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.


1 Comment

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

One response to “Train Trials

  1. Pingback: Transporting Metro Manila Forward | Manila Concierge Online

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