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So you want to travel to Manila and use the public transport system... locally called 'commuting': this means riding either one or a combination of tricycles, jeepneys, at grade trains, elevated trains and buses. Many, if not all hotels and hostels in and around Metro Manila are a short walk to your ride to somewhere else. So let's break it down according to mode of transportation:
The easiest way to beat the traffic. And cheap too. The elevated railways have three lines: the LRT and MRT 2 and the MRT, which travels above Metro Manila's main highway, EDSA. (Click on the links to view the different lines). The RT lines are interconnected (you can transfer from the MRT Taft station to the LRT EDSA station), but there is a separate fare for each line.
Click here for a better map and detailed information
Single journey tickets and stored value tickets (tickets that have been preloaded with credits) are sold for each line, but the P100 stored value ticket is available for at least two of the three lines (and may be also for the third line, but this needs verification). If you plan to use these elvated rail lines frequently, it is best to purchase a stored value ticket to avoid long lines at ticket booths during rush hours. The elvated metro is the quickest way to get around Metro Manila while avoiding the traffic. Be prepared, however, to brave the crowds especially during rush hour, when the trains are usually packed.
In 2008, patronage on the MRT line from Taft to North EDSA along EDSA had skyrocketed: a newspaper article in Manila in October 2008 claimed that the line had a design capacity of 250,000 trips a day but was now carrying 450,000 trips a day. All three lines seems quite efficient, although sometimes there are hiccups evidenced by 10 minute breaks in service. Normally, however, the first two lines have trains about every three to six minutes, with the third line being a little less frequent.
Safety in these trains tends to be rather good. There are always security guards present in the stations and on platforms for any needs. Observe the usual precautions for pick pockets because they are always present. The front car is only for females.
Do remember that the trains do not run round the clock. Generally they run from 0530 to 2200 hours. Detailed train timings can be found on the webpages above.
Most stations have pedicab / trike / taxi stands at their exits - typically within a short walk.
The Philippine National Railways (PNR) operates a half hourly frequency diesel railcar from Tutuban railway station, Divisoria, Metro Manila via Espana, Pasay Road and Sucat stations to Alabang railway station in the south of Metro Manila adjacent to Starmall and within walking distance of Filinvest.
During offpeak hours and on weekdays, trains previously operated hourly, but in June 2013 the frequency was increased to every half hour and later trains up until 1930 hours introduced. They are very popular, carrying passengers making 15,000,000 trips in 2010 despite most trips limited to a three car set of railcars. Fares are very cheap: purchase a paper ticket from staff who sit at the end of platforms. Most trains are air-conditioned. Here is the June 2013 timetable:
The PNR was operating a nightly Bicol Express sleeping and sitting car train to Naga and Ligao, as well as another sitting car only train three days a week in each direction between Tutuban and Naga, north of Ligao, but both have ceased due to a derailment in late 2012 necessitating bridge repairs, which are occurring very slowly. Ligao is only 30 kilometres from Legaspi City, to which the trains may once again run by the end of 2013, although track rehabilitation may cause delays.
Further up to date information on this, including the daily performance of the Tutuban - Alabang - Binan (Laguna) commuter trains, can be found on the official PNR Facebook page (yes - In the Philippines, almost every agency, hotel and shopping centre maintains a Facebook page, updated daily).
Normal capacity = 4 people + driver
Street taxis are generally plentiful. Avoid costly so-called 'hotel taxis': it is far cheaper to hail one in the street. If you're not a local, some cab drivers may ask for a flat fare at least two times the usual, so always demand that the driver turns the taxi meter on, and take note of the plate number upon boarding. Some foreigners who visit Manila frequently suggest that taxi drivers are far more willing than was the case a decade ago to turn their meters on without being asked. It is advisable also to have extra coins & small denomination bills with you so you can pay the exact fare, as most taxi drivers do not give change. Tipping is optional, but 20 pesos is enough.
Normal capacity = 2 people + driver
The simplest form of public transport includes a pedicab - a bicycle with an attached sidecar. Although phased-out in most parts of Metro Manila, tricycles can be found in and around the Metropolis - especially in areas like Intramuros, where motorcycle trikes are illegal and pedicabs are the normal way to travel.. The "driver" (peddler?!) is usually male and the age range is from the teens up. The charge is a flat fare, usually P10.00 - 30.00 per person. Never settle beyond P30. You are certain to pay much more than the correct fare. The cab has two seating areas that face each other. The seat that faces forward is the wider seat and is ess than a meter long. The seat facing backwards is narrower and meant for children, although you may see teenagers on up sitting on them too. Best practice is to always ask for the fare before getting on; although most foreigners probably will not have many opportunities to use pedicabs. Also they don't normally travel more that two kilometres "point-to-point".
Normal capacity = 3 people (2 in side car, 1 behind the drver) + driver
There are more than 700,000 tricycles in Metro Manila. Tricycles link a business/commercial area to the residential areas, or main road to the "inards" of a locality. You hire a trike for either a "special trip" or "regular trip". All this really means is that you are either going solo (special trip) or waiting for the trike to fill up with other passengers (regular trip). Unlike pedicabs, tricycle normally ply their routes in an area with a pre-defined boundary. So within this area, you will pay a flat fare. As a foreigner you will typically be overcharged unless travelling with a Filipino or Filipina. Fares vary from place to place, but to give you an idea: a special trip usually starts from P10 up to, but not over P50; regular trips, on the other hand, start from P7.50 up to P40.00. However, if your trip will take you across say two boundaries, the flat fare is multiplied three times. Word to the wise: trike drivers tend to be the craziest (read: most dangerous) drivers. Some are dishonest.
Normal capacity = 16 people = driver + 2 peopel next to teh driver
However, they often carry mroe people - and are not the most comfortable way to travel during rush hour. Watch out for pick pockets!
Jeepneys came into vogue right after the Second World War. Among equipment left behind by the Americans were the Willy's Jeeps, probably in the thousands. They were inherently sturdy and very easy to maintain; and had the ability to take you wherever their wheels could get traction. At that time these Jeeps could accomodate about six to eight people (including the driver).
Today's jeepneys retain the traditional look of the Willy's Jeep at the front, but have passenger areas that can seat anywhere from 14 to 24 people. The basic fare in Metro Manila is P8 for the first four kilometres, then there's a fixed additional fee of P1.50 for every extra kilometer or part thereof. Some jeepney routes cover four kilometres or less, while others travel much longer routes. Best practice is to ask any of the locals in the establishment where you're staying. More often than not, they'll be able to tell you which jeepneys to take, and how much you'll have to pay. Most drivers are reasonably safe, although there are those who believe that only they have the right to use and were probably tricycle drivers not too long ago.
Jeepneys have their destination and through points painted on cards on the windscreen and on the sides (for example : Baclaran- Quiapo)