Category Archives: Philippine Transportation

Transporting Metro Manila Forward

It’s good to be able to focus on some positive things. I’m not going to overstate anything as there is still a long way to go. All you can do with a bad situation is to attempt to improve it. After small improvements have been made then go through it again and improve further. I think the same theory applies to many things from politics to improving your home.

The case in point for the purposes of this discussion is transportation. The topic here is train travel in Metro Manila. With public transportation, there have been some improvements of late. It may be a reflection of general improvements affecting other aspects of the Philippines or not. Transportation is a crucial aspect in how well a nation fares and how much it is progressing. If the small improvements being made in transportation are any indicators as to how well the country is progressing, then the summary would be slowly. It’s getting there, but at a snail’s pace. It could be fair to say that that is the current state of the Philippines but for purposes of this piece, let’s stick to train travel.

It’s still not there yet but better and in a country where a few years ago I had no hope, I will say now I see these small improvements making a small difference and sincerely hope that the usual attitude of giving up does not come back and that they persevere.

Somehow, I think that if I’m still blogging in the next few years, train transportation in Metro Manila is something I will be returning to. It may not be a reflection on all aspects of the Philippines but it does seem to me that there is a will to improve the quality of life. My hope is, every time I return to pieces I’ve previously written about, that I shall be reporting improvements. In some areas, I can say that’s happening, and in others, it’s not.

The Common Sense Factor

No, the service hasn’t been vamped up. There are not masses of extra trains and it’s still very far from perfect. Still, it’s good to see that some rare common sense is being used by the train company authorities. Common sense is not much in abundance in the Philippines so when you see it happening, it just gives you a little hope. Discipline and the lack of it has been something I was very quickly made aware of when I first came here. It continued over many of the years I had been spending time being in the Philippines and I was of the mind that thought nothing will change as it sometimes appeared that the simple lack of common sense was killing any hope of any general improvements.

I used to find myself saying that it will never change as, if you can’t master basic common sense then where can you go, how can you improve things generally.

I intend to go through previously discussed topics and measure things against how I spoke at the time of writing them previously. Basically, I’m using my own observations and sentiments as a very loose barometer. The focus here is on MRT/LRT systems, or in short, trains. Nothing much has happened other than some enforced common sense. I really felt the all-round lack of it was probably the main reason train travel was such a stressful experience in the past.

It’s my belief that the cure for many ills in this country is the introduction of common sense. Without it, how can anything develop?

Start thinking before you start acting. The changes and improvements in train travel are purely down to the application of a little common sense. It’s something that an outsider would observe in a very short time. Common sense has never been taught. People just don’t have it. I feel the people badly want things to improve.

Common sense is missing from the everyday culture here in the Philippines. Generation to generation nobody gets taught it. That’s been a huge feature of my time here knowing that it’s so missing with Filipinos. I came to realise that if it’s never taught, nobody will have it. It’s the first step towards improving the Philippines.

It’s hard to define exactly what I’m saying but it really needs to come from the top. When I say top I mean authorities in general. It seemed that authorities didn’t possess much common sense either so I wasn’t hopeful at times. When common sense is enforced as it has been at the LRT/MRT stations, then you detect that people embrace it. I don’t hear moaning when they wait in long queues. It’s as if they realise that a long queue is better than a daily stampede. They are craving to be led by some common sense.

MRT Queue North Avenue Station

Long queues outside North Avenue MRT station but people accepted the need for order without too much complaint. (Photo courtesy of Connie Diegor)

It was surprising just how people readily accepted it and the simple fact that they accepted it so quietly told me they possibly had some sense of common sense after all. Train authorities showing the way is a small part of introducing a little common sense into Filipino everyday life.

When I last wrote about train travel in Metro Manila in a piece called Train Trials, I reported that some changes were being introduced. It consisted of implementing obvious basics as the first thing they needed to do was make the platforms safe and enforce some general courtesy. It was so sadly lacking in the past. So much pushing and shoving, ill manners and selfishness were totally out of hand. The minority set the standard and the majority had little choice but to behave just as badly or they would be left behind. It’s something you see in so many aspects of Filipino life. The lack of common sense even if from a significant minority influences how people who know better will behave. It becomes a domino effect of insanity. It blights so many aspects of Filipino life.

It may not be because everyone wants to behave as the significant minority do; it’s just that they end up with having no choice. If people simply barge in front you and refuse to form lines and exercise no patience whatsoever, you end up permanently at the back of the queue. The only way in the end is to join in with the bumping and barging.

I often wondered how people would respond by being forced to show some common sense. By all accounts they are mostly getting it on the MRT/LRT. There are still some arseholes that haven’t got the message yet but the majority is starting to have things how they probably wanted things to be all along. It needed some enforced order so badly and for many years I saw no signs of it and had no hope. The MRT/LRT is actually implementing some common sense practices. It’s helping a lot.

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Crash

I was never comfortable with riding one of these bikes. If the police had a checkpoint on the way to Toril, then word would spread around the drivers and they knew exactly where the checkpoint was and wouldn’t go past it. No genuine attempt to stamp out this dangerous illegal mode of transport and for the people of Catigan, no alternatives.

They would take you to the bottom of the hill only leaving you to catch a legal registered side-car which was safe into Toril. It was extremely unlikely you would see any of the safe legal and registered side-cars in Catigan.

If no police checkpoint then these death traps would take you all the way into Toril. You do it because there is nothing else. The longer you have been in the Philippines, the more reckless you become.

Whenever I had the opportunity to not ride a bike, I would take it. Coming back, you have the option of riding a safe legal side-car but at a massive cost of 180 pesos.

An illegal side-car would wait till he had around 3 or 4 passengers and it is 40 pesos a person up the Catigan road and 30 going down as it takes less fuel. If you’re alone, they would ask more. However, they were still far cheaper than the legal ones so naturally in a community where people have little money, they will always ride with the cheapest option.

One Friday in June, I waited patiently for an illegal side-car in Toril to get back home. Unusually, it was only me in the side-car and they would usually ask for more money. As he lived in Catigan and was going home anyway, he took me for 40 pesos. All was fine and as we got a short distance up the Catigan road, he got a puncture on the side-car’s tyre.

Of course, a spare tyre was rather not thought about or more likely, there was simply nowhere to put it on one of these crates on wheels. His only option was to carry on home without the extra weight of me leaving me stranded. He gave me back my 40 pesos and set off, and I waited patiently hoping another side-car would come along.

The only sidecar that passed was full so I started walking up the Catigan road towards a populated area where I hoped I would be able to find some mode of transport to get me home. After not too far a walk, I came across two guys sat on motorbikes. I approached them and asked if they were offering a service. At first one of them said no. After a discussion between the two of them, he changed his mind and asked how much I’m paying.

I said from Toril its 40 pesos so 40 then. After an attempted haggle for more money from the Americano who was not an Americano, he reluctantly agreed and off we went towards my puruk.

All I remember was chatting nonsense with the driver and the next thing I knew, I woke up lying on the road with many people around me. I had no idea what had happened, where I was and was asking myself why I am lying here in the middle of the Catigan road surrounded by people. I come to realise I was badly injured and still had no idea what had happened. My bag was gone although later returned to me as it was taken into safe keeping by a tanod. Most people in this community are basically honest. I was put into an illegal sidecar which served as my ambulance and I was rushed to a private hospital in Toril.

Private was not a choice; it was the nearest hospital in Toril and I wasn’t questioning it whilst blood was pumping out my head, and I felt that my ribs and shoulder were smashed. I wasn’t feeling as badly you would expect at the time; a little shocked but the pain hadn’t set in yet.

It was one of many examples of when I found out how hard life can be being poor. No way could I afford the excessive price of being made well again but naturally at the time, I wasn’t thinking about that. I just let them get on with giving me pain killing injections, stitching my head wounds and preliminary cleaning of my other wounds.

After the stitches, I became conscious that this was going to cost a fortune and I had little money and no way of getting any. I was confused as to what happens next when you have no money so I asked to see the bill for the treatment I had received so far. I don’t remember the amount but it was more than I had and was even charged for the surgical gloves at way above their value.

The mother of my twins had been informed and came quickly to the hospital. I saw the colour drain out of her face when she first saw me. Strangely enough, I was laughing and joking still not really realising the extent of my injuries although by now it was hurting.

The following events highlighted some other realities which I have to say are sad ones. I’m not going to go into a wholesale attack on the Philippines’ health system as I believe if I was in a life threatening situation, I’m told I would have been delivered by ambulance to the only public hospital in Davao which was far away. I can’t get clarification on this but it’s possible that it is true.

I wasn’t in a life threatening situation, thank God, but I was very hurt and needed help. What I found to be saddest of all, coming from a country with a brilliant national health service, was once I told the staff I had no money, everyone walked away and left me.

I was awaiting X-rays to be done on my chest, shoulder and head but once I uttered those immortal words, “I have no money,” I was left with most of my injuries still untreated, and it got more bizarre after that. Money is more valuable than human life. I already knew that I had been in the Philippines long enough to be aware of the obvious, but it was hard when you’re directly affected.

I cannot say what would have happened if my injuries were more serious. I’m inclined to believe what I’m told that I would have received treatment to save my life or at least taken to the public hospital far away. However, it was a strange feeling when everyone who had previously tended to me so diligently suddenly treated me like a leper.

Once word was out that the rich foreigner was actually poor, an administrator came down to assess whether or not they should carry on treating me although I had potentially broken ribs, a mild dislocation of my shoulder and had one hell of a bang on the head. It seemed he had decided to give me no further treatment. I’m not bitching as I was obviously not in any serious danger. He had a job to do and I accept that, just felt odd.

I suppose coming from a more privileged place with a national health system that treats you no matter if you’re rich or poor without a bill at the end of it all, by comparison this was strange and alien to an English boy.

For my further entertainment, the police arrived and asked me if I wanted to file charges against the driver. I found out at a much later stage that the driver had no licence and the accident was caused by the simple fact that his front wheel came off. I knew none of this and could not see the point in having someone who rightly or wrongly gave me a ride thrown into jail. I had the choice to not ride on his bike and wait for a slightly safer illegal side-car.

That was the irony for me. There was no other choice, a dangerous motorbike or an illegal side-car which was almost as dangerous. I opted to ride the bike so in my thinking at that time, I was equally to blame. However, I wasn’t in receipt of any of this information at the time regarding him not having a licence or the dangerous state his bike was in. I wasn’t in a position to make an informed decision.

Looking back, I don’t regret it even armed with that knowledge. To punish him surely you have to punish local government for letting this dangerous transport situation flourish and offer no realistic alternatives. The approach to upholding the law seems to be to find a scapegoat, punish him but do nothing to stop such occurrences happening again. I say this because I was only one of many people injured and killed on the Catigan road over time.

After I declined the invitation to file charges, the driver turned up. I did actually think it may have been out of concern for me but by the time he left, I was no longer sure. I told him the police wanted me to file charges but I declined then he started to tell the twin’s mom what had happened. This was the first bit of any information I received as to how I ended up in hospital. Apparently, I went over his head when the wheel came off and landed in the road. I’m glad to say the driver, as it turned out, was not seriously injured; just surface wounds.

His wife proceeded to keep on informing us how much of a problem this accident was causing them as now he can’t work and his bike has damages to the tune of how many pesos, I can’t recall, but was interesting to note she already had a figure on it.

I may be wrong and some of the conversation was not in English but Visayan. It seemed she may be suggesting, I should pay towards it although she never asked directly. It is possible I may be doing her a disservice and assuming too much but it felt that way. There again, idle chat can get quite insensitive sometimes in the Philippines. It’s possible she wasn’t thinking about what she was saying.

The reply from the boys mom was “yes, you have a very big problem there, and we have a bigger one here,” looking at me as she said it. They left.

Having realised I couldn’t pay for the treatment, I decided to leave. We didn’t have enough between us and a cell phone was left with them as security for the balance which we paid a few days later. This was to be the start of a very difficult final month for me here in Catigan.

In short, the moral to this story? Make sure you have accident insurance at the very least before you come to the Philippines. Reckless? Well, maybe; living in Catigan, you have no choice sometimes.

Possibly improved my looks

Possibly improved my looks

Taken the morning after

Taken the morning after

My shoulder, arm, knee and head took the brunt

My shoulder, arm, knee and head took the brunt

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Is There a Joke in It?

JokeI have often thought what a difficult job it must be to be a comedian in the Philippines as they have a particularly amusing habit of having to announce a joke. When you’ve asked questions and got to the bottom of it, it’s again just one of those things which is easily explained and many of the assumptions as to why this is are not what they seem. Allow me to be a little clearer.

I was baffled as to why people here often say “joke” at the end of the sentence. It can be said in a variety of ways; sometimes to cover embarrassment at what they had said, or often simply to announce that it was meant humourously.

The covering embarrassment aspect is a difficult one to explain so bear with me. If someone compliments you, chances are they may kill the compliment by saying “joke” at the end to cover the embarrassment of having complimented you. It’s as if saying something nice about you causes an after-blush at having said it, so they say “joke”. I won’t pretend to fully understand it but the best I can do to explain is to say it’s possibly due to shyness. It’s like saying “I like you” then following it with “not really” to mask their embarrassment of having flattered you. Yes all very confusing.

That’s one way that joke is used at the end of a statement but the other use of saying joke is a little misleading too. I used to think that perhaps they had trouble working out what is funny and what isn’t and needed telling. I was utterly confused by the “joke” at the end as after all shouldn’t we know that without being told.

However this was simply my misunderstanding and Filipinos are not missing the joke as often as it seems nor are they explaining that it is a joke literally. So why do they need to announce it’s a joke?

Well it’s nothing more than a punch line which is commonly said after a humourous comment.

It’s a little like the old music hall drum roll at the end of a one liner in painful British music hall jokes which later was turned into saying boom boom after the punch line. Well, with Filipinos it isn’t necessarily after just one liner’s, it’s just announcing a joke, a little like canned laughter (which is used frequently on TV and radio here).

Why am I bothering to explain this? Well its one of many sources of misunderstanding between foreigner and Filipino. It’s a silly thing but I for one thought that they simply didn’t know a joke until they were told to laugh. Well it’s true up to a point but that’s common in many cultures. Americans invented canned laughter, British in days gone by would say boom boom, Filipinos say joke.

Sometimes it’s said to cover an unflattering remark or mild insult; they cover it by saying “joke” after. It’s as if to reassure you they are teasing and it wasn’t meant offensively. Confused? So am I.

The moral of this tale is, don’t assume it’s down to any kind of inability to recognize humour, it’s just something they say.

Filipinos laugh long and loud and are generally a happy people without meaning to sound cliché, but they are. Regardless of their willingness to laugh, sometimes they are not always going to get some of our humour. There is an excellent chance they will be taking your words literally and sometimes offended due to misunderstandings in what you have said. It’s happened to me dozens of times.

English is not their everyday tongue.If occasionally irony sometimes passes them by; I think it’s entirely forgivable when you consider that English is not the first language.

Being a silly European fellow, I had quite a time whilst learning the importance of “Joke” when I was teasing or just making a funny remark. Thinking myself to be a bit of a comedian I would happily make remarks which could be teasing the person or just generally being a fool. You would not believe the amount of times I unintentionally insulted people and wouldn’t know it.

In instances where it has happened with me, it could possibly be because of the crossover between English and how they comprehend English and not realizing I’m not serious. They tend to take your words very literally in their interpretation. When you think about it, it’s obvious as English does not come natural, it’s taught.

Although Filipinos have the talent to learn English as well as their various dialects and nearly all speak Tagalog, it’s asking a lot to expect them to fully comprehend the abstract in English with ease, as the abstract is often a feature in humour.

It’s not something entirely due to misunderstanding English as they do the same amongst themselves and you always hear them saying “joke” after they have made a funny or tease even in their own dialects. It’s just something they do and its open to misreading it from our side as foreigners.

However, you have to realize that the potential for misunderstanding or simply not getting you in the first place is far higher with someone speaking in English to them. We don’t always make it simple for them in how we put things in humourous conversations.

It’s totally impressive that even those with basic schooling in many cases still have some grasp at least of English. But you have to remember that where there is any degree of difficulty in understanding, they are going to take the literal meaning first before the abstract can be understood. You say “joke” at the end and they will re-process your remark and chances are no offense will be taken and they will see the joke.

This may seem a tedious point to write about, but I do so because it’s one of many areas where things are not as they seem and the likelihood for misunderstanding is high from both sides.

I’ve had conversations with other foreigners who have stated that Filipinos are dumb as they don’t know a joke until you say it’s a joke. This is harsh and misconstrued on the part of the foreigner, and I admit that I myself believed for a while that our humour was just not translatable to them. Sometimes that’s true, but assuming they say joke because they don’t know it’s a joke unless told is a major discredit to the Filipino. It’s just us not understanding the context that saying “joke” is used.

So if you’re trying to be funny, say “joke” at the end. Just be aware that some do not understand your humour, but many do and once you say “joke” at the end, they will probably laugh anyway just to be polite, but inside they may be saying to themselves, “what’s this cranky foreigner talking about”.

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Text Text

One of the first things I observed in the Philippines is the absolutely over the top use of texting. It was one of my first observations and it took me awhile to work out why.

As with most things, there is always a reason why, but coming from a place where a text is mostly used for the relaying of information or messages that are important, it really was puzzling to me when I first got here. It seemed to be a whole way of life for some.

As a new arrival as I was at the time, I had been in restaurants and observed groups of six sitting at a table, awaiting a meal and out of the six, probably four of them would be constantly texting. The other two probably want to text but can’t think what to text at the time. Whereas I smoke like a maniac, it appeared that people here texted for something to do with their hands which I guess is healthier than smoking.

Turn your head the other way, there’s a dating couple sat opposite each other and instead of looking into each other’s eyes and talking, they are both texting and barely a word is exchanged. I’ve often wondered if it’s because they are so shy and are texting each other. I was very bemused by all this to say the least.

You walk through the streets and people are texting as they walk, oblivious to everything around them and in the Philippines, it’s a dangerous practice as it’s all too easy to get in the way of a tricycle driver or fall down an open drain. It’s a national obsession, and you see text being used far more than you may observe in other countries.

I can only speculate as to why some of this is but one real reason that I believe holds ground is simply that there is no cheaper form of communication. It is very inexpensive to text in the Philippines. All the providers do promos, which offer all day texting at as little as 10 pesos. Filipinos know how to maximize a good deal and they text till they drop for very little money.

Photo courtesy of getrealphilippines.com

Photo courtesy of getrealphilippines.com

Another possible factor is that Filipinos are generally a little shy. It’s hard to define but they seem to be the kind of people who would be happier talking to you from afar and would probably be far more open through text exchange. Many romances and courtships are through text messaging. I’ve received many texts asking my name and, “Will you be my text mate?” is the question. I had never come across anything like this before and I found it fascinating.

This isn’t to say that Filipinos can’t talk, far from it. But this combination of factors especially the fact that it’s cheap has everything to do with it. It has set into the culture, and in a way it seems they are very comfortable with it.

So as you have a day’s texting for a small cost, the idea is to use it till your thumb becomes numb. Consequently, I have received some very funny texts in my time from people maximizing their promos and asking me “if I’ve had my lunch?” Prayers and quotes from god himself (whom I never knew had a cellphone). Others include “time for coffee”, “don’t forget breakfast” and even “do you love me” to which I reply, “I don’t know, who are you”?

You will observe that if you watch someone walk into anywhere like a restaurant or sit down on a bus or pretty much anywhere where it’s a little public (which is everywhere, its Metro Manila, no hiding place), then the first thing they are likely to do is grab their cell phone and just slightly hide behind it and text.

In this metropolis, a cell phone is a perfect screen. You feel very exposed and city paranoia is rife in such overcrowded places. Texting means you can hide from the world avoid unwanted attention and generally kill time.

So get used to excessive texting. You may need to give your thumbs a work out before you get here. Texting is a way of life so get used to it. They will speed past you, walk in front and then boom! Out of the blue, they just put on the brakes because of a need to text someone to say that they are “nearly there” or something.

For me it is totally over done but I say that as someone who isn’t much of a talker, we’re not all the same. The obsessive nature of texting here has often made me smile. The over use of it makes you wonder how they ever lived before the arrival of the cell phone. I’m certain that 70% of what’s sent to each other isn’t anything important. But Some Filipinos love to chat, and when they can’t chat, they text. Sometimes they chat with someone whilst they text. I think with evolution, in a few thousand years, Filipinos will develop a cell phone as an extra limb.

I have no data or research studies available on the matter but I bet at least 30% of the texts that are sent daily say simply OK. If you’re here long enough, it’s something you will possibly fall into, too. It’s not without its benefits.

It can sometimes be a nuisance though. I have had people try to befriend me through text pretending they don’t know me. They claim to not know me but what gives it away is that they text everything in English when I’ve never replied saying I wasn’t Filipino myself. Sometimes it’s the person you bought the load from and often they tell me a friend gave them my number. It doesn’t bother me as when I’ve had enough I just ignore, but it can be used to intimidate or harass something young ladies here often experience from shy would-be suitors.

I have to admit that there have been times when I have developed the obsession, too. In bored moments, I haven’t exactly asked if they have had their lunch, but I have indulged in some very silly pointless exchanges to pass the time.

Texting here is a way of life. It’s cheap and definitely used more extensively than anywhere else I know. Lawyers, politicians even release details to media via text. Most times, I pass a police officer on duty and he’s texting. I even laughed out loud many years ago when there was a military coup going on in Makati which fortunately failed. The soldiers that were positioned outside, ready to storm the building were all fervently texting whilst waving to the cameras. Yes, it’s a text republic here. Better start training those thumbs. Filipinos are great people to observe. This aspect is just one of many aspects that make me smile and in this case a totally harmless part of being a Filipino. Go with the flow and get that promo. It’s definitely better than watching local TV. I’ve been here long enough now to also feel a little naked without my cellphone. Don’t forget breakfast, nor lunch and definitely don’t fall for the pasaload trick.

You can pass loads to people and all too often I get these requests. I’ve worked out that some send pasaload requests to everyone in their phone book. They only ask a small amount so they don’t appear too much (grabe!). The idea being, if 2 or 3 of their friends respond and send that small amount of say 5 peso load, then that pays for the day’s texting via promo.

Naughty maybe, but harmless. Take care always. Another popular text.

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Faulty Radars

Manila Traffic (Photo courtesy of www.remate.ph)

Manila Traffic
(Photo courtesy of http://www.remate.ph)

People here are a mass of contradictions, and although for the most part, they are a polite and respectful people, there are a few engineering faults. The reason I point this out is basically to warn newcomers as to what to expect.

Before I go further, I wish to state that there is nothing wrong in pointing out differences especially ones that cause much confusion between people from different cultures and with different attitudes.

Filipinos sometimes wonder what on earth we, funny foreigners, are complaining about. Well, complaining is futile here anyway, so let’s say that this is just to give a people who come from places where it’s very different (outsiders) an idea of just how different it is here. Be mentally and emotionally prepared. It’s never fully explainable, but as you grow more used to it, you begin to understand it and the keyword is accept; things are done differently around here.

I, like many, would sometimes get frustrated at many things about some of the ways here. It’s different where we come from, I’m not saying better, just different. Adaption can only come when you understand it and that takes time.

In your early moments here, you are going to have a weakened heart from the stresses, but improved lungs from all the sharp intakes of breath you will need to be taking. Yes, patience is a must here. Prepare yourself for some rather perplexing and sometimes annoying behaviour and breathe deeply. It helps if you try to work out some reasons why things are as they are.

Contrasting ways

We, foreigners, or most of us at least, come from a climate of waiting for your turn in a queue and giving a little ground when in motion so we don’t collide, usually it’s self-administered. The lack of cooperation is difficult to understand when first faced with it here.

Here the traffic jams are sometimes caused by blocking maneuvers of motorists, which gridlock the main roads that in turn affects the side roads, and much of it is caused by everyone trying to gain a one meter advantage but only succeed in slowing everything down including themselves. Even though they know they are blocking access, the one meter of room they may have to give to let another vehicle through is something they are not prepared to give. In fact, their actions multiplied by everyone else’s actions end up always in a jam. I’m not saying all traffic jams are caused by this attitude, but it is definitely a major contributing factor to the gridlock.

If you look at it practically, it’s simply funny, and I think that’s the best way to go through your days here, smiling and acceptive, even when your toes are trodden on. You are going to have days before you get used to it here when you will be convinced you will never adapt. Thing is though, you do just as soon as you accept it and stop trying to change it. Trying to change it would simply be pointless.

Try not to see it like that and just remember that the Filipino was built with a faulty radar system and that’s it. Don’t get mad; don’t start blowing off with, “Watch where you’re going, you idiot!” or “Why are you blocking the possibility of me turning by blocking the access even though you’re in stationary traffic?!” Just keep remembering, it’s never been any different here and that little engineering fault many have, faulty radars.

If you’re ever foolish enough to drive, you had better develop the same mentality. If you drive here like you do at home, with courtesy, then you will possibly move 70 meters in a day.

Same applies when walking around. Many Filipinos in Metro Manila have no built-in radar whatsoever. A walk through a market, street or even mall is somewhat bewildering.

Now, we all know that when someone is walking forward and someone is approaching from the side that normally you just hold back half- a step to avoid a collision, if that person is fractionally ahead of you. It’s instinctive, or so I thought. Here in the Philippines, that is the part of a Filipino which sometimes malfunctions and collide, you probably will. Yet strangely, they don’t actually collide as much as you expect, it’s like they are so used to it, it’s become a skill. Collisions are inevitable when people give no quarter, but when it happens; they don’t get mad, just used to it.

Yes, we are talking on foot here but the same applies with traffic. It makes no odds if you’re a huge bus or a tricycle, the radar just isn’t working. So both are going through and nothing is going to stop them. That sometimes appears to be the thinking sometimes.

Few will say sorry when they walk into you, as it’s just something normal. The radars are faulty so we will collide so what’s to say sorry for.

As much as you take it in your stride, when it comes to the larger vehicles, it can be a very UN-funny feature of the Filipino. The standards of driving are about what you would expect after someone was taught to drive steering a carabao, and then given the keys to a car. Even worse, a bus or jeepney as the crazy antics of motorists here are just unbelievable!

Painting lines on the road is a total waste of money. I actually believe that some just think they are a cool road design and they have no idea why they are there. “Why have 3 lanes when you can have 7?!” also seems to be part of the thinking. What they haven’t worked out is that half the traffic chaos is simply caused by insane driving, trying to get ahead and leading to blocking. There is little to no guidance from authority as to how to drive in a cooperative manner; they simply don’t know any other way, they have never been shown.

The traffic weaves in and out from one lane to the other, and if you leave any gap, someone will take the space. They drive giving no quarter, won’t let you in or out if you need to change lane unless you force the issue, forget courtesy; you won’t often see that when driving around the capital although it does happen on occasion.

If you need to change lane in tight traffic, you would have to do it in a way that would suggest to others that if they won’t back down, you are going to exchange paintwork; as if you don’t, nobody will let you across. They simply don’t look at you and keep filling the space. This is a feature of rush hour traffic, a time when I wonder why anyone would want to travel in a car. Naturally, may be a little easier between 9AM and 3PM, the window hours between the number coding restriction rule.

If you don’t want to lose your cool and spend the rest of your days in a Filipino jail for a road rage murder, then don’t try and drive. Even bungee jumpers would think twice. It’s too slow to be dangerous in many places but it’s mental. Higher speed driving is another thing again. When on an open road, you will notice some insanely dangerous overtaking maneuvers. A heavy truck is hurtling towards them in the opposite direction but no matter. They overtake and it’s just an act of God that they don’t collide every time. They make frightening judgments as regards risk and just overtake regardless of what’s coming in the opposite direction.

If traffic is blocked going on one direction only, then many will simply go over to the lane for oncoming traffic and try to pass but as many do it, that means the oncoming traffic is blocked too by vehicles going the opposite way. It’s selfishness at its most extreme and none benefit for it but they will never stop and authority seems to be not dealing with it. They are used to it, too so doubt that they even recognize the problem; it’s self-created chaos.

Disable your radar

If you’re here for the long-term, then spend a long time working out how they do things on the road before you buy a car. You just might not want to use it.

In crowds, again the lack of radar will mean you will be on constant collision course with others. Now the question is, can you get used to this quickly and simply disable your own built-in radar system? That’s possibly the best way to counteract it, even though you don’t feel comfortable doing it.

Now what happens after you have been here a long time? You find yourself behaving more and more like many locals do. It’s simply a matter of do it or don’t ever get home. Nobody is going to sweetly hold back and let you through, at least not in rush hour or in the most crowded places such as market or busy street when you’re walking.

Other things not radar-related are such as when awaiting to be served at a busy store, people will just come up and shout out what they wanted disregarding you were there first. How do you prevent it? You don’t. So you simply have to do the same.

As I’ve said far too often already in earlier articles, much of this is due to overcrowding and living in a city of faceless people who are simply trying to move forward quicker than anyone else. You are going to have to adapt, stay cool, and lose some of your inbuilt manners.

This is Metro Manila or at least much of it. In these situations, these people don’t seem right at all and it has you seriously asking yourself, will you ever get used to it.

To a people who haven’t seen it any other way, it’s not such a problem as it is to us. We’re not used to it; it’s against what we were taught. Simple moral is re-learning everything you know; this is Metro Manila.

After a while watching how locals manage is possibly your best tip. I spent months possibly a year or 2 really useless at crossing roads here. They come at you from all directions and it’s scary. Then I noticed that in a strange kind of way, they are not always as inconsiderate as I thought. Simply step out gently, hold up your hand, they slow down to let you cross. The etiquette is there; it’s just nothing like how we do it. Observation is the key. Locals don’t get mowed down or not often at least. Do the same, it works. You have to simply announce you’re stepping out with a raised hand; they don’t actually kill you, I even get smiled at often by the one I’ve stepped in front of.

It’s a collection of cities with 12 million people in it. It works for them. I know it’s not easy to change the way you have done things all your life, but simply disable your radar and go. Our nice little ways work fine in our less hectic spaces in our home countries. It doesn’t apply here.

I believe people are aware of the negative impact of their radar-less ways. In quieter situations, it’s less apparent. Be risqué and the biggest lesson to learn from locals is don’t get mad, stay cool and you find your patience emerges. Before you know it, you will be off the Valium.

So I hope this advice makes sense as you start out in the capital. It will take a lot longer than a month’s vacation here to adapt, but you will. Switch off your radar, and just collide and smile. Patience is something I’ve learnt from the Filipino. They don’t get mad; why should we?

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Taxis, the Ugly

Part of me is not enjoying writing these recent articles concerning different ways of getting around the capital. I said before I don’t want to do the usual moaning and sneering that happens far too often when writing about the Philippines generally.

But the subject matter over the last few posts has all involved transport around the capital which puts me in a tricky situation. In a metropolis of around 12 million people, its not too surprising that public transport is not without its problems. Much of it is difficult which is to be expected in such an overpopulated place.

So I have had to report it as just that, problematic, but I also want to say that it’s not about complaining; it’s about how it is and saying so. It’s the Philippines it is incomparable with Surrey in England, Vancouver in Canada or Sydney Australia. It’s not saying the public transport is inadequate as in a city of 12 million, I cant see how it could possibly be smooth sailing.

Neither do I want to sound an alarmist with this next article. Crime is not unique to the Philippines, far from. But as my purpose with these blog posts is to try and enlighten the would-be traveler, it is also my role to encourage them to stay safe. Forgive me highlighting a negative with this post and others, but I wouldn’t be doing a good job if I didn’t warn people against possible problems.

I have spent the most part of 7 years here and much of that time was in Metro Manila. No such incident has happened to me, but it has happened to people that I know. So from that point of view, I’m just trying to keep you safe but I also want to emphasize that being a robbery victim in a taxi is not commonplace, but it happens.

Call-a-Taxi.com.phIn Metro Manila, there are things you need to know when it comes to catching taxis. Chances are it will not happen but making you aware can increase your chances of avoiding such an event.

It occasionally happens that a rogue taxi driver and accomplices could stage a robbery and the passenger in the taxi be the target. In fairness to the police, it’s a very difficult crime to prevent as the whole point is to isolate a victim and how can the police come to grips with preventing it, I don’t know.

A taxi is an ideal vehicle to rob someone in. The passenger is confined in the back of a car unable to escape and the driver will then stop at a prearranged spot and the accomplices will jump in and put the passenger through an extremely harrowing ordeal.

Sometimes it is a rogue taxi driver who will also pretend to be a victim as well to cover his involvement, or a stolen taxi used solely for the purposes of holding up unsuspecting passengers and taking just about everything they have. Not only that, they are likely to take you to an ATM and get you to draw out your cash for them.

It is well worth reading these accounts by victims of such crimes. I think the graphic descriptions of hold ups in taxis, as told by the victim really does bring it home that you should never be too relaxed when jumping in a taxi.

It is difficult to even advise you as to how to avoid it when you’re considering waving down a taxi to get home. How can I tell anyone to not carry valuables, cash or ATM and credit cards? One of the reasons many take a taxi is because they feel safer traveling that way.

The poor victim only sees a taxi. There are no clues that the cab he or she has waved down is being used as a robbery vehicle. There are ways to avoid it, but sadly too often, taxi companies fail in providing an ordered taxi. Like anywhere else, you can call a taxi company and request one to come and get you. You have the security of knowing the name of the company and being able to only get into the taxi with the corresponding taxi company name on the side.

These credible companies offer a pick up service but unfortunately, on occasion they will tell you that there are no cars available which isn’t great considering your trying to keep safe but is bound to happen sometimes. However, there are many options listed so you should get at least one that can oblige you.

GrabTaxiThere is a new service available GrabTaxi which is definitely a step forward. Its an app for your smartphone and as I have not used it nor have a smartphone, I will leave a review for you to consider.

The only person I know who tried to use it failed in his mission, and was told that no cabs was available, lets hope that isn’t a common occurrence.

There are other providers around the country soon to be active such as MiCab that serves Metro Cebu.

When they do have an available car, they only add a small charge to the fare for preordering which is very reasonable. I have no idea why, but some taxi companies previously did not seem to be aware of the importance of having such vehicles available at all times in the interest of passenger safety. All too often, they fail you and leave you at risk. I hope that this app is a step in the right direction and puts pressure on companies not affiliated to this service to offer something you can rely on.

Still though, many resort to waving down a random taxi, and hoping for the best.

In no way is any of this suggesting you should not ride in a taxi, but you do need to know how to keep as safe as possible. I emphasize again, I have never personally been subjected to such an event so let’s not overreact.

Riding Taxis and Avoiding Problems

I definitely recommend you to pre-order your taxi from a reputable taxi company. The reasons are obvious. If you pre-book, you know which taxi company is picking you up. When he arrives, ensure he matches the information the taxi firm gives you. If they don’t offer you details, then request for the registration/plate number of the taxi coming to get you from them along with the body number, and company name. It would appear ththe GrabTaxi service does that but as we do not all have smartphones, its not for everyone. Keep a log of numbers of reputable companies in your phone.

It may seem a little over the top, but when possible, it’s worth the extra trouble to stay safe and it will only cost you a little extra, about a dollar and a half.

Of course, there will be times when you have to simply wave one down, or wait a very long time for an available taxi. If you find yourself not able to pre-book or don’t have a smartphone for the grabtaxi or MiCab service, and need to catch one more randomly, then there are some things you can do to keep you a little safer.

MiCabLook out for a recognized taxi company. Try to avoid an independent operator.

Often robberies are done in a taxi that is stolen. Of course, you would not know that when you get in. The golden rule is, if you don’t feel sure of anything, get out.

Often if you are being set up for a robbery, the driver will try and make it as easy as possible to trap you even before the accomplices get in. An example of this could be asking you to sit on a certain side of the vehicle. What sometimes happens is that one door is fixed so you cannot open it, and when the accomplices get in you are trapped, hence manipulating you to the side where the door doesn’t open.

It would be wise to check that the door opens before you set off and if the driver seems to be trying to maneuver you to a particular side of the car, regard it as suspicious and get out. Don’t concern yourself with manners, it’s your safety you need to think about. After checking the door opens ok, lock it and the other door and insist the driver locks the front seat door, too.

Outside of the concern of being a robbery victim, the other lesser concerns are simply avoiding being taken advantage of. Some drivers will smell the greenery on you as a newcomer in town and may be tempted to take maximum advantage assuming you have no idea of what is going on.

Basically, ignore any talk of traffic and fixed price or even when they blatantly say extra (yes, they actually say that). Just say put the meter on please. If they refuse, take down the details which are written on the inside of all the doors and report them to the LTFRB then get out.

It helps if you take on board as much information as possible from someone you know about your journey. They should be able to give you a rough timeline for the journey and how much to expect to pay. They can even give you instructions to give to the driver. This will alert the cab driver into being aware that you just may know a little more about where you are than he first suspected.

If he senses you are being observant and perhaps giving him the impression you know a little about the locality, it may prevent him taking liberties. Turn on a little of the actor in you and pretend you know a little more than you do. Naturally, you are going to look foolish on occasion and make slips but it’s worth it. If some of them smell the greenery on you they may take advantage.

LTFRBAny problems then take down his details which are written on the inside of the door and report him to TAXI COMPLAINTS HOTLINE NUMBER or the LTFRB (Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board) at +63 921 4487777.

When possible take someone with you. Naturally, as time goes by you will have to travel alone, but whilst your learning, take your teacher with you.

You need to be watchful of the meter as very occasionally some drivers use magic. Keep a close watch on the rate that the meter goes up. If you’re suspicious, observe his hands. Magic is a button they click discreetly to accelerate the meter rate so try and observe if he is clicking a device in his hand.

I hope these tips do not alarm you and it could be said that its overcautious advice I’m handing out here. Whether that is true or not I will let you decide, but when your new here at least, exercise maximum caution.

As I keep saying, chances are the worst of the abuses like robbery won’t happen. Chances you will be taken advantage of are more of a likelihood. I hope these tips help. If in any doubt whatsoever, don’t be shy about it, just get out at the earliest opportunity.

There is no easier way to get around so of course you will want to use taxis. Just be observant and don’t take unnecessary chances.

Stay safe.

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Taxi’s the Good, the Bad

Taxi cabThe most convenient method of travel around Metro Manila is by taxi. They are cheap and there are certainly plenty of them. Let it also be said that most are usually quite decent and fair and do as they should by putting the meter on before they drive off with you on board. They also take you to your destination via the shortest route, are polite and I cannot say enough good to credit these guys.

Taxi travel in Metro Manila can most definitely be problematic at the best of times. There are many things you need to be aware of when riding in taxis. But at the risk of overplaying a point, I want to ask readers to remember the good ones before we jump into an “all of them” type of discussion. It is not all of them that do wrong.

It has to be faced though that many of them are simply awful and have dirtied the name of a noble profession. I find it so sad that minorities always blacken the reputations of the majority. Unfortunately, some of the characters that call themselves taxi drivers have done a major disservice to the many decent ones whom often get tarred with the same brush. It’s time to give a little praise to the ones nobody talks about.

I say this because most times, I have few problems with taxi drivers. I never share stories with friends about how good the driver was nor comment about his politeness.

However, when you get a bad one that attempts to set an inflated price and refuse to put on the meter or take you on a detour to maximize the fare, then that always becomes a talking point. We tend to forget the good ones.

You only have to stand on the curbside in most locations for a short while, and it probably won’t be long before one comes along with the overhead light on meaning he is unoccupied.

I have ridden in brand new taxis with much appreciated air-conditioning as well as some older beaten up ones with air-conditioning that doesn’t seem to be working as well as doors or windows that won’t open. Whether old and beaten up or new, it’s noticeable that most of the drivers keep the interior clean.

The majority of the drivers are quite friendly and competent in English. I cannot honestly say that most are great drivers unfortunately. Taxi drivers are among the worst of all drivers in Metro Manila (in my opinion). There are many taxi companies and most are credible.

The ones to watch for are listed here. If you require a taxi for a longer period of time, you can negotiate and get a fixed price and use them for the morning, afternoon or all day should you require it. Likewise going out-of-town can be arranged at a negotiated rate.

Taxis are without doubt the easiest way to get around, especially if you’re a visitor here. The biggest asset is the sheer volume of them. However, it is important you don’t be too casual about riding in taxis.

Taxi’s the Bad

Taxi-LineI stand by my comments regarding most taxi drivers being not so bad and we should not forget that. But again, we are in territory where certain things have to be said. Some Metro Manila taxi drivers are totally beyond the limit. It also seems that little is being done about it.

I know I am very much not alone in my thinking. It’s not just outsiders that think it, Filipinos do, too. Not many have kind words for taxi drivers in Metro Manila. That is somewhat unfair sometimes as I find many to be just fine, but when they are bad, they are bad; and it stays in your head to the extent that the good guys are forgotten.

There have been times I could simply beat one of them to death with a soft toy out of sheer annoyance and frustration. I should now set out to explain why I’m starting to sound a little deranged and explain my murderous statement.

Now, unless I am misinformed, part of their remit as a taxi driver is to take passengers where they want to go within Metro Manila. In fact, on many of the taxis, you see written “to anywhere in Luzon”.

Now I can understand that some may have a problem with going out of the metropolis, but it seems that many of them only want to operate within their locality, and seem to fail to understand that a taxi service is about taking people where they want to go, and not where the driver feels he should stay.

They directly turn you down if you want to go further than a couple of kilometers and unbelievably say, “too far”.

First off, how do you make a living by only going within a couple of kilometers? You are a taxi driver, then be a taxi driver and actually take the passenger where he wants to go. It is not supposed to be just about them. They should offer a service for the customer that they actually expect from a taxi driver. Why on earth would you be one if you were not prepared to do that?

Sadly, this is common thinking with many individuals that are running a business in the Philippines. They seem to fail to recognize that if you offer a service, you are offering that service for the client; it is not just about you as a provider. If you’re not providing anything near the service a customer expects, then give up your taxi and sell bananas.

This is an all too common conversation with taxi drivers here in Metro Manila. It goes something like this, “Take me to Quezon City,” I would say. So if I’m in such as Manila itself, that means you want to ride approximately 8 to 10 kilometers. The taxi driver will reply, “Too far.”

Somewhat bemused by this response, I will say, “What do you mean too far, you’re a taxi, aren’t you?” The second reason they give you is, “Oh, traffic,” too which I cannot control my sarcastic instincts, and reply “So you’re a taxi driver, so you should know even better than me that Metro Manila is always traffic, so what exactly do you mean?”

Usually, at this point, they don’t know what to say anymore and simply resort to saying “No, I’m not going there,” and wait for you to get out. I usually oblige and cannot resist out of sheer disbelief uttering a few expletives on my way out. I, then, look for someone who actually wants to be a taxi driver instead of just going ’round the corner patrolling his own neighbourhood.

If I am able to get any kind of explanation, they usually say, “I don’t make anything coming back.” Well, for me as an ex-courier driver, I really cannot understand their logic. If they are over the other side of the city after dropping you, well they’re a taxi, aren’t they?

Isn’t it a given that you pick up your next ride near to where you dropped off your customer? There are so many places they can go nearby where they will pick up another ride. This is how you earn a living, I would have thought. Eventually, you will find yourself back nearer your own area, and then you go home.

How on earth can you call yourself a taxi driver if you’re only prepared to take people no further than the smell of the abobo your wife is cooking? That’s the logical way to make a good living from driving a cab I would have thought, and that way you don’t have to waste fuel with an empty cab and you can collect far higher fares than by just going round the corner.

Then they tell you that it’s hard to make a living driving a cab. I’m not surprised with that attitude but they won’t see the logic of what I just said so I’m wasting my time ever trying to tell them, I’ve tried.

Airport taxiOn a bad day, you may encounter 3 or 4 of these before you find one that actually is aware that he is a taxi driver and they are supposed to drive wherever you want to go. They operate as if it is for their convenience and not yours. Take a deep breath and just let him go.

Unfortunately, this is not the worst of the sins of certain Metro Manila taxi drivers. So you have found one quite happy to take you where you want to go. So now it is time to try their luck and take maximum advantage with lines such as “Oh, that’s far!” when you state your destination and then proceeds to give you an inflated price.

The justification for this is the old one “Oh, traffic!” What he is really trying to do is take you without using the meter, which gives him the opportunity to inflate the price, sometimes by a huge amount compared to what the fare would be if it was metered.

The next trick is to simply not put on the meter. The intention being when they arrive at your destination, they are going to ask some outrageous amount, and think you are simply going to pay it.

I had one driver once who set off with me on board and didn’t put on the meter. I said, “Can you please put on the meter?” He pretended not to hear me and continued to drive. I again said, “Hey, you haven’t put on the meter yet.” Again, he pretended to not hear me and then even started speaking on his phone disregarding my request for the meter to be put on. Somewhat annoyed by his antics I decided that I should use it to my advantage and also to teach him a lesson for being so underhand. I patiently waited for him to finish his fictitious phone call and said to him, “I have asked you several times to put on the meter, so I will tell you what, whatever it says on the meter when I get out is what I shall give you, as it’s not on, that means nothing.” Faster than a speeding bullet, he put on the meter, and I got the first 1 and a half kilometers for free so I had the last
laugh.

Never allow them to not put on the meter. If he won’t put it on, get out and if possible take down his details and report him. His details are written on the inside of the door. Take it all down and call the LTFRB (Land Transportation Franchising & Regulatory Board) that handles customer complaints against any public utility within Metro Manila.

Some will even say, “Meter is not working!” If it’s not working then he should be having it repaired and not working until it is, so he is lying, and so again, get out.

The fun may not be ended yet as there are other little tricks, and one of them is very difficult to avoid if you are a stranger in town. Despite the fact that many of them don’t want to go much further than round the corner, when they do take you, they want to go all around the capital to go somewhere 5 kilometers away. Yes, the unrequested tourist route is the next possible problem.

Being fully aware that you don’t have much idea about where you are and don’t know much about Metro Manila, they take you on a joyride to put the maximum on the meter trying to prolong the ride.

Avoiding this isn’t easy as how do you know if he is going the super long way round or not. I’m sure this trick isn’t unique to Metro Manila, I imagine it’s something taxi drivers all over the world have done at some time, but there are some here that take it too extremes.

I wish the more negative aspects of traveling by taxi were finished here, but unfortunately I have one more thing I have to warn you about. Something I was almost a victim of myself.

basicOn rare occasions, you may find yourself subjected to a little magic. This is the name given to a little device that some taxis have which manually moves the meter by clicking a little handheld button. This is something they are more likely to use on a foreigner in the belief you are not aware of the rate that the meter clicks up a few pesos. Every time they click the button, the meter increases.

My good fortune was due to the fact I had recently seen a feature on local TV all about the taxi drivers magic button. I took a taxi to Coastal Mall in Parañaque from Manila.

He may have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for his own stupidity. Not too long after I got into the taxi and told him where I wanted to go, I dozed off. For some reason, he never used his magic button to increase the fare on the meter whilst he had his best opportunity. I was happily sleeping and when I woke, I observed the meter, and it was displaying the amount I would have expected for the distance we had covered.

As we got closer to Coastal Mall, we hit traffic. As we approached the heavy traffic, I took another peek at the meter and again nothing seemed wrong, the amount was still what I had expected. As we were stuck in traffic, I observed the meter, a little anxious that being delayed would make the ride all the more expensive.

I saw the meter jump up a little and watched as it kept on jumping at a rate that suggested we was going at around 100 kilometers an hour. I kept observing the meter going up yet we were virtually stationary. He managed to add around another 150 pesos in a matter of minutes, and we weren’t even moving.

Being aware of magic, I observed his thumb. I noticed, he kept clicking something discreetly in his hand and every time his thumb moved, the meter would jump up. I straight away knew what was going on.

I decided to say nothing at this point and just watch. He continued to click away almost doubling the fare and all in stationary traffic.

When we reached Coastal Mall, he looked at his meter and told me the amount. I replied, “Are you sure about that fare, kuya (Older Brother in Tagalog), as I couldn’t help but notice your meter was going a little crazy when we were stuck in traffic!”

I didn’t have to say any more as he went into a little panic, became nervous and to avoid a problem for himself, quickly said, “Never mind what’s on the meter, call it 150 pesos!” which was even less than I expected to pay. I simply replied “now that’s more like it isn’t it”, paid him the 150 and got out.

So unfortunately it’s far from joyous every time you get into a taxi in the capital. With most, you won’t have such problems, but with far too many, you will.

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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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