengthwise, windows without glazing and doorless rear access.

They also support a major network of locally-owned aftermarket outlets, comprising small-scale body-builders, spare parts and repair/maintenance outlets across the country. Many of these now also face an uncertain future.

The public utility vehicle replacement programme will create a significant market for new light and medium-duty commercial vehicles and local manufacturers such as Isuzu, Mitsubishi and Hino are preparing new models in anticipation of a rise in orders.

Isuzu said it is working with local body-builders to develop new purpose-designed vehicle bodies. Even Russia's Gaz has signed up a local distributor and is making its Gazelle Next model available for this market.

While improving passenger safety and comfort, fuel-efficiency and emission standards have to be the government's main priorities, retiring the iconic Jeepney will no doubt mark the end of an era which many people will look back on with nostalgia.

Many people view the iconic Jeepney with affection and if they were to disappear altogether, the Philippines' roads will certainly be less colourful than they are currently.