GETTING AROUND IN METRO MANILA
Getting around in a new city can be daunting, especially when you do not speak the local language. This article is designed to take some of the mystery away from the transport choices in Manila in the Philippines.
There are lots of different ways to get around Manila
Taxi is by far the easiest and most convenient way for a foreigner to get navigate their way through the city. Most drivers are friendly enough and speak a degree of English. Like any city, they will have a chat with you about the topic of the day. They are cheap by western standards. As soon as you get in the cab, the meter will be set at 40 Pesos. This will get you 500 metres and then it’s 3 and a half Pesos for every 300 metres after that. Waiting time is 105 Pesos ($2.50) per hour. So while the taxi is idle in traffic or at a red light you pay this amount. For example, a 20 minute, 11 kilometre ride from the airport to Makati will cost about 210 Pesos or $4.90 (made up of start price P40, 11 km distance P146 and idle time of 13 minutes P23).
A taxi takes a shortcut across the sidewalk. Photo courtesy of crankandpedal.files.wordpress.com
Airport taxis are more expensive and usually yellow in colour. A higher flag fall (P70) and higher kilometre rate (P4). If you are travelling a distance, it might be cheaper to walk outside the airport or swap taxis after a few suburbs. Be careful as these taxis don’t just operate from the airport, and if not careful you might flag one down and pay a lot more than usual. Always insist on using the meter. One of the local scams is to say that the meter is broken or un-calibrated. This is not true, and in fact, illegal for a taxi to operate if it is true. Be wise, be nice and ask to stop and get out if they will not turn on the meter. This can be scary if you are in a foreign city, but there will be another taxi along fairly soon. Even if a price is set and not using the meter it does not mean that this will be the final price. Once I agreed on a price of P100 for a ride, then when I got out the driver said we had agreed on P500 and I had mis-heard him. My luggage was in the boot, we haggled a bit and I got him down to P300 as I just wanted to get home. Not a huge sum of money, but no-one likes to be scammed.
Traffic jams are very common in Manila. Always allow extra time to reach your destination if you can.
Try to have small denominations as close to the fare as possible, as some drivers will pretend they have no change and then they forget how to speak English. Most do not have seat belts in the back and only some have them in the front. I always put on the seat belt if there is one. You wouldn’t drive without one at home, would you? All in all taxis are the best way to get around, but also the most expensive.
Jeepneys are probably the most fun transport to ride in Manila. The actual ride is not the best, but there is just a coolness factor of what you are riding in. These vehicles were left over from the Americans when they were in charge here. They were converted to long wheel bases to become passenger transport. They have bench seats up both sides of the walls and the 15-20 passengers face each other.
A Jeepney can be an inexpensive and fun way to get around if you dare
No seat belts, just sometimes a rail on the roof to hold on to. It costs 8 Pesos per ride regardless of the distance travelled, but the furthest they usually travel is the next couple of suburbs. Learning which one to catch can be tricky, but they usually have the route written on it. It helps if you know the local area. To get them to stop is the same as hailing a cab. Once aboard, your 8 pesos is passed down from person to person until it reaches the driver,
who can negotiate Manila traffic and sort out change at the same time. How he knows who has paid and who hasn’t is a mystery. When you are ready to disembark, just say ‘Para’ which means stop and hop off. Hot, crowded, smelly and smoggy but effective and cheap.
These are motorbike/scooters with sidecars welded to them, a tricycle that will take you to your destination for 15 pesos. Do not expect to go long distances in these contraptions; they only will take you with-in the suburb. It will carry as many people as will fit, but it costs extra. I have personally been on one with 7 people including the driver. I say ‘on’, as people ride on the back of the scooter as well as in the sidecar. Motorbike Taxis can be a handy and economical way of getting about locally.
A Tricycle is a great way to travel short distances
It is the same concept as the Motorbike taxi, but is pedal powered. Again, don’t expect to go too far or too fast, but these riders will help save your legs. They are usually used to go to and from Jeepney stops. They are useful in the rainy season and floods as so not to have to walk through puddles and flood waters and can also offer shade on hot days.
A Pedicab has been modified to carry things other than people
Also know as the MRT or LRT, catching the train can be a good way to get around and if you want to experience what Manila is like for the locals. A fare will cost between 10–15 Pesos one way. As the traffic can often get congested in Manila, the train can be a great alternative to get you to your destination quicker. The MRT and the LRT both have 1 line going in each direction. There does not seem to be a timetable, but a train comes every 5 minutes. The front two carriages are reserved for women, the elderly and more fragile passengers. The rest is left for the men and more adventurous females. The trains can also get quite busy and commuters can get squashed in quite tightly and it is sometimes be necessary to wait until the next train arrives before you can fit in the cabin. At the end of the MRT you can disembark and walk a short distance to the LRT line to continue your journey. The MRT follows the EDSA highway and was built to ease traffic congestion, with limited success. Be expected to be searched at the entrance to the stations. The security is stricter than malls, and will rummage around in your bags until they are certain you are not carrying weapons. They usually pat down passengers as well.
Manila Train stations
Buses are the most used transport in Manila for locals without a car. They can travel from very small inter-suburban distances right up to the length of the country. The price depends on how far you travel and what extras the bus has. For instance, an air conditioned bus will cost more than one without. Buses will generally stop and pick up people anywhere along their route, not just designated stops, although the authorities have been trying to change that to improve traffic flow. The buses have a conductor who will jump out at each stop with the destination on a bit of cardboard or wood and announce where the bus is headed and coax potential passengers onto the bus. When you hop on one that is to your liking, just sit down and the conductor will eventually come to you to collect your fare. Keep the ticket he issues you as, more often than not, an inspector from the bus company will hop on and check your tickets. I think this is more to keep the conductor honest rather than trying to catch passengers dodging fares. When you are nearing the place you want to stop, stand up near the door and the conductor will tell the driver. Sometimes he will not come to a complete stop. If you are young and fit, he will slow down and expect you to jump off the bus. Travelling just one suburb will cost you about 10 pesos for a non-air con bus, and as much as a thousand Pesos for an ten hour ride up the country. Have a look at my post about going on a road trip on a bus here.
Buses without airconditioning will be a bit cheaper
These are the most common types of public transport in Manila. Getting from point A to point B can usually involve a combination of the above. I would recommend getting away from the boring, lifeless taxis and travel how the locals do. You will have more of an experience and more fun, as well as save some money.