Monthly Archives: September 2013

Train Trials

MRT ManilaIf I had written this article about six months ago, it would have contained little that was positive. In the time I’ve been here, I’ve never seen anything quite as insane as the way some behave when they ride on the local rapid transit trains – the MRT (Metro Rail Transit) or the LRT (the Light Rail Transit) across Metro Manila. If you wanted to see people here at their very worst, just go to a busy train station in rush hour.

Getting caught up in it can leave you frustrated with not only people, but also the two agencies that run the rapid transit system. The dangerous and outrageously selfish behaviour of many passengers was not being policed sufficiently.

After a pause from using trains, I took a few rides again and I was delighted to see that there were some actions being taken at long last to prevent a catastrophe and make train travel less dangerous. The insane behaviour of far too many made train travel almost unbearable. Something needed to be done.

As regards a useful, fast, and at present inexpensive way to get across Metro Manila then the Rapid Transit meets that standard. There are 3 lines, LRT1 LRT2 and MRT3.

MRT3 and LRT1 are the worst as regards volume of travelers and LRT2 is a little easier. It’s the most recent addition and they had the good sense to use bigger trains which definitely helps.

The positive aspect to this story is that the two agencies that manage the railways are now beginning to address the problems. It is only a start and there is a long way to go and much more that could be done to improve things, but a start it is, and I’m hopeful we will be able to add safe to a list of credits for the rapid transit train service soon.

The service itself is fine. It reaches to many parts of the capital. Many stations have tricycles or pedicabs outside for local needs as well as jeepneys and the rapid transit train service is without a doubt the fastest way to get across the city.

They invite suggestions online and they seem to have the best of intentions, I think that’s undeniable. Now with some changes being implemented, it may suggest they actually mean it and do listen. Only time will tell.

Rapid Transit Trauma

LRT Line 2To give you a fuller picture of what I’m talking about, I will give an account of how it used to be.

Before the introduction of these new rules, the people were killing a good thing. They made it so hard not just for others, but for themselves too. What qualifies this statement? I will set out to describe a mad rush hour ride on the MRT/LRT service, and you decide if I was right to be very concerned, frustrated, and in the main, totally disappointed with people.

You expect it to be busy and you expect a little pushing and shoving when there is such a high volume of travelers all catching trains at the same time. But if you wanted to make it an even more stressful and difficult experience than it already was, as well as dangerous, there were many here that were well-qualified to show you how.

First off, there was no control on numbers either on the train or even scarier in some respects, on the platform. Throngs of people and passing trains don’t make a good mix.

When the train arrives, the fun really begins. When people try to get on a train, you would see a battle going on at every door. People are getting on while people are getting off? Result: they couldn’t get on, they couldn’t get off = mayhem!

Not only that, those on the train would pack themselves around the doors to guarantee they could get off when they reach their station. Sometimes, the middle part of the carriage would be relatively sparse of people, but at the doors, they would be nose to nose and no matter how squashed they were, they would not give up their place near the door. This effectively blocks the exits and the chaos is easy to imagine.

When it’s your turn to get off, it could be a fearsome experience. You simply couldn’t get through the throngs of door-huggers and it can be one hell of a battle to make it to the door. If you succeeded, then the moment the door opens, you will be greeted by a wall of crazed, rabid commuters whose single purpose was to get on that train. So after you had succeeded through the first stage of getting to the door, you then had to depart the train against a tsunami of mental passengers getting on with no intention of waiting for anyone to step off first. Consequence, you can’t get off the train, and it would be equally difficult to get on. You don’t need a university course to realize that that cannot work, but so many just don’t get it. They made train travel hell and I cannot find the words to express the sheer and utter stupidity of it.

There was nothing like enough guards to prevent it and the ones that were manning the platform were simply overwhelmed and there was little to no attempt to prevent an impending disaster. How there weren’t fist fights every day, I don’t know. Apart from blow whistles to warn people to not get near the edge of the platform or stop men from getting in the all-women’s carriage, guards did little to control the crazed hordes of commuters despite the obvious danger. Even if they were to try, there was never enough of them.

I have witnessed families get split because of the crazy commuters from hell pushing, someone often gets left behind. If anyone was stupid enough to bring small kids with them at those times, that would be reckless and irresponsible to say the least, even if they take the first carriage which is strictly for pregnant women, the elderly, the disabled, and people with small children.

I’ve seen people transported with feet off the ground in crushes of people and seen many sandals and shoes on the floor where people have lost them being carried by the crowd.

It’s a like a dog eat dog mentality, and as in so many cases with things here in Manila, people end up going backwards for the want of going forward. It defies all logic and is without doubt, the moment you are most likely to want to bang people’s heads together.

I wont try to analyze as to why people think such behaviour can help them advance, but I will say that with the huge amount of daily commuters using trains in a massively overpopulated collection of cities like Metro Manila, then train travel can not be expected to be easy. I fully appreciated the enormity of the task when it comes to changing people’s behaviour. But when it becomes as dangerous as it was, and still is, with it being such a stressful and even frightening experience, something had to give, and at last they are doing something. I’m not sure it’s working that well on the MRT line, but the LRT are having a little more success.

Outside of rush hour, it is a far less unpleasant experience. Rush hour in Metro Manila starts at around 6:00 AM and goes on till around 10:00 AM and probably at its worse between 7:00 AM to 9:00 AM. Then from around 4:00 PM till around 9:00 PM, it’s all happening again perhaps starting to ease from around 8:00 PM. Rush hour here is a very long hour. It is a much nicer experience outside of these times and an obvious tip would be to avoid rush hour.

On the way into the stations, people start well enough and form orderly queues awaiting security to check their bags. It continues in the ticket queues which are usually long during busy times and people would be comparatively sane and form mostly orderly queues. To prevent delays, most people purchase stored value tickets where you can buy 100 pesos worth of rides on one ticket which saves a long time in queues. After you have got your ticket, it was into the fire. The everyday battle of the commuters is about to begin; you need to be ready.

No people are perfect, and I’m sure most railway providers around the world have their problems, too. But seeing it so vividly here was to me a little scary. Scary because so many can be so out of control with their manners and thinking and obvious total lack of concern for anything other than themselves, and the problems to others they cause.

On The Right Track

On the MRTThe rules and changes are in their infancy still, but at last they know they had to do something. The MRT took the lead and a little later, the LRT was playing their part, too, although it would appear that although the MRT line began the initiative, they haven’t quite managed the implementation as well as the LRT. The first thing the MRT did was to paint a yellow box positioned where each door of the train stops. Not long after, the LRT did the same. The idea being that people are supposed to not enter the yellow box until those wanting to exit the train was all off. In short, it’s being much better implemented by the LRT lines; MRT improvements in enforcing discipline seems to be not working too well, but let’s hope that is addressed soon.

I haven’t caught that many trains since these rules were implemented but from what I was told, people were, for the most part, following the instruction, but some were still rudely and thoughtlessly behaving in the same old manner as before. There were more guards around and they were doing their best to enforce the rules. But with such a volume of people on the platforms, I imagine it was an extremely difficult task. However, I see signs that the MRT is not managing the early changes so well which doesn’t give much hope for future improvements. Just this morning, I took an MRT train at a station where there was little to no enforcement that I could see and consequently, the people were behaving as badly as they always have and nobody was trying to prevent it.

I was delighted to discover that the safety aspect had been greatly improved, in theory at least. They now limit the amount of people allowed on the platform and now the platforms of the busier stations have fewer people on them which in turn means the people have less need to push and shove, making it a whole lot safer and making it easier to get on and off trains. Yet again, I have to say that the LRT are having more success with this and I see signs that the MRT is slipping back as enforcement isn’t that obvious.

There is of course a downside in so much as it means long queues outside the stations as they only let a measured amount of passengers onto the platform. I imagine this has added much journey time to commuters, and yes, I’m sure it’s very tiresome, but safety should always be the first concern. The rail authorities do not have the power to cut in half the population of Metro Manila, so without that power, it’s simply something they had to do.

It does seem to have made a difference at some stations at least, and my last few rides on the train in rush hour was certainly more tiresome, having to stand in a queue for such a long time; but the reward is when you get onto the platform. The battle of the commuters was far less savage.

I don’t want to overstate it as I still see problems and further need for improvement. It is only being implemented at the busier stations, which I think is a mistake. There are times that even the quieter stations are busy, and as they are not policed so well as the larger stations, you still witness some pushing and shoving around the doors.

I know they want to make profit but I have been on trains that were still much too overcrowded and they haven’t solved the problem of the door-huggers who simply refuse to stop blocking everyone’s exit and entry.

But I’m delighted to say that a start has been made and rules are being implemented even if not always too convincingly. There’s a long way to go but you see signs of improvement. Rush hour train travel isn’t easy still, but it’s getting better. My fear is that if they fail with these implementations, then further improvement simply won’t happen.

So how do you feel when catching trains around Metro Manila? Are you happy with the new changes even though it delays you? What do you see that could be done to improve things further?

For what a suggestion of mine is worth, I’d like to say that I really feel that you will never get people to change the way they have been all their life by painting a few arrows and boxes on the ground. That’s just not Filipino; it won’t happen. It needs actual implementation and on the MRT especially, I don’t see it being done at all convincingly and much of the old problems have not gone away.

I personally would like to see a full barrier the whole length of the station preventing anyone getting near the train doors before everyone has gotten off. When the exiting passengers are clear, then they could open gates to let people approach the doors and enter the train making it a far smoother and safer experience.

What was tending to happen was a large minority of people were spoiling things for the majority which in turn has the majority behaving in ways they wouldn’t normally behave, but if they didn’t join the pushing and shoving, they were simply going to get left behind and pushed out-of-place. The minority dictated the pattern forcing the better behaved majority to behave in the same manner as them. It brings out the worse of behaviour from those that in other situations would not dream of getting involved and adding to the mayhem.

I’m still not convinced that it’s going to work and only limiting the amount of people on the platform at selected stations, for me, is a mistake. I suspect economics are the reason why, but when it comes to putting people in such danger and making train travel hell, then they simply have to find the money. No amount of money can replace a lost life. It really can be that bad.

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Catching Buses

Metro Manila BusYou can take a bus to many destinations in Luzon from the capital at very reasonable prices. You can even go as far as Davao by bus. Buses are also a well used mode of public transport for commuters to navigate themselves across Metro Manila and more commonly used to bring people from surrounding provinces into the capital.

Buses here vary and can be a comfortable way to travel, you can see where you’re going better than in a jeepney. On the other hand, they can be overcrowded and you will often have to stand. It’s never straight forward with simply good or bad; like everything here, it depends on circumstance. Simple fact is in a city of 20 million people, with buses being the only way for commuters living in surrounded areas to travel to work in the capital, naturally there is going to be demand for those seats. They do the job; many successfully use them daily, but endure overcrowding due to that high demand.

Bus travel has recently become more difficult due to new rules implementing a ban on buses from the provinces being able to go through the city of Manila itself. This is not a criticism as any effort to ease congestion on already overcrowded roads is not such a bad idea, but it has complicated bus travel in many cases, in the short term at least.

I’m certain it will all come together in the end, and I hope the end result means an adequate amount of buses to carry the high volume of people needing them. In effect, this is a difficult time to be explaining anything to do with bus travel as everything seems to be in transition.

The first stage of the plan was put into operation and the initial consequences caused a lot of anger and dismay among commuters who suddenly found themselves at the Coastal Mall in Parañaque in a mass of confusion trying to work out what bus, jeepney or FX/shuttle they would need to take from there. Other complaints include too few a buses at the new terminal to take the ones needing them.

At the same terminal there are jeepneys and FX/shuttle vehicles also but the change seemed to catch many by surprise.

I’ve tried but I cannot say I fully understand how its all supposed to work. In short, all buses have to stop at terminals on the outskirts of the city and just a few have been granted franchises to go through the city itself. I wont say good or bad till I understand it and it is fully implemented. Only one of three proposed terminals are in operation and it’s going to take a long time for teething problems to be ironed out. I will leave that task of explaining to the MMDA. Only the south west terminal is operational at the time of writing. Two more will be coming online in due course but its not without its objectors.

In short, at this point in time, I wouldn’t recommend you to become Johnny the adventurer and try to work it out for yourself; take someone that has some idea with you. When everything is fully operational and had time to settle down, I hope it’s all good news and improvement. However, I’m a little confused as in other places in the world, bus travel is encouraged to take more cars off the road. It seems here, they think that an excessive amount of buses is the problem.

They may be right, I don’t know. But there are an excessive amount of commuters as well so I’m a little lost as to how it will work out but I’m not judging, they know more about the problems than me. The long term benefits of less pollution and less congestion are desirable. Let’s see how it goes in the coming months and get back to that in a future post.

Busy Buses

Tired CommutersThere are air-conditioned buses and non air-conditioned, which are a little cheaper. The main setback with the non air-conditioned buses is not simply that they are hot, but can also be open to pollution and the inevitable dust and dirt that come with it.

To combat the heat, the windows are usually wide open exposing you to the heavy smog and when stuck in traffic, it can be rather uncomfortable with the heat.

The air-conditioned ones are naturally a better option and they don’t cost much more than the non air-conditioned buses. You soon get to note the bus company names that have the nicer buses, although sometimes when needing to get across Metro Manila at busy times of the day, it could be necessary to take whichever bus that comes along.

Best advice for catching buses is simply to avoid rush hour which is many hours in reality. Of course, locals don’t have that luxury of choice when needing to be at work for a certain time and on some routes, catching buses can be a stressful, overbearing and difficult task. There are some gentlemen here who will stand to give you the seat if you are a lady, elderly, disabled, or holding a child; but sadly, many won’t.

If you aim at traveling between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM, I think you will find things a lot easier. At busier times, you will have to endure a very long queue, standing, and a slower ride due to excessive congestion.

There was a time when people used to get on them just about anywhere, but this has been recently outlawed as they would literally stop in the middle of the road to let people on and off. To eliminate this obvious danger as well as the traffic chaos it creates, they now have allocated stops. It seems there are attempts to bring about some order and good sense.

One of the many difficult jobs here could definitely be a bus conductor collecting fares on a busy overcrowded bus. Some buses have smaller aisles than others, and at peak hours, the aisles are filled with standing passengers.

I have watched the conductors squeezing through the crowded aisle collecting fares and I think it could be construed as one of life’s more difficult jobs. But as always, they manage.

Getting Out of Manic Manila

Philtranco Bus: "A Philippine transport company servicing Southern Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao routes." From Wikipedia

Philtranco Bus: “A Philippine transport company servicing southern Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao routes.” From Wikipedia

When it comes to traveling to distant provinces, then the bus service is an ideal way to get across Luzon and even beyond inexpensively and comfortably. If you are traveling on a budget then you can go far for little cost and as the national rail service is not that widespread, and not all airports are near, then buses are all you have.

You may have to change bus at a certain point but I can think of no more enjoyable way of discovering the Philippines. In fact, the Philippines has a good bus service linking all the major towns and cities. Once you have built a little confidence which will possibly take some time, a bus is perfect for the budget conscious traveler.

Many bus companies are a little slow in taking up the online challenge with many websites not often maintained, but here’s a list of some credible bus companies along with their destinations.

The bus driver and conductor should be able to help you get off at the right place. In my experience, you are safe and regular breaks are taken for toilet and leg stretching needs.

However, there are times when out of town travel via bus could prove difficult. This is normally just before and during public holidays, especially Easter and Christmas.

Metro Manila is full of people from the provinces who are eager to get home for the holidays and at that time, they will be very much in demand, so if you can avoid traveling by bus during those times, it may be wise.

Transporting pets is not usually allowed. The reason for this is fairly obvious.

Most have TV and DVD, or in some cases, music or radio. I’m not sure this is a good thing as I’ve seen some very unsavoury films whilst riding a bus and heard some incredibly annoying radio stations. Just pray the driver has half decent music tastes.

If you have an iPod, or a smartphone that has good music storage, it may be a good place to use it.

Many fairly remote places are accessible by bus or at least within a jeepney ride. You may need to change bus here and there, but that’s all part of the adventure. On occasion, the driver can border on being a homicidal maniac and reach some frightening speeds; but for the most part, they are safe. Nothing in its near vicinity is always safe though but that’s Philippines travel, at least your riding the bigger guy so you are less at risk.

The prices are surprisingly low for long distance travel. The only other way to cover such distances are by car, whether hired with or without a driver, but not surprisingly this is quite an expensive way to travel.

If you want the cash to stretch as far as possible but want to see many places, then bus travel is the ideal way to do it. Fares are payable to a conductor and you shouldn’t need to book in advance or wait in a queue for a ticket. On some of the longer routes, you may need to purchase your ticket from a booth.

It’s a great way to observe life here. For low cost long distance travel by road, then the bus is a great idea.

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Special FX

There are a variety of choices for getting around the 16 cities that make up Metro Manila and out to the surrounding provinces. The FX as its locally known, or the shuttle, is a fairly popular mode of transport which is a little like a communal un-metered taxi. They are often a Toyota Tamaraw FX model from which they took their name. Lately, you find more of them have started using minivans and I’ve even used one which was a converted jeepney with air-con. However, the name FX service has stuck and that’s what it’s usually referred to as. They have the luxury of air-conditioning so we’re definitely moving up from the jeepney but of course nothing like as cheap.

From a visitor’s point of view, it is going to be difficult to work out the routes. Like the jeepney, knowing which one to get to your destination is damned near impossible for a stranger in town. If you are here for any period of time, then they are a decent and quite inexpensive way to travel and it would pay to learn them. If you’re here just for a short while and enjoying a vacation, its doubtful you will be using one unless you’re accompanying a local who knows their way around.

They are a little more personal than a bus or jeepney, and are good confidence builders for the would-be traveler. They may be hard to fathom when you’re green here, but in no time at all, you learn routes one by one. If you need to get somewhere, it’s most likely an FX is going somewhere at least near and a couple of rides later, you have learnt that route.

FX TAXIAs you are one of around 12 to 16 fellow passengers when busy, it is easy to get help regarding when to get off at the most convenient place closest to your destination. As long as Filipinos can understand you, they will endeavor to be helpful so between the driver and the passengers, someone will be able to make sure you get off at the right place.

The best way to learn is to simply ask. Get a second opinion though as sometimes when they haven’t understood you fully, Filipinos will just say yes. So you’re saying, “Does this FX/shuttle go to Fairview?” Its happened to me and they obviously only understood that I was asking a question, and out of embarrassment at not fully understanding you, will reply “yes”. That’s why I say always ask someone else, too. If you get the same answer twice, it’s probably the right advice.

You may be a little squashed on occasion but at least you can see where you are going and are quite safe. They run from terminal to terminal and people wave them down en route. However, during rush hour, it would be difficult to catch one outside of the terminals due to demand. They leave the terminal full, and only if you are lucky enough to come across one that has dropped some passengers off will you get a seat. Prepare to be tightly seated next to people texting like crazy and you will feel dread when a fatty is about to get in, but all the same, I rate the FX as a good, inexpensive, fairly convenient, and a little more comfortable way to get across the city and even beyond.

However, they too, have a downside. The point is that what you have to remember is that Metro Manila is a massively overpopulated city and there are not really any easy ways to get around. So when I give thumbs up to the FX service, that doesn’t mean to say this is high-class travel, I’m simply talking comparatively with other forms of public transport. Comparatively, the FX isn’t so bad but that doesn’t mean it’s wonderfully comfortable every time you get in one either.

The driver needs to earn and to do this he will want as many passengers in his vehicle as he can get, which can result in you being very tightly sandwiched. When there are fewer passengers, they can be quite comfortable. In the very back, there is usually room for 4 passengers comfortably on bench seats facing each other. More often than not they squeeze in another 2, making it 6, so it can be a bit of a squeeze. In the middle, they lack leg room which isn’t a problem until he loads up and the resulting squash limits your ability to move your legs. I have had the odd cramp riding an FX until someone got out freeing up a little more leg room.

Shuttle vanYou can have a long wait at the terminal as he won’t set off until he is full. At busy times of the day, this wouldn’t take too long, but at other times, the long wait can be irritating. You could wait up to half an hour on quieter routes or even more on occasion before he considers himself to have enough passengers to start the journey.

At the busier terminals, the issue is more about long queues. I have had to wait in queues a long time at rush hour, always a time to avoid traveling on just about any mode of transport. Outside of rush hour, it’s a lot easier. Nothing is perfect in Metro Manila and the FX service is far from ideal, but once you’re on one, they tend to be fairly quick (traffic depending) with fewer stops than some other forms of transport. Far from ideal, but in all, the FX is not too bad, is affordable and sometimes comfortable, sometimes not.

But I still rate the FX over many other ways of getting around. Like the jeepney, most people keep to themselves, but again I’ve had friendly exchanges with locals in an FX.

Fortunately, most Filipinos are not usually fat, but if you’re unfortunate enough to be squashed between a couple of overweight locals or for that matter are overweight yourself, then you may not enjoy the ride quite so much; but in all, I still like the FX.

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The Spirit of the Iconic Jeepney

They get hot and smoky from the hugely polluting engines; they can be uncomfortable and completely unsuitable, but if anyone tried to take them away, I think there would be an uproar.

Much has been written about the history already about the famous cultural icon of the jeepney so I wont waste words going over information already available.

They take you to every corner of the capital using side roads as well as main highways. They have routes but as a new visitor here, its doubtful you will be able to work them out alone. You can try asking people, but it’s not easy; you definitely need some local geography knowledge.

Riding a jeepney is yet another insight into the Filipino and their everyday world and where you are likely to encounter friendly conversation and witness the patience of the locals. They are hot with often open windows meaning you get a full taste of the pollution. They are cramped with little distance between floor and ceiling. Until you get used to them, you are likely to bang your head as you bent over to move down the jeepney to an empty seat and again as you get off.

They represent a battle between traditional and progress and up to now the traditional is still winning. As much as they have charm, history and being a part of the culture, it could also be said that they are totally unsuitable in almost every imaginable way as a modern public transport vehicle.

The other side of their popularity is simply because they are the cheapest way to travel. The fare starts at 8 pesos and you can get quite far for that amount with small increases as you travel further. This is why they are many people’s choice of public transport as affordable they most definitely are.

JeepneyThings have improved as when I first visited here around 8 years ago, almost every jeepney I saw was belching out huge amounts of black smoke from old and unmaintained engines. Then the previous administration introduced legislation which meant they had to have exhaust omissions tested as a way to curtail the worse pollution offenders. The progress was slow, but over the years I’ve noticed a great improvement when it comes to smoke belching jeepneys on the road. Now 2013, I don’t see many so its been a success.

However, they are still heavy polluters in an already over-polluted capital. Other negative, and for me the biggest reason I believe them to be totally unsuitable is that you have no idea where you are if you’re in unfamiliar territory. The windows are low making it difficult to see out of as well as being too small. I often struggle knowing where I am as I can’t see anything, far from ideal for a public transport vehicle. They have a row of bench seats facing each other which further compounds the visibility problem as other passengers also obscure the low windows and it really is a challenge.

A good tip is, if possible, take the front seat alongside the driver if you are lucky enough to find it available. Unfortunately though, the vast majority of times they are already taken as others have the same thinking.

They operate in every part of the Philippines and if you are in an area not served by one or at least close by, then you are certainly somewhere very remote indeed. They really are unique and have been kept going for decades now and are the lifeblood of commuters, shoppers, school and college students the whole country over.

Although most people simply keep to themselves on a jeepney, I have had many a friendly exchange riding one of these crazy people trucks. The nature of the seating means you are sat facing each other and I’m often smiled at as eye contact and close human interaction is unavoidable which is all part of the charm of the jeepney, a small compensation for the slight discomfort of being on a crowded one.

Now, Metro Manila citizens are often at their worse as commuters on many forms of public transport. In most situations, involving crowds or commuting, some have a tendency to queue jump and conveniently pretend they never noticed any queue and go straight to the front. Many will barge and push to get on the bus or train to the extent you feel the urge to scream, but for some reason, the jeepney brings out the best in the Filipino. You don’t witness this kind of behaviour much when riding a jeepney. You see a rare thing as regards interactions between people here which is a little more inspiring.

Jeepney They are a little dangerous in so much as the driver has a lot to contend with making him prone to accidents but they are sturdy enough to suggest you would probably survive it should it happen. The poor old jeepney driver has a hard enough time driving that heavy old thing through some of the world’s craziest traffic, then having to stop when someone shouts “Para (stop)” or bangs a coin on the steel handrail as well as managing to pick up passengers.

At the same time, he has to collect the fares. This adds to the danger as he does so by putting his hand over his shoulder for passengers to give him their fare, he then sorts out the change usually from a tray he keeps in the front and the hand goes back over his shoulder to give to the passenger, all whilst his still driving along.

This is when you see a remarkable unofficial arrangement between driver and passenger, which is built on trust and cooperation. People virtually supervise it themselves passing the fare down the jeepney from hand to hand and the goodwill and honesty of the passengers are what gets the driver through.

Be prepared to pass others’ money down the jeepney to the driver with a “bayad daw (meaning here’s someone’s money)” or “bayad po (here’s my money)” and also return the change from hand to hand. It’s a rare moment of cooperation with the people and driver and good to see.

I’ve been told that in the past, jeepneys were far more elaborate, and were the objects of some amazing works of art. By all accounts, that seems to be more of a bygone age. These days, what are sometimes featured are references to various countries which could include a national flag on a door or side mirror or other references to a particular country. I used to wonder why that was and I’m told that it’s a kind of homage to the place where a relative, or perhaps themselves managed to work to earn the cash to buy the jeepney.

The jeepney still possesses a certain charm, and you see signs of what they used to be. Although it’s not as common these days, you do occasionally see some fantastic jeepney art painted on a jeepney. It really would be nice to see more of them but it seems those times are past.

In all honesty, they really need to re-think the jeepney; a more unsuitable vehicle for public transport would be hard to find anywhere. But I think as with many things, they are simply used to it accept it which is very much a Filipino trait.

Sadly, they are rarely as elaborate as these but they have their own story which is why they are regarded as such a cultural icon here.

Electric Jeepney (Photo by Greenpeace)

Electric Jeepney (Photo by Greenpeace)

In truth, they really do need a rethink as a modern-day public service vehicle when the world is trying to improve the environment and the visibility aspect definitely needs looking at. What good is public transport that you cannot see out the windows of. Electric jeepneys may be the future although the traditionalists would be dismayed, but somehow I think they have to be considered. In fact there is now an electric jeepney service in Makati.

I just wish if they are not going to upgrade them, then at least keep up the tradition of the finest vehicle art you will see anywhere. Unfortunately, maybe due to the usual lack of cash, they are not what they used to be.

I’ve heard that in Cagayan De Oro in Northern Mindanao, the artwork is still much in evidence. I will let you know how true that is if I ever get there.

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Say A Little Prayer

Now, it is something locals don’t think about and foreigners quickly get used to. The reckless nature of life here overwhelms you and riding a pedicab can be scary before you get used to it. You may feel an adult diaper is an essential clothing item for your first few rides.

The average tourist from a culture of organized public transportation may consider this way of getting around unusual to say the least, principally because its alien to them. I remember my time here as a fresh-faced milk-bottle-coloured novice and recall how bizarre I found it when my idea of local transportation was a double-decker bus or a cab. Now, as a pinkish brown alien, riding pedicabs or tricycles is everyday life.

Pedicabs are scarier than tricycles, simply because they are slower yet take great risks coming out in front of oncoming traffic and weaving through gaps. On those first few rides, I made it a point to not look and just pray. I did settle down after awhile and simply got used to it, but the insanity and danger is obvious. Some are stark staring mad and the overzealous approach to earning money can put you in danger. But I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again, if you can endure the fear factor, then they are a great way to see street life close up.

Some of these guys are as nuts on the road as anyone, and there may be occasions when just for a split second, you had wished you had written a goodbye world note. But apart from once getting a bang on my head in a pedicab that was clipped by a jeepney, I’m still here to write the tale. By the time it happened to me I had been here awhile, and bizarrely despite a bruised head and a headache, I ended up simply laughing about it with the driver of the pedicab who nearly orchestrated my death. Yes, I have developed a mentality not unlike locals in the sense that I court danger, I guess its called adapting.

The pedicab I was in was going the wrong way down a dual carriageway, and if I told you that this is normal behaviour here, it may give you some idea. You simply have to speak up when it gets out of hand and tell the driver to take it easy, you want to live to see another day. I had been here long enough to be reckless too and not question him riding the wrong way down a dual carriageway as such crazy antics are just an everyday aspect of life in the Philippines.
To be overly shy about speaking up could mean the driver’s next stunt will be wilder and even more dangerous, so it does pay to gently say, “Please don’t kill me!” For some reason, I didn’t say anything even though I knew it was crazy. Seems I’ve been here too long.

Sadly, they probably won’t understand what your problem is with their stunt driving as its just normal here, but definitely object when going the wrong way down a dual carriageway. This is the way people are, they just don’t seem to recognize danger. After you have been here awhile, you tend to get used to it and even get a little riskier yourself, but you never fail to see just how crazy it is. Anything goes on the road with some so get used to it.

Tricycles Night and Day on Queue

Tricycles Night and Day on Queue

Another issue is the assumption of wealth, and that assumption meaning some feel they have the right to charge extra. Again, I stress that this is far from all pedicab or tricycle drivers, but it is a feature of life here if you’re a foreigner. This is the mindset that all foreigners are wealthy and pedicab and tricycle drivers often carry these mindsets as much as anyone.

We (us foreigners) tend to feel uptight about being charged unequally and quite right, too. But before we assume it’s all down to some kind of discrimination against foreigners, you should know that if a Filipino needing a ride appears a little more affluent, they often take the same attitude with them too, so it’s not something exclusive to foreigners. To be fair though, most don’t and I’m charged the same as anyone else. I am referring to a minority when it comes to pedicab and trike drivers.

Generally, I’m treated equally but the chat is often about my perceived wealth wherever I go. Being spoken to like I’m rich when I am not does irk me, but looking at it through their eyes, you understand why.

They get their perceptions from TV and the average pedicab or tricycle driver is probably not ever left the Philippines. When they see foreign films or TV shows, what they see is nice housing compared to what they are used to, everyone driving cars which they themselves could never afford. Compared to them, most foreigners they come across locally for whatever reason do appear to have money in comparison to their day to day hand to mouth existence, therefore, its assumed all foreigners are rich.

There is no doubt you will come across those that believe foreigner tax is fair game, but also try and remember that most don’t. Am I singling out trike and pedicab drivers as being the only ones who have this mindset? No, as its common with many.

But although I’ve possibly painted a picture which makes you suspicious of them, it has to be said that most times, I have no problem with either pedicab or tricycle drivers. Mostly, they are good guys.

In the main, they are friendly and have a very hard time earning a living as I’ve explained before. I’ve met some that actually live in their pedicab as earning enough to pay rent is possibly beyond them. Its simply because there are so many of them and having a constant flow of customers becomes very difficult in that environment. With so few jobs available, many try there luck as a pedicab or tricycle driver.

This is my third article now about either tricycle or pedicab drivers. Previously, I’ve only skimmed the surface and the pieces were more of an advisory. But seeing the life of a trike or pedicab driver is a window into how life is for many here. They survive, they feed the family and get by. But you will be aware how hard it is for them simply by observing. They don’t have the choices in life many of us are used to. If they were to regulate the numbers more strictly, then yes, the ones remaining would make a better living for sure. But many would not have any other kind of opportunity as the jobs are simply not there. The lives of these guys reflect the life of many here. Lets hope better days are ahead for the Filipino.

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Tricycles

The advantage of tricycle travel is that you can get a little further. The fare is perhaps a little more but is comparable with pedicabs. Some localities will only have the pedicabs or tricycles to serve them to get to the nearest jeepney so as you can imagine, they are vital to the throngs of people getting about their business in the capital.

Around the Philippines, you see a variety of tricycle types. Those that carry multiple passengers for instance, but in Metro Manila, it’s always the 2-seater sidecar types, and the option to have a third person on the back of the bike behind the driver. Few drivers object to having an extra person or 6 as it’s extra income for them.

Tricycle drivers operate within a boundary but you can usually negotiate to get dropped beyond it. I’m not sure if they are supposed to, but what you’re allowed to do and what people do are two different matters in Metro Manila.

As with pedicab drivers, they are usually mostly fair and quote you the right fare, but others are inclined to take advantage. Same rules apply as with pedicab drivers, try and ask people you know how much to expect to pay and ask the driver how much before you get in.

The Tricycle

Going beyond 2 to 3 kilometers in a tricycle is probably when it starts to become expensive and it makes more sense to use a taxi for a journey that far. They may be a little smaller than a taxi, and therefore be able to slip through heavy traffic more effectively, but in most cases, any journey over a couple of kilometers would probably be better in a taxi.

The amount of tricycle drivers around seems to be at saturation point. It’s not hard to imagine that they spend much of the day without passengers as there are tricycle drivers everywhere. This is possibly why they can be a little over zealous in attracting you to their trike. They can wait around a long time at terminals before they get their spot at the front of the queue and it could be just a 20-peso ride then back to the end of the queue.

All the same rules as with pedicab drivers apply. I am inclined to reward the honest ones with just a little extra. Liberty takers get no tip. On most occasions, I have little problems with tricycle drivers. I always ask how much before we set off, and there is always the option of asking another how much when the fare sounds a little extreme.

Another useful tip is to opt to flag one down on the road as opposed to one waiting at a terminal. I believe they pay a small charge in some cases at some terminals, to whom I’m not sure and this reflects in the fare they charge. That was a tip I learned from a tricycle driver I knew once, but in all, most tricycle drivers are OK. Even the ones with mullets. Yes, the mullet hairstyle is still popular with some here, none more so than with tricycle and pedicab drivers. I have no idea why that is.

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Pedicabs

For getting around a locality, a service frequently used by locals is the pedicab. Often your location is just a little off a jeepney route and that’s mostly where the pedicabs and tricycles come into play.

Now, these are not expensive by western standards but to a local, they are deemed as a little costly considering that they cover shorter distances. But I have to admit that a pedicab is one of my favourite ways of getting around. The driver knows most places locally. Sticking to the locality means they know virtually everywhere. It works out roughly at around 20 pesos for around half a kilometer.

They won’t cover the same distances as the motorized tricycle, but for those just a bit too far to walk journeys, the pedicab is a great and a nice way of taking in small parts of Metro Manila.

For the most part, I’ve found them to be fair but I’ve come across a good few that had dollar signs spinning around their heads when seeing a foreigner. Simple tip is ask how much before you set off, if he seems mentally unbalanced with the figure he gives you, then simply walk to another one and see if he quotes the same.

Inevitably, it will happen from time to time, so a good tip is, if possible, ask someone you know roughly how much the charge should be. Pedicabs cannot go that far of course and they have to work within boundaries, so the pedicab really is for the most localized travel only.

A rough guide would be Php 20 pesos for half a kilometer and for every extra passenger, add another Php 10.

Some might want to charge the same price for each passenger. If so, try asking a few others and simply go for the lowest price.

Pedicab

Most important is to know how much he is going to charge from the offset as it can result in a street argument when they tell you how much they want after you have got there. It’s easily avoided by
agreeing the price first.

I’ve seen about 10 use one pedicab on occasion, hanging off the front and back and on the roof. It’s a sight to behold believe me, and I feel for those spindly legs carrying all that weight. I do appreciate that for many of them; it’s not easy to make a living. Some are rented inexpensively whilst others own their own, but the simple fact that there are plenty of tricycle and pedicab drivers around Metro Manila, can mean a long wait between passengers.

What I love most about the pedicab is simply that I see everything, smell everything at eye level, and at a pace that actually allows you to observe. You will often get questioned by the driver with the usual questions asking where you’re from and what is your purpose in life, and you will observe overtime, just how difficult it must be for these guys.

There are more comfortable ways of getting around but I can’t think of a better way of witnessing everyday life here, apart from getting out there and mingling yourself. As a fresh tourist, I know it takes a lot of confidence to mingle where you don’t know, so a pedicab ride is the next best thing.

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How to Ride In Metro Manila

No matter how adventurous or intrepid you are, there is no easy way to get around Metro Manila. It is extremely problematic, and above all, confusing. Yes, any strange new city is difficult but Metro Manila is a little more than difficult.

There are various options depending on what kind of distance you are traveling. Much of the moving around within a locality is done via pedicab or tricycle (small motorbike or cycle with sidecar for passengers).
Commonly used is the jeepney which has become a symbol of Filipino culture and a cheap way to move around the city. They are noisy, dirty in the sense that you’re exposed to pollution, and not exactly comfortable.
Beyond these methods, you have a service known as the FX or a shuttle, which is a minivan which is used as a shared taxi using regular routes.

There are, of course, taxis which are numerous but somewhat problematic on occasion. Taxi drivers are mostly fine, but you do get some which will test your patience and nerve due to their erratic driving as well as occasional dishonesty and awkwardness.

Longer distances are usually covered by the buses or the rapid train service known as the LRT or MRT.

ManilaConciergeOnline - MRT

In other words, there are many ways to travel around the capital, but I would not say that doing so is easy nor quick, and certainly, not stress-free.

Metro Manila is a hugely over populated city with the inevitable traffic chaos that comes with it, most of which is worsened by the attitude of the drivers. Private car drivers have to comply with a coding system meaning that between Monday and Friday, there will be at least one day that you cannot use your car between 7AM to 7PM although some areas have windows when you can use your car between 10AM and 3PM. (This is being reviewed as I write this, shall update if new rules are implemented.)

Even as a pedestrian, Metro Manila can be a very difficult place to negotiate. For motorcyclists, it has its small advantages which are possibly countered by the danger factor as goes for cyclists.

Traffic lights are sometimes not easily noticed when working and many junctions are confusing. The road infrastructure is not good. Some one-way streets are not even marked as such, road name signs are often missing, and it’s just general mayhem and confusion no matter how you go about traveling in the city. Apart from all of those things mentioned, it’s fine.

I personally have driven around the capital previously in a car, but decided to stop as I found it too stressful and problematic and I was in danger of losing my cool too often with some of the antics of the other drivers.

I will add articles that will take you through these methods of travel within Metro Manila, its pluses and many minuses too. So fasten your seat belts, put on your crash helmet, take your tranquilizers and come with me on the various ways of getting around the capital. I would love to be telling you how easy it is and how the air is clean and you will experience disciplined drivers with easy to read signposting and well maintained roads, but it isn’t any of those things at all. As everything is in this city, traveling is crazy, problematic and stressful. Enjoy the ride.

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Manic Manila

There are those that would endorse Metro Manila to you for whatever reasons. I have to confess to not being a fan of this collection of cities personally, and I’m far from alone in that sentiment. I don’t want to sound negative, but with so many problems, you can’t fail to see it.

There are many parts of the metropolis that may not be considered attractive. There are a lot of poorly maintained buildings, dirty, polluted with mounds of litter despite daily garbage collections, sometimes smelly with awful traffic chaos, ankle breaking holes on walkways, some big enough to consume a large mammal, and to me, it’s a place that doesn’t have the well-being of its citizens in mind very much at all.

For some time now, I’ve been observing a lot of new buildings which they say are good signs for the economy. Many are office and commercial premises as well as warehousing units, residential units from condominiums to new gated villages. All these have been going on for awhile, before the current administration.

A Harrowing Experience

Living in Metro Manila, or at least some parts of it can be a harrowing experience. It reeks of selfishness and you definitely get the impression that the people don’t care about their environment, their neighbours, or mankind in general, and in its busiest spots, it’s every man for himself. But despite these things, Metro Manila is somewhere you have to see for as many good reasons as bad ones.

Just don’t expect to be overly impressed. The good thing to say is that it has vibrancy and life that never stops. That doesn’t appeal to all but it is something that some would enjoy. But to make sense of what you are seeing, you have to know a little about what Metro Manila is made up of.

In short, it is made up of everyone and everything. Bizarrely, for many, it is a city of dreams. People from all over the Philippines come to Metro Manila in the mistaken belief that they have greater opportunities, and they will make their fortune. The problem is that there are millions with the same dream, and the result is a dirty, overpopulated, underemployed, manic, undisciplined, crazy place with every vice imaginable.

Malls Here, There and Everywhere

Malls are the temple of most Filipinos. Malls are being built everywhere. It seems no matter how many they build, they are never short of people who come to shop, eat or often just to hang around. Malls are a sanctuary for many, and to be fair there are some fantastic malls in Metro Manila.

So, what does any of these mean to the visitor? I’m telling you that this city isn’t worth a look, you may think. Well, that is not what I’m saying at all. I am saying that as you take in Metro Manila, you will encounter much of the problems, poverty, traffic chaos, over-crowdedness as well as excessive noise, poor services,stress and general madness, that is Manila. But it’s still a place worth the experience.

Much of the tourist brochures are pretty uninspiring when it comes to offering suggestions on places to go, and things to see and do. Much of it is a let-down. But the best fun is away from all that. The many markets whilst chaotic, often are great places to look around. Many of the eateries are nothing to get excited about, but if you’re adventurous enough to try a few out then you do find some good ones. This is also where you can interact with locals who would be delighted to see you trying Filipino food.

Let this site, together with its contributors, guide you a little as to how to maximize your stay safely and enjoyably. Manila is definitely manic, but as you go down those side streets and taste a little of the madness, it may seem overwhelming, but it’s well worth doing. Don’t get carried away, try small steps into the world of the Filipino. It really isn’t like anywhere you have ever seen before.

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First Impressions

Anyone that is local or even an outsider that has been here before will be saying to himself, “Tell us something we don’t know” as they read this. However, I’m addressing this to the many that are at home outside the Philippines, have never been here and have no idea what to expect. Stay with me as I tell what the rest of us know, but think back to your first visit and remember how bizarre much of it seemed.

It’s a new blog and I’m in danger of boring some to death with information they already have, especially if you live here, or more so, a Filipino. I beg patience from that group of readers as sometimes, the obvious needs explaining to someone that has little idea of what the Philippines is all about.

The first place a visitor is likely to see is Metro Manila. Most flights land in Manila (NAIA), you can catch another flight to another island, or travel to another part of Luzon by road and even the Visayas via the San Juanico Bridge. So your first impression is usually Metro Manila.

Manila traffic

That first drive through the city will be quite an eye-opener and the hectic nature of the capital will catch your attention. The traffic is chaotic, the infrastructure run down abysmally although improving slightly, and everywhere is overcrowded and manic. On the other hand, it could be described as vibrant, lively and exciting, it really depends on the individual and how they relate to it. No revelations in that statement, I know.

One thing about Metro Manila is that it’s never quiet. You will see sights and behaviour that is alien to your own experience and the best way to describe that first trip through Metro Manila would be to say its jaw-dropping.

Sidewalks are taken over by traders making it difficult to walk around if you’re not used to it. In many places, everything seems completely disorderly and out of control. A little mayhem gives birth to chaos and you just watch people that are totally used to it managing it without too much agitation or fuss.

They are simply making a living. Concerning themselves with small matters, such as suitable locations are secondary; everyone just wants to make a living. Naturally, you will be forming early impressions and most likely be a little bewildered at all you are seeing.

Manila Chaos

Try hard not to assume anything at this point of your stay. Just watch, learn, listen and smell whilst considering that it’s nothing like where you have just flown in from.

First impressions are not always misleading. It looks manic; it is manic. It’s Manic Manila! You best grab a rest as you are going to need it. You soon come to understand that although seemingly insane, there are reasons as to why. Not often logical ones, but reasons nonetheless. Hold on to your seat belt.

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