In common Tagalog usage, jeep and jeepney are used interchangeably.
The original Jeep-derived jeepneys could seat about 8 people comfortably in the back, and 2 up front (beside the driver). Newer models seat 14 or 16 (20 or more in the "stretch" jeeps) in the back, and 2 or 3 up front, although jeepney drivers commonly carry an "assistant" who handles the fare and change. In the cities and suburban areas, it is illegal to load more passengers than can sit comfortably inside (i.e. no sabit allowed) but in rural areas only serviced by a handful of jeepneys, it is a common sight to see people sitting on the roof, on the hood, and hanging off from the running boards on the sides and back of the jeep.
Note that almost all jeepneys are built by hand, with almost every part except the engine and transmission hammered, machined, and welded in someone's backyard.
The jeepney builders in Laguna seem to be regarded as the best (with Amante Motors in San Pablo one of the most respected of the "traditional" builders), although local car manufacturers nowadays also make some jeepney parts.
Jeepneys are decorated all over with shiny pieces of metal, tiny horse statuettes (a nod to the precursor of the jeepney, the horse-drawn kalesa), plastic banners, pinwheels, mirrors, and other colorful or shiny objects. The decorations are status symbols among jeepney owners (i.e. "I can waste more money on useless, gaudy stuff than you can") and they serve to attract passengers as well (since a well-decorated jeepney is usually the sign of an owner who can afford regular oil checks and engine overhauls).
Aside from these decorations, jeepneys usually sport various sayings or mottos, ranging from the religious (biblical quotes), to the risqe ("Guwapong Driver, Easy Lover"), and the boastful ("Katas ng Saudi", indicating that the owner worked in the Middle East, and has bought the jeepney from his savings).
The price of a jeepney ride right now (2001) is P4.00 for the first four kilometers, and P0.50 additional per kilometer beyond that. Jeepneys typically travel only to the next town, so you'll have to change jeeps if you're traveling any distance in the rural areas (or take a bus).
When riding a jeep, you'll notice a few unspoken protocols the riders follow:
- Para po - to get onto a jeepney, you flag it down, much like a cab. Some localities have strict loading/unloading zones, and the most congested parts of Metro Manila have jeepney stops, where you have to get in line to get a jeep. In other places, jeepneys can stop and pick up passengers almost anywhere.
To get off, you usually use the phrases "Para po" (Please stop), or "Sa tabi lang po" (I'll just get off here, please). Some merely knock on the roof, whistle, or ping the handlebars with a coin to get the driver's attention, but this is considered somewhat rude.
- Makiki-abot po - to pay the fare, just pass it on to a passenger sitting closer to the driver; if someone hands you their fare, you are expected to either hand it to the driver or his assistant, if you are sitting close enough, or to pass it on to another passenger. Change, if any, is passed back to you in the same way.
- Paki-ayos lang po - when the vehicle is nearing its capacity, passengers should squeeze together as best they can to allow newcomers to be seated. It is considered polite to take seats further in (closer to the driver) since this will allow other passengers to exit easily. If no seats in the back are available, but a seat next to the driver is free, it is also polite for a man to offer to move to the front (the seat next to the driver is a bit difficult to get into, if you're wearing a skirt) to give a lady a seat.
Most jeepney drivers do not own their vehicles; they usually pay a daily "boundary" to the owner, and anything they make beyond the "boundary" (minus gas and other expenses) is profit. A typical (urban or suburban) jeepney driver makes around 100 pesos ($2, at current 2001 exchange rates) on a good day (but with nearly 12 hours of work).
For similar forms of Asian public transportation, see see tricycle and tuk tuk. StrawberryFrog informs me that minibuses are used in much the same manner in South Africa.
I've been riding jeepneys everyday to and from work for the last 20 years or so. I also have several friends and relatives who either rent out jeepneys, or drive them for a living.