(The “A” is Porac in Pampanga Province. Antipolo is in the bottom right, East of Manila.)
After spending 3 days in Pampanga with my wife’s dad and mom it was time to get a few of our things together and head to Antipolo to visit her brothers. We were able to travel light because my wife still has clothes there in Antipolo and there’s an attic full of her brothers’ old clothes that I can fit into. It’s a good thing too, because it’s just not practical to try to commute in the Philippines with a lot of bulky bags or luggage.
Commuting in the Philippines can be an adventure by itself. It’s time consuming, tiring, exciting, and a bit dangerous too, especially at night. The Philippines doesn’t have any standardized form of public transportation like most other countries I’ve been in. The public transportation is all managed by private companies, or sometimes by individuals. Even the buses aren’t always part of an organization. This makes things a bit tricky. Different groups providing the same transport service may try to charge different rates. Or, the vehicle you get into might not really be a cab. You just never know there. So, when you’re in the Philippines and it’s time to go somewhere, don’t let your guard down. Even for locals it can be dangerous. My wife told me a story about how the vehicle she was in was robbed one night on her way home from work. Add to that the fact that most Filipinos think that all foreigners are rich (and that you would somehow have your whole fortune in your back pocket) and you really have to keep your eyes open.
The only exception to that is the train system in Manila. I had the distinct pleasure of riding one the first time I visited the Philippines. It was jam packed with people. Well, at least it didn’t smell bad. Despite the trains being standardized, that doesn’t make them safe. It just means the trains are all owned by the government.
There are a few other things to keep in mind. Just like anywhere else, the crime rate goes up after dark, and in 2004 the Philippines had the highest rate of homicides in the world (read that in a Guinness World Records book at a book store in Manila). Also, some forms of transportation don’t move until all of the seats are filled, unless you want to pay for the empty seats yourself. Plus, public transport in the Philippines generally isn’t as comfortable as what you may be used to if you’re from a “first world” nation. The vehicle operators will try to pack in as many people as they can to make the most money possible per trip.
Even if you’re not riding in a public transport vehicle you need to be careful while walking. Until just recently there weren’t any designated no-stopping areas for any of the public conveyances. They usually pull over to the curb, but they’ll do it anywhere, so when you’re walking around, stay away from the curbs and try not to walk in the road, unless everyone else is doing it too of course. There are now areas in Manila where buses are prohibited from entered the right two lanes, but Filipinos have a habit of not obeying traffic laws. That includes the operators of these public conveyances. I witnessed it first-hand on a bus I was on during this last trip.
So, here’s a rundown on the different types of public transport you might find. Some of them have pictures. The tricycle has video. Most of the pictures were done at night, unfortunately. The next time I’m in the Philippines I’ll try to get more pictures to update this post.
1) The Tricycle
The tricycle is actually a motorcycle with a sidecar attached. The sidecar is covered on the top and the front and two people are meant to squeeze into it. Also, two people are expected to ride side-saddle behind the driver; one on the passenger seat and one on the cargo rack, for a total of four passengers and one driver. Depending on where you are and how far you’re going you can expect to pay about 20 PHP per head. As long as you’re in the sidecar, a ride on this thing can be a blast, but if you wind up sitting on the cargo rack behind the driver, you might wind up with a sore ass… or, oddly, the urge to take a crap.
2) The FX
The FX got its name from the vehicle model that’s usually used, the Tamara FX. I’m not sure what company makes it but it’s an SUV type vehicle. It has two bucket seats in the front, with a spot in the middle for another passenger. Behind that is a bench seat and in the back are two bench seats that face inwards. This vehicle is meant to hold 8 passengers comfortably, but in the interests of making more money, 10 people are squeezed into it. Two passengers sit in the front with the driver. Four passengers are crammed together on the second bench seat, and in the back two people sit on each inwards facing bench seat.
FXs run a standard route. In the Manila area they typically come from an outlying town to an FX pick-up/drop-off point in Manila. The FX will make stops along the route for passengers to get off, or, if flagged down, for passengers to get on. You can usually find an FX stand at the major malls in Manila. They’re regularly used and at peak hours (like evening rush hour) there are usually long lines to get on them. I think in some cases they’re the only way for some people to get home.
You can expect to pay about 45 to 50 PHP for your FX ride. Oh, and one other thing… the FX usually has air conditioning, which is rare for public transportation in the Philippines.
3) The Jeepney
The Jeepney is one of the most interesting forms of transportation in the Philippines. It’s probably also the most uncomfortable. A Jeepney is interesting because it’s a big stainless steel truck that’s decorated to the owner’s taste. These decorations are typically centered on a religious, pop star, political, or anime theme. Some of them are plain and some of them are wild.
A Jeepney has two bucket seats in the front. One is for the driver of course, and one is for the passenger. The back of the truck is covered and has two long bench seats that face inwards. Along each side are sliding windows that are open for ventilation. Jeepneys usually travel a standard route as well. I haven’t quite figured out if they stay in one town or go between them, but it’s an interesting ride and it’s fairly cheap at about 17 PHP per head.
4. The Bus
Like I said before, the buses in the Philippines aren’t standardized and run by the city or federal government. They’re all privatized. There are buses that run local routes, just in the city, and there are buses that go long distances. The buses I saw in Manila that were just local looked pretty run down. They had open windows (no air conditioning), were loud, and were always packed. The buses that go long distances to the provinces, like the one my wife and I took from Angeles City to Manila, are nicer. They’re bigger, still in good repair, have air conditioning, and some even have television or radio to keep you occupied during the trip. They’re also pretty fast. The drivers are running their routes for money, not just for a job, so they like to get through as fast as possible so they can pick up more passengers.
You can hop on a local city bus almost anywhere along the route it travels. The provincial buses typically have stations set up where you can get on and off. It’s like a bus terminal. The provincial buses are usually owned by an organization, like Victory Liner or Jacliner (sp?). In Angeles City the station serviced quite a few groups of buses, but in Manila they all seemed to have their own terminal.
Depending on where you get on the bus you might be buying your ticket beforehand at the terminal counter, or you might be paying for it after the bus gets underway. A guy will come down the aisle, ask you where you’re going and hand you tickets when you pay. I couldn’t figure out how to read the tickets, but my wife looked them over before paying so there must be some system to it. One thing you can expect if you’re riding a provincial bus is for vendors to come onto the bus at terminals to try to sell things like drinks or peanuts.
I only rode a local Manila bus one time during my first visit. It was during the day and it was an interesting experience. It must not be very safe on those buses though because after that my wife didn’t want to get on another one, and she would know better, since she grew up commuting in the area.
5. The Train
The only trains I had a look at were in Manila. The stations are a real mess. More like a disaster actually. I don’t know what these people are thinking. There is no turnstyle for prepaid transit cards or coins. Every single time you want to board a train you have to get in line to buy a ticket at a ticket counter. Then you have to get in line to go through a security check where the contents of any bags you’re carrying are checked. Once you get through with these pleasantries you go to the train platform. The one time I rode the train it was so packed you didn’t have to hold onto anything to stay standing during the ride. I also had to fight to get off the train. I literally grabbed the top of the door frame and pulled myself forcefully out of the car, because no one wanted to move and risk being left behind by the train. There wasn’t room inside the train for people to shift around so you could get out.
I have no idea how far the trains go, or how many areas they service. I don’t recommend using them at all. It’s too much time, too much effort, and too much of an opportunity to get pick-pocketed.
There is a wide variety of taxis to choose from in the Manila area. Some are old pieces of junk that don’t even have air conditioning. Some look like they’re almoost brand new. My wife says the MGE cabs are good. There are also some blue taxis that seemed nice. I think they serviced NAIA (the airport in Manila).
Taxi drivers are supposed to use the meter for every trip, or at least the MGE ones are, but haggling over a flat rate fare is common as well. This is one of those times where you really need a local you know and trust to tell you whether or not your flat rate is actually a good deal. The taxi drivers generally won’t hesitate to rip you off. Some of them drive like crap too. Don’t hesitate to cut your ride short and get out if the driving is too bad. There are more than enough taxis available on the roads, especially if you’re a foreigner. Even if I’m just walking down the street in Manila and happen to be close to the curb, taxi drivers start pulling over. I think it’s part of the “foreigners must have money to waste” mentality. If I’m a foreigner and I’m on the street I must be looking for a taxi, because foreigners wouldn’t walk anywhere since they’re loaded, right? Hmmm.
This isn’t public transportation but I thought it was worth mentioning. Lots of Filipinos use motorbikes to get around, rather than cars. The gas is cheaper, you can squeeze through the traffic and get home faster, and they’re cheaper than cars. Traffic is a nightmare in Manila during rush hours and I’ve seen people on motorcycles drive between lanes or even on the sidewalks or shoulders of the road to beat the crowd. It’s got its advantages, but with the way people drive in the Philippines, I wouldn’t want to ride one. For instance, there aren’t any stop signs or traffic lights in Antipolo. You just hope the other guy stops.