The Continuously Evolving Philippine Transport System

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Within a few years, the first intracity subway in the Philippines, built in Makati, will be available to at least 700,000 Filipinos who commute daily for work. It will cover over 10 kilometers and link ten stations, including the Pasig River Ferry Service and MRT-Line 3.

Meanwhile, as e-commerce grows in the country, the demand for truck dealers in the Philippines will continue to rise. Investing in these pieces of equipment will make enterprises, both big and small, meet the logistics needs of online shoppers.

Meanwhile, under the jeepney modernization program, at least 20,000 ubiquitous jeepneys will disappear, replaced by buses and other modes of public transport that can fit more people in one ride while reducing the vehicle’s contribution to carbon footprint-a win toward delaying the effects of climate change.

The transport system in the Philippines is moving forward even if it isn’t as fast as the rest of the world. But has someone thought about how far we’ve come since then? How did the country’s transport system evolve?

A Civilization Like the Rest of the World

While many ancient civilizations exist, most of them had one thing in common: they began in fertile lands like valleys and bodies of water like rivers. The one in the Philippines isn’t an exception.

During the pre-Spanish period, Filipino natives didn’t have any proper mode of transport. Instead, they trekked mountains with their foot or waded the waters with their outrigger boats.

Considering these were exhausting activities, many eventually settled close to the coastal areas, where necessary resources such as food and transport were accessible.

But no group could ever live in a bubble. When the Arabs came, the Filipinos learned to trade with them. When resources in a community became tight, they mingled with the others. This then led to changes in classes as different races intermarried and, of course, trading as merchants began to identify trade routes. The arrival of the Chinese made the water transport system more efficient as they introduced better boats.

Then the Spaniards and the Americans Came

But the biggest changes in both water and land transport occurred when the Spaniards and the Americans colonized the country.

During the Spanish rule, commerce in the country boomed, especially after the Crown selected Manila as its trading hub because of its huge population and strategic location. Using the monies it collected from the Filipinos, such as from encomienda, ports, ferries, bridges, and harbors, flourished. In the mountains, the Spaniards introduced horse trails.

With over three hundred years of colonization, the Spaniards expanded the country’s agriculture, which meant improving interisland and inter-province routes to exchange or deliver goods.

Before the Spanish reign ended in the country, it introduced two more transport systems: railways and the tranvia. The former was more significant of the two since it covered a wide area, running initially from Dagupan to Manila.

Then the Americans came. They further improved the shipping and railway system and even spread it across the country. Cebu, for one, used to have a railway that delivered coal to the city. However, its biggest contribution is in the development of land transport.

Americans set up several bases in the Philippines, which helped decongest Manila and brought commerce to the provinces and towns. But this entailed enhancing the road networks and introducing vehicles that could pass through them.

Thus, the auto calesas (or ACs) were born, which served as the first taxis and, as expected, replaced the horse-drawn calesas that ply the roads later. By the 1930s, the design eventually evolved when owners then attached carriages to these imported cars. Thus, the capacity of the vehicle expanded.

When World War II came, much of the infrastructure built by the Spaniards was destroyed. These included railways, tranvias, and ports.

The Philippines needed to thrive again after the war, and public transport became an important part of the plan. Filipinos began reusing the available taxis.

Most of all, many military and surplus vehicles remained because of the huge American presence in the country. They were then sold to enterprising Filipinos, who then joined two or more vehicles together so every row would seat at least 10 people. This is the beginning of the iconic jeepney.

Old trains have long vanished, replaced by PNR ones that run fast and provide air-conditioning systems. Horse-drawn calesas have been relegated to a touristy experience, while the Philippines may bid to jeepneys soon.

Regardless of how Philippine transport will change, knowing its history will make one appreciate the growth and the service these public commuting systems provided to Filipinos.

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