Misbehavior on Public Transportation in Singapore

[Update 15 June 2012: Peoples’ behavior when getting on and off trains really isn’t that much better in New York City.  In fact, it’s about the same, or maybe worse.  I suppose that’s a “grass is always greener” thing, because I may have been remembering NYC better than it was while in Singapore, or I may be remembering Singapore better than it was now that I have to deal with commuting in NYC every day.  The trains still smelled worse in Singapore, though.  I can’t forget that day my eyes burned and my wife got nauseous and we had to get off the train and wait for the following one to avoid becoming physically ill.  Not that weird situations don’t happen in NYC, like vomit, but it’s just much more infrequent.]

I’m sure that at some point, anyone interested in Singapore has read a post about people doing things that are, basically, retarded when dealing with Singapore’s transit systems.  After living in Singapore for over a year, I think it’s time for me to weigh in on the debate.  So, here’s my list!

    1) When there’s a problem with your EZ-Link card, don’t stand in front of the turn-style scanning it over and over … and over … and over … and over … and over.  Obviously there’s something wrong with your card, so after at most three attempts, get the hell out of the way and let other people through! Don’t just stand there looking stupid, annoying everyone else that’s trying to pass through to either get in or get out of the MRT station.  There’s a customer service desk usually located less than 10 feet away from the turn-styles in MRT stations.  Use it.
    2) This next one is a classic and is what people complain about most.  The people, usually older women, that stand directly in front of the train doors as it arrives.  Let me demonstrate with this handy image that I borrowed from this site.

Board MRT Confusion

    As you can see, it’s made very plain to people where they should stand.  Obviously common sense wasn’t good enough and the lines had to be put on the floor to demonstrate how to be courteous and let people off the train before getting on.  On top of that most train doors have images of local actors repeating the warning to let passengers alight from the train before attempting to board.  It doesn’t really help though.
    Here are some photos from the Outram Park Interchange MRT station that should help illustrate this point to people who’ve never been in Singapore:
Wait Let Me Come Out First
Wait Let Me Come Out First
Don't Play Play Let Me Come Out First
Don’t “Play Play”. Let Me Come Out First
Lines on platform floor at MRT train doors.
Lines on platform floor at MRT train doors.
    3) This is something that can apply in all situations, but is especially annoying if you’re in an enclosed area like a train or bus.  Don’t play your music aloud.  There’s a reason portable music players are sold with headphones.  Even if you want your life to have a soundtrack, it doesn’t mean the rest of us want to hear it.  Respect the people that are stuck being around you.  Ya, it’s a free world, but that doesn’t mean you should be rude.
    4) This follows suit with #3.  Mobile calls can come at any time, but it doesn’t mean people in the front of the bus should be able to follow along with your conversation when you’re sitting in the back seat.  Have some volume control on your voice as well, ok?  You’re not making yourself look important by talking about your mergers or financial transactions either.  You’re still just being annoying.
    5) This one is perhaps the most deadly of all, and has been addressed recently by an advertising campaign in the trains:
Stop The Horror With Soap and Water
Stop The Horror With Soap and Water
    Please, do stop the horror with soap and water.  To paraphrase someone I know, if you stink like old rotting flesh at 7:00 AM, sure it’s impressive, but it’s still disgusting.  Really disgusting.  I’ve gotten on trains in Singapore at all times of the day, whether it be early morning, afternoon or evening or late night and there’s a varying degree of odor.  Sometimes it smells like urine.  Sometimes it smells like vomit.  Sometimes it reeks of durian.  Sometimes it smells like someone shit their pants.  Sometimes it stinks of body odor the likes of which makes the eyes burn and the stomach churn.  I’m not exaggerating.  My wife and I caught a train once over in the Jurong area that stank so bad we got off at the next station to wait for another one.  My eyes were watering and my wife was trying not to puke. Ladies and gentlemen, Singapore has great plumbing.  USE IT!  PLEASE!  Wash your nasty asses before getting on the train and subjecting the rest of us to your disgusting body odor. Besides the odor, your fetid bodies are leaving trails of harmful bacteria everywhere you go.  I’m almost afraid to hold the handrails in the trains now.
    6) On buses and trains there are designated seats for the elderly, pregnant and disabled.  If you’re a 20 year old stud and you’re sitting in the reserved seat with a 70 year old woman in front of you, you’re not only wrong, you’re a jackass.  Everyone else on the train knows you’re a jackass too.

Well, that’s what I’ve got.  Feel free to add to this list by leaving a comment in the comment section below!

Public Transportation In The Philippines


(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.

6. Taxis

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.

Bonus: Motorbikes

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.

Arriving in the Philippines

Arriving in the Philippines was a much better experience for us this time. We flew into Clark Airbase in Pampanga province. The airport is small. There isn’t even an enclosed walkway from the plane to the terminal. You have to do it the old old fashioned way and walk down a flight of portable stairs onto the tarmac and then walk to the terminal.

Coming down those stairs reminded me of the flights I’ve taken into military bases in Kuwait and the US, like Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia, Biggs Army Air Field in Texas, Balad in Iraq, and the landing area for military flights at Kuwait International, near Camp Wolf. I don’t think that last one had any special name. It’s not really surprising that the disembarking process at Clark reminded me of those places, though, because Clark Air Base used to be a US Air Force installation. The buildings all had that cheap US military look and feel to them, but at least they were clean and in good repair, which is more than I can say for NAIA in Manila. That place is a dump. (Can you feel the love?)

It didn’t take long before I was reminded that I was in fact in the Philippines again. Before I had even made it past the exit doors I was assaulted by a barrage of “Hey, sir! Hey, sir! Taxi sir?!” Sometimes there’s so many of them, or they’re so insistent, that it’s hard to ignore them, but ignoring them is generally what I try to do. One thing I’ve discovered about the Philippines from past trips is that if you’re a foreigner, you will be ripped off if you don’t have a local to do your shopping for you. That doesn’t apply to major stores or franchise-type grocery stores, because they have set prices, but any stall or stand in the street is likely to try to stick you for extra cash. Filipinos have the mentality that if you’re from overseas you must have money to waste. One example of that I can give is a guy that tried to charge me 50 PHP for a pack of Marlboros, when the 7-11 around the corner was only charging 38. Who’s that guy trying to fool?

Leaving Clark Airbase was an event in itself. My wife’s parents met us at the exit area for the airport and after the formalities we moved around to the side of the building to try to get a taxi to their house in Porac, Pampanga province. At any airport you’re likely to get ripped off on cab fare, but I was shocked at the price. We weren’t even going that far from the airport, but the driver wanted 650 PHP (only 13.36 USD but very very high for the Philippines). My wife’s mom tried to haggle with the taxi coordinator, but it wasn’t working. Even so, she kept badgering the poor guy until the cab actually arrived. Neither one of them wanted to budge and in the end we wound up paying the full 650 PHP. At least the taxi justified the price. It was the size of a Jeepney, but closed in like an FX, and the air conditioning was cold. There was plenty of room for everyone and our luggage too.

The ride fromt he airport to my in-law’s house was a lot different from riding from NAIA to their house in Antipolo. Pampanga is a provincial area, so it had more of a country feel to it. Also, it looked a lot more poor than areas closer to Manila, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. We went through part of Angeles City and it reminded me of a big Antipolo.

The apartment we stayed at is in a residential area in Porac. I think the neighborhood is called Santa Cruz. The nearest city area is Angeles City. It has a mall, a movie theater, McDonald’s, Jollibee, and the typical convenience stores, food stalls, and general goods stores. Also, there are plenty of street vendors selling everything from fruit to whole roasted chickens.