As a young lad in the Manila of the Fifties, I was a pretty independent sort, usually traveling from our Remedios St. home to the downtown areas. Eschewing the larger buses, my preference was to climb aboard a jeepney , hoping to find the choice seat in front, next to the driver. The fare was cheap, as I recall it may have been ten centavos to travel all the way downtown.
Mom’s favorite stories would revolve around Manila before the war. Inevitably, she would describe the available alternative modes of transportation: Taxis, Autobuses, caretelas and small Austin Bantam jitneys (known as autocalesas) but her choice was the Tranvia, when each morning she would board from the Sampaloc area to Plaza Goiti, transfer to a southbound car to the Malate area where she worked at a small dress shop.
Tranvia ? My interest piqued as she would relate the clang-clanging bells, the slow-paced car rolling and rocking along rails that were already over 30 years old by that time. I wondered how on earth the smaller streets, choked with traffic, could possibly accommodate such large dinosaur-like public conveyances. Images of San Francisco cable cars and old European cities with their trams came to mind. As a matter of fact, on a recent riverboat cruise from Prague to Budapest, I was delighted to see the older, classic trams still operating.
Manila’s traffic in the Fifties was comprised of a unique combination of vehicles, ranging from the ever-present and wildly bedecked jeepney, the rickety buses that caromed around traffic to pick up a waiting passenger by curbside, the poor cochero with his typically lean and sinewy horse fighting for a bit of space in the already crowded streets– all exuding noxious vapors and smoke exhaust (except for the poor horse that had his own exhaust).
Much has already been written, and done very well, about these modes of transportation so instead, I thought I’d offer a pictorial review in hopes these old photos may trigger a nostalgic memory for my readers.
Of course the oldest form of transportation were pulled by horse or carabao (usually non-passenger) drawn vehicles. There was the calesin, calesa, carromata, and carretela.
Parading the Luneta to enjoy the cooler evening breezes, Manila’s elite would take to their carriages in their personal caruajes or public calesas and calesins. All went in one direction while the Archbishop and other notables went the other.
The next photo is rather meaningful as it signaled the introduction of automobiles with the outdated horse-drawn carriages left over from the Spanish era. Taken on Rizal Avenue by the Kneedler Building, c.1920s.
The original “tranvia” evolved from a horse-drawn tram operated by Compañía de los Tranvías de Filipinas formed by Jacobo Zobel and partners in 1882, to the electrically powered cars of pre-war. In 1904, Meralco (Manila Electric and Light Co.) acquired both the Compañía de los Tranvías de Filipinas, a firm that operated public transportation and ran Manila’s horse-drawn street railways, and added La Electricista. Construction on the electric tramway began that same year. The cars evolved from open-sided to closed; orange in color, the tranvias plied their way on rails throughout the city.
The building of Santa Cruz Bridge in 1902 and the coming of the trolley cars established the city’s center in the area bounded by Avenida Rizal, Plaza Goiti, the Escolta and Plaza Santa Cruz –an area that became known as “downtown.” Plaza Goiti was the center of the city’s transportation network – the tranvias. Looking from atop the Great Eastern Hotel, you could see Plaza Goiti transfer station in the center with a tranvia just leaving. c 1930s
Few people may remember the tranvias were orange in color.
In the remaining days of the Japanese occupation, the Tranvias eventually broke down for need of repair and lack of spare parts. Taxis and private cars were confiscated by the Japanese and any remaining autos could not be powered as gasoline was scarce and only available for the military effort. It was at this time that Filipino ingenuity sparked a new form of vehicle called a dokar. It was a cannibalization of an automobile chassis and tires pulled by a horse.
Another inventive idea was the charcoal-powered bus. Larry Henares writes, “It [autobus] did not survive during the Japanese occupation because alcohol and gasoline were commandeered by the Japs, and the jitney could not accommodate the Gas Generator installed at the back of the car for use in generating power with the use of coconut charcoal. This was an invention of my father which he called IPOPI Charcomobile. It consisted of a furnace which burns charcoal in a limited supply of air to generate, not carbon dioxide, but carbon monoxide which is inflammable, and is filtered and directed to the carburetor and used to provide fuel to the car. It saved Manila from starvation. IPOPI stood for Industrial Products of the Philippines Incorporated — but people joked
that IPOPI really stood for Itulak Para Omandar Pag ‘Into. “[source:https://jimayson.wordpress.com/2008/09/28/charcoal-powered-cars-they-were-smokin/]
With the scarcity of gasoline, tranvias and calesas were the only viable means of transportation. Below, passengers climb on – pushing and shoving to get on. This reminds me of the Japanese railroad cars of today where the conductors actually shove passengers inside.
How I remember the large bright colored buses winding their way down main streets: Taft and Rizal Avenues, Mabini, and Quiapo Boulevard. Some were open sided but most had one side entrance where the conductor would precariously hang on, collecting fares and handing out paper tickets.
Meralco not only ran the tranvias, they also operated autobuses as well as providing the city with electricity and light.
After the war, public transportation had to rely on the thousands of 6×6 trucks and Jeeps that were abandoned by the U.S. military. The famous Filipino creativity to make do immediately came about establishing a new era of public conveyances. Below, probably one of the first to be converted was the “Libertad Express”.
Established in the 1940’s by Vicente A. Heras, JD Transit buses once ruled Manila roads. In fact, Filipinos who lived in Manila from the 50’s and well into the 70’s practically grew up riding these iconic red Ford buses that were “reputed for their safety, dependability, and economy.” Passengers who were lucky enough to ride in one of these early buses remember JD Transit for the cleanliness and no-smoking policy, the drivers and conductresses were also very courteous, and both were also required to wear their uniforms which included a cap and a badge. [source: http://www.filipiknow.net/]
PANTRANCO – The idea of a transport company started with the vision of an American named Albert Louise Ammen with his friend Max Blouse decided to start in Dagupan, Pangasinan. Later on, PANTRANCO was sold to an American entrepreneur Frank Klar, a retired provincial treasurer of Pangasinan. With the help of his son-in-law Don Rafael Gonzales, he expanded the operation by way of consolidating other transport companies that were losing money. After the war, PANTRANCO now managed by Frank’s son, Joe, resumed its operations using several converted 6×6 trucks and some Ford trucks in its fleet. In July 11,1968, PANTRANCO inaugurated its Manila terminal at the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Quezon Boulevard, Quezon City. It then became the central hub for the transport of people and goods from Manila to the whole Central Luzon up to the Southern part of the Philippines. (photo courtesy of S. Klar)
In what may have been a foreboding sign of Manila’s current traffic problems, the photo below shows 1949 Manila already clogged with buses and jeepneys on a very narrow street.
Of course, for sheer enjoyment of riding a double-decker bus along Dewey Boulevard, nothing was better than enjoying the cool Manila Bay breezes at dusk on top of the Matorco.
Manileños complain about today’s traffic. But the traffic of yesteryear may have been just as chaotic although not quite as choked as today.
The ubiquitous Jeepney started its life after the war. The JEEP (G-P for General Purpose) although Austin Bantams jitneys produced by the Austin Motor Company were used in prewar days. Bachrach Motor Company (BMC) distributed American Austin and American Bantam cars from the 1930s until 1941. It operated a public conveyance fleet that was named autocalesa (AC). The ACs were later named public utility jeeps (PUJs). The jeeps then were”dalawahan” or two (2) passengers per side. Passenger arrangement became “tatlohan” or three (3) passengers per side after the war. Today, you can see nine passengers per side arrangements in most PUJs. Enclosed picture was published in a local magazine in 1939. The AC body was mounted on an Austin car cowl and chassis. [source: Richard Ragodon-Manila Nostalgia]
Even after the war, the little Austin Bantam autocalesa was seen. This appears to be a hybrid of the old with the new garishly-decorated jeepney, probably taken around 1949.
Thousands of the military jeeps remained after the Americans left. Reliable, cheap and with ample spare parts, the jeep made it into mainstream Filipino transportation. They were being sold for about $50 each. Of course Filipino creativity came to play as these hand-made customized vehicles displaying unique adornments that reflected the driver’s passion and style flooded the streets. One of the most celebrated and favorite jeepney makers was Sarao Jeep.
Today, the sons of Leandro Sarao still run the company in the Sarao jeepney factory, where they still produce jeepneys in the same way that their father and his brothers did—by hand and with meticulous attention to detail—albeit in smaller quantities.
The Sarao jeepney factory in Pulang Lupa, Las Piñas continues to draw the curiosity of visitors from various corners of the globe and has become a regular tourist stop over for those who have heard of the famous jeepneys and want to see them up close. (Cris Pin-Manila Nostalgia)
Taxis – Taxis were to be found everywhere or you could call for service. They were cheap. In the Fifties, rates were usually 15 centavos flag down and 5 centavos per 1/2 kilometer. Why so cheap ? Remember, gas hovered around 25-30 centavos a liter.
One of the largest companies in the city was Manila Yellow Taxi. The parent company was founded by Atty. Enrique Monserrat y Calvo, Sr. in February, 1930. It was the first taxi company in the Philippines to import second-hand cars — its first cab was a French Citroen. In the 1950s, the taxis were mostly American cars: Chevrolet, Ford, Plymouth, and Studebaker. By the 1960s, there were Mercedes Benz 180D, Peugot 403, Austin Cambridge, and Toyota Toyopet Tiara taxis in their fleet. In addition, Monserrat Enterprises sold tires and auto parts. Their store was on San Luis, Ermita. [source: Paquito dela Cruz]
As war drew closer, many Filipinos evacuated Manila using whatever means of transportation was at hand,
The Calleja family used to own a taxicab company called “Call Taxi” based in Parañaque. Dan Calleja was a good friend and classmate of mine from the American school. Back in the day, I had no idea what their family business was but recently, Dan’s brother, Roi, graciously shared this photos and this interesting memory: “My Mom preferred diesel engine taxis because they could withstand the frequent floods in Manila. I remember, every time Manila was unexpectedly hit with a flash flood, only the diesel engine taxis would make it back home. So I would have to ride around town (using one of the diesel engine taxis) to look for stalled taxis and pull them home.”
You may have noticed that I’ve avoided discussing Manila’s LRT system. Mainly because that is fairly new and brings no nostalgic memories to mind but also because in my opinion the elevated rails have formed a blight on our once beautiful avenues. So please forgive.