Transit In the Philippines: Convenient, But at What Cost?

I just returned from a several week stay in the Philippines and thought I'd share a short video I shot depicting Filipinos' preferred method of transit: the tricycle--a small motorcycle with an attached sidecar. If the trikes look small on the video, they're even smaller in person. I'm 6'2" and could barely fit my legs in the thing. But, believe it or not, I saw whole families of five or six people cram on one of those things for short rides--usually under a mile. A ride that long will cost about a buck or less.

For longer rides, Filipinos use jeepnies--extended cab jeeps that somewhat resemble open-air hearses. You flag one down, hop in, pay about 10 cents, and the driver will let you out anywhere you want along an established route. One jeepney can fit about 14 people--more if you hop on the bumper or the roof and hang on for dear life.

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It's all quite convenient and cheap. Generally speaking, working class Filipinos have little trouble getting around the city to where they need to go. That said, both trikes and jeepnies rely on diesel gas. I've traveled all over the world--including China, with her notoriously noxious air--and never experienced anything like the air pollution in the Philippines. All that convenience comes with a cost--everyone's lungs.

Transit is a delicate balance between convenience, affordability and the environment. In L.A., we struggle with all three. So I guess two out of three ain't bad for a country in the developing world.

The L.A. Vitamin Report is a column about quality of life issues by Matthew Fleisher. It is brought to KCET's SoCal Focus blog in partnership with Spot.Us, which receives support from the Cailfornia Endowment.

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