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.
As 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.
You 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.