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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Filed under Culture, Impressions, Manila, Philippine Transportation, Philippines, Travel

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