Manila may not be the city with the most population, but it now ranks first as the city that has the greatest population density. :O This is according to the 2010 Census of Population and Housing: National Capital Region study conducted by the National Statistics Office (NSO) of the Republic of the Philippines in 2010. With this fact, I would not be surprised if it enters the list of the world’s most traffic congested cities as well next time.

I don’t know anyone who does not agree with the notion that traffic in Manila is plainly horrible. While there are those who are already car-pooling routinely, the rest of the  population are left with no other choice but to ride public transportation and commute on a daily basis if not only to endure shelling out more for the pumped-up prices of petrol and higher costs of maintaining a private vehicle including paying for parking fee, road penalties, road taxes and insurance.

So however way you put it, commuting is way more economical than driving your own car or car-pooling. But these expenses due from the car upkeep are well worth the safety and comfort in contrast with commuting in Manila via public transportation. I guess you really get what you pay for.

Nonetheless, commuting in Manila has its fair share of ups and downs. Here are some of them…and you can decide if it’s a pro or a con later.

Commuting in Manila: Ups and Downs

1. Commuting in Manila is a great form of exercise. You can save both money and time you would have otherwise spent in the gym!

This might not only be limited to Manila per se, but commuting provides the chance for people to exercise. We walk, run or jump to catch and step into the train, hop into the jeepney or the bus door, for instance. There are times when the number of these transports run low and the next one is expected to arrive several minutes after, while the number of people waiting for their chance to ride increases. The tendency is to fight for that chance, and so you better get your arm and leg muscles ready.

The exercise is not high-impact and it does not normally last over 20 minutes but enough to get you perspired. What’s good is that you can boot up your energy level to start the day, probably even without consuming caffeine. 😛

2. Commuting in Manila gives you a reason to wear your “warrior” costume. You don’t have to feel embarrassed.

It’s not anywhere and anytime that you can be a “warrior” in this modern era. But if ever you want to be one or at least feel like one, don’t let your dream die out. Especially if you’re fond of wearing costumes of superheroes and anime fighters, sashaying your fashion sense only indoors is such a waste. The best way to showcase your style and show the world your fancy creativity is to ride the metro rail systems in Manila. Try hopping on these trains during rush hours, for best results, and prepare for an exciting adventure. Insanely crowded, inside these trains you can find Armageddon.

If you happen to favor riding buses more, then be wary that the number of buses in Manila has been decreased to a minimum to prevent clogging with traffic. Expect a lot of pushing and shoving episodes. Carry spare clothing to change before entering your school, workplace or any event where you need to look presentable.

3. Commuting in Manila is never dull. There’s drama, comedy, romance, action and horror in every scene.

Nope, you can’t use your smartphone, tablet, mp3 player or any mobile technical gadget for entertainment unless you’re okay to feel disheartened or cry your way home. There’s a lot of sneaky eyes and hands here. But don’t fret. Not a single trip is complete without you feeling either amused somehow by fellow passengers.

Commuting in Manila gives you free entertainment and inspiration as you get to hear other people’s conversations and look at other people’s lives from a distance without pushing yourself to convene with them.

4. Commuting in Manila is like an obstacle race, “a game with no rules.”

There’s chaos on the streets. There are signs and rules however these can be disregarded for as long as there’s no policeman or MMDA officers to catch your back. Kidding. Of course these rules should be followed, but not everybody is just  complying. Buses and jeepneys load and unload passengers wherever they want. They cut lanes without prior signals and all these lead to road accidents. 🙁

The trains, buses and jeepneys in Manila are where you can also test your resilience, vigilance and your tolerance to different types of smell (body odor, pollution), noise (vehicle horns, construction in the daytime) and mentality (of pedestrians and motorists who think they are the kings or queens of the road).

5. Commuting in Manila can get you armed as a conversation-starter. 🙂

Have you ever been to a social gathering and you don’t know how to break the ice or get into the ongoing conversation? I know we all have. There are also times when you don’t have anything interesting to share because work or school is just busy, too technical or too boring to recount; and personal problems are no way in place for that group of people to empathize on.

The good thing is that you have these stories to share from your daily commute. Tell them the most recent stories about suspicious-looking guys, robbers, pickpockets, perverts and stalkers. These everyday life incidents are often regarded as educational pieces of information that can give more caution to people. They are useful knowledge everyone must know about.

6. Commuting in Manila reflects “bayanihan” and “pakikipagkapwa.”

We don’t have a prepaid card here that can be loaded and reloaded to pay the jeepney fare, taxicab fare, tricycle fare and bus fare. To reach the payment to the driver, we hand out the coins or bill to the person nearest us and request him or her to forward the payment to the driver or conductor. The catch? There are just some people who do not respond to these favors positively. Instead, they ignore you by pretending not to hear and force you to go to the front and hand over the payment yourself.

Most of the time, I am this girl who does not want to help. :mrgreen: I’ll explain: My mom advised us to sit at the back of the jeepney driver because this position is the safest. It’s farthest from the reach of robbers who tend to sit near the exit to quickly run off and get away.

Based on other people’s experiences, this makes sense. I don’t extend my arms to reach for the fare passed by passengers who sit on the opposite end or anywhere near it (see Person A or Person B in the picture below) because then I have to move to the middle and probably apply as the “driver’s assistant.” Wah liao!

I’m not to play that part, sorry. I think these passengers should learn their lesson; better sit first near the driver and after paying, move back near the exit where they feel most comfortable.

7. Commuting in Manila is like riding a roller coaster.

It’s as if a huge percentage of cab drivers, bus drivers and jeepney drivers grew up thinking that someday they can become professional race car drivers. Thanks to them and also Manila’s incessant road repairs, commuters don’t need to go to theme parks to experience riding in a roller coaster. Formation of cracks and potholes takes no respite, in order to “improve road surfaces.” Bumps on the roads are not for the faint-hearted, especially when riding on a tricycle. Can I get an amen here? 😛

8. Commuting in Manila is freaking stressful.

Instead of resting your mind after a long day’s work, you still have to scrutinize and judge whoever boards into the public vehicle you’re in. Think of escape routes and ways to distract the suspect. Shutting your eyes or taking a nap even for a short while is not a good idea. Just because they are kids or women does not mean they are harmless. For all you know, they may be members of syndicates that have swindling looks.

Training your cardiovascular and nervous systems to handle these mind boggling and nerve racking situations is best. You need not possess the running skills of a contestant in an Olympic marathon, so don’t stress yourself too much. At least though, you have to practice running and train for the run of your life either to get back at the robbers and claim your belongings or head to the nearest police station to file a report while the robber has not gotten away too far.

Are you a commuter yourself? I’d love to read your commuting stories and what say you re: commuting in Manila in the comments. 😀

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46 Responses

    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Haha. You’re not missing much. I don’t know on which particular hours in the day when the trains would be quite empty or spacious for you to be able to sit down. I have tried riding in the not-so-peak hours, very peak hours, peak hours and in every occasion, I somehow just wished to have just taken a jeepney or a bus. Expect to wait for at least 2 trains to pass to ride. 😛

      Reply
  1. Shirgie Scf

    I heard also that commuting in Manila is very cumbersome, but you know what? When I visited Manila last year? The first thing I wanted to experience was commuting. And I have proven and tested all the ups and downs you mentioned in this article.

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Hehe what type of vehicle did you ride? If it’s the cab then it’s much safer and more comfortable unlike the other forms of transportation. You’re one of a kind, I know most foreigners who are not familiar of the ups of downs of commuting here would rather hire or rent a private car to enjoy their travel.

      Reply
  2. Omar Manalansan

    Nice post. You really nailed it! Although I’m a Promdi and has not been able to commute in Manila often, I really observe it a lot with the way other people describe it. But your post is far way deeper than the usual description of others. You’re right, commuting in Manila sometimes includes comedy, drama, action, horror and other sort of entertainment. Really a nice post. Thank you for this one.

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Thanks, Omar. Those are thoughts combined from my daily commute (first-hand experience) since college. In short, commuting in Manila is really difficult! 😀 It’s easier and way more convenient to ride public transportation in the province.

      Reply
  3. Jonas Labagala

    In Manila, I experienced riding in a jeepney, taxi and MRT/LRT. The most stressful one was the taxi as they can make your journey longer than expected and you have to pay for extra money than what the meter has indicated! Damn!

    Riding a jeepney was alright as our destination was just near to the condo we stayed in and about the MRT/LRT experience, I really have to fight over other commuters just to be inside the train and I ended up standing though it was a good ride!

    I might experience these things again next year! 😀

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      That’s a very true testimony re: riding taxis. In some cases, the driver would even demand passengers to pay more than the final rate on the meter. Once I argued with him and the conversation ended up nowhere. Still I had to pay or he might do bad things. 🙁

      Stay safe always.

      Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Yup. If only I can just ride the bicycle to get me anywhere (but that would be too tiring) — or fly, if only we had wings, then we can dump the idea of commuting here. Hehe.

      Reply
  4. Mai

    I hear you on all points, dear. I’ve been a commuter since college, and I’ve had my fair share of hassles. I’ve also worked in the Manila area, and have had to ride all kinds of transportation just to get to the office. And before you know it, ‘amoy usok at ang gulo na ng buhok ko’. Although, I love riding the LRT more than the MRT, since the former is more organized. I mean, whenever I ride a full-LRT train, it never feels that congested. Anyhow, what I do love about commuting is the sense of bayanihan nga.

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Yeah. I wake up every morning, take the shower, eat breakfast and leave the house. The routine is quite basic and common. Amoy usok na rin buhok ko pagdating sa office. Sometimes I think of wearing a shower cap in the jeepney just to protect my hair.

      The LRT2 is much more organized than LRT1 and EDSA MRT3, although there are fewer guys who would stand up to give their seats up for the ladies, senior citizens and pwd.

      Reply
  5. Hainrihi

    Oh I super agree with this! There are ups and downs of Manila commuting indeed and I don’t have a car so I have no choice. I also don’t want to take a taxi coz it is expensive. Though I miss commuting because I work at home and seldom commute :(( Hahaha yes sometimes I look for it.

    Reply
  6. Teresa Martinez

    I have long been a resident of Manila and grew up with these commuting ups and downs you listed here. It would seem like a survival test sometimes bit if one can handle Manila, then I believe commuting in other places becomes relatively easier.

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      You’re right. It’s like survival of the fittest. And this is practically evident in riding the trains here. Grabe talaga ang elbowing and pushing people just to get a small spot and close the door. Guards would repeat their notice to people to wait for the next train, yet passengers don’t mind their words and insist. Everyone is fighting for their chance to hop in.

      Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      You put a smile on my face. 🙂 I agree with you there. I also dream of that day when traffic in Manila would be smooth and hassle-free, when there would be no MMDA officers required to discipline pedestrians and motorists, when stop lights and road signs would be all that people would follow, and when this place would be safe from robberies and stuff.

      Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Speaking about communicating with other passengers, I noticed that the most common question to start is “Miss, anong oras na?” or some questions about directions. Then there are follow-up getting-to-know-you questions. I don’t know if they are friendly or asking with malice, so it’s better to pass.

      Reply
  7. papaleng

    I like your thought about putting on your best “warrior” costume while commuting in Manila specially while in the bus.. ha..ha..ha.. Up to now ba buhay pa ang mga ‘manyakis’.

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Yeah buhay na buhay. There’s a maniac everywhere and I get pretty scared when I see them near me face to face. So I recommend people (not only girls) to carry pepper sprays and chilli sprays for self defense.

      Reply
  8. Francis Morilao

    You have given a good example of what are the ups and downs of commuting in Manila, how I wish I can spend time once again commuting. Maybe after two years when I go for my vacation.

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      This is why I idolize those who wear high heels in the streets. They are indeed head-turners! Grabe, I wonder how they can endure the pain for the sake of beauty. In these days, it’s also hard to wear dresses and skirts. People are in jeans and shirts most of the time because this plain outfit is the most reasonable pair to go with and I don’t blame them if they are not fashion-conscious anymore.

      Reply
  9. Dianne Salonga (@curlydianne)

    I always encounter this scene when I commuting especially the scene during rush hour. Sometimes I take the taxi if I’m in a hurry to avoid the crowd. Well for sure this scene is one of the trademark of Manila even before.

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Before, one taxi is good for only one passenger or a group of passengers who know each other (e.g. friends and family). Now, because fares are getting higher, they are okay if different passengers share the fare as long as the route is the same.

      Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      I think it’s easy to strike a conversation with people who look like vendors — of fish, flowers, toys, slippers because you know that they are harmless unlike those who carry black backpacks and big bags. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you have to also be careful in choosing the people to talk with. If you’re one who don’t seem to accept the idea of talking to strangers, a good book can make the time just fly. 😉

      Reply
  10. jane

    commuting in manila indeed is stressful my husband is always having a hard time commuting there even if the ride taxi or even they have the company car as it is always traffic

    Reply
  11. Genzel

    I remember commuting going to CEU Mendiola before I transferred here in Beda Alabang, and it was really hard for me to the point that I even got thin and stressed. Imagine, it took me 2 hours going to school, another 2-3 hours going home due to traffic. so minus my 24 hours a day I only have 19 hours left. my school was 7-5 so that’s like 10 hours and more. It’s really a challenge to commute most esp, in Manila. It may be the cheapest way but a lot of time is wasted and we can’t bring back lost time. I can relate to that train photo haha

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      I remember commuting going to CEU Mendiola before I transferred here in Beda Alabang, and it was really hard for me to the point that I even got thin and stressed. Imagine, it took me 2 hours going to school, another 2-3 hours going home due to traffic. so minus my 24 hours a day I only have 19 hours left. my school was 7-5 so that’s like 10 hours and more. It’s really a challenge to commute most esp, in Manila. It may be the cheapest way but a lot of time is wasted and we can’t bring back lost time. I can relate to that train photo haha

      Whoa. It must have been so hard for you. But wasn’t it an advantage din nga… IF you had been trying to lose weight. Even so, stress is the enemy here. I’ve been through that before as well so I can pretty much have a vivid imagination of your experience.

      Ako naman, for my first job three years ago, I had to walk 30-40 minutes to get to the train station, walk 10-15 minutes after alighting the train and getting to the jeepney station and walk again 10 minutes to our office building. After all that I would be too perspired, pwede nang ipiga ang damit ko sa pawis. So I make sure to come early so I still would have time to prep up in the washroom.

      Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Hmmm when I was deciding which car to buy, that was one of the factors that had a big weight. Having a fuel-efficient vehicle is very important. For a time, I thought of buying one that has a diesel car but I just didn’t like the designs of the selections. Anyway, now even if I have to pay like 1k a week for gas, okay na rin as compared to commuting. 😛

      Reply
  12. marri

    It’s irritating to commute nowadays especially during rush hour but then, the experience of meeting people from all walks of life is indeed interesting.

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Yes. Some people meet and turn out to be good couples. Some become the hero of one’s life, the answer to one’s prayers for the longest time. Anything can happen indeed.

      Reply
  13. Yamito Uytingco Calamba

    I can only appreciate bringing my car when im not in a hurry or its a “forever” traffic hours of the day. But commuting can get you where you’re headed in fastest way possible (READ: LRT/MRT) but looking insanely “haggard” in most times. haha

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Yeah. Many times I am caught between using the car to drive to the destination and still look pretty neat and organized (like I just walked out of the house) or sacrificing that look taking public transportation. There are pros and cons and the final decision would be based on the timing of the day, the purpose of travel, the people you’d meet with and the atmosphere/ambiance of the place you’re going to. 😉

      Reply
  14. Louie Balouie

    kawawa ka naman miss rochkirstin. bili ka nlng nga dalawang car para mas madili 🙂

    – louie balouie

    Reply

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