Getting Around Metro Manila --- Safely

For foreign travellers arriving in the Philippines, the initial sight of Manila traffic may lead to shock and horror. Getting around the city might seem like an even more daunting feat. But as the Paranoid Traveler explains, Metro Manila actually offers much choice for traveling around the city with some options more familiar to foreign travelers than others.

Anyone who wants to get around Metro Manila using the public transport system will find themselves spoiled with the myriad of ways to do so. There’s the taxi, Metro Rail Transit (MRT), Light Rail Transit (LRT), bus, jeepney, tricycle, pedicab, FXs and even the calesa. Most people should be familiar with the first four as they are common anywhere in the world. As for the rest, here’s a brief description of the modes of transportation unique to Manila and the Philippines:


This is the most popular means of transport in the city. Any tourists (especially first-timers) must try this for that local experience. The jeepney originated from the jeeps left behind by the Americans during World War II. They were converted with a tram-like seating at the back so you share the ride with other passengers.

jeepney philippines
Jeepney Public Transport Manila / Image Source: Trek Earth
There are no official jeepney stops. You can find them whenever there is a convergence of people at the corner of the street or even in the middle of the roads! You can also hail a jeepney from anywhere you are for as long as they are plying that route. Like regular buses, jeepneys have designated routes which are written on their windshield and sides. Although there is limited seating, you are free to stand on the step-board and hold on for dear life---and you still have to pay the full fare. Payments are made a la “please pass the salt.” If you are far from the driver, you give the payment to whoever reaches out their hand to pass it on to the driver. And if you are near to the driver, you are his designated assistant. Again, as there are no official jeepney stops, you can get off anywhere; just yell, “Para!” 

The FX

The FX is an Asian utility vehicle that started as a private Toyota brand alongside Altis and Innova. But some owners saw an entrepreneurial opportunity for its use and converted it into a public vehicle that operates the same way as jeepneys. Since then, the FX has joined the ranks of Xerox, Colgate and Kodak where the brand name has become a dictionary word among Filipinos. FXs charge higher than jeepneys as they are air-conditioned.
Public Transport Manila
FX Public Transport Manila / Image Source:

A tricycle is a motorcycle with a covered side car that you can ride solo or with other passengers. The fewer passengers there are, the higher the fare. A comfortable seating will have three at the most, excluding the driver but hey, this is Asia. For as long as it can still fit a body, let’s squeeze it in!

Public Transport Manila
Tricycle Public Transport Manila / Image Source: The City Fix
Like jeepneys, you can hail any one that appears. But unlike jeepneys, you can also look for the terminal where they are queued. Tricycles usually ply residential routes and its nearby commercial parameters so don’t expect one on EDSA or major roads. A few electric tricycles are slowly making their way on to the streets of Manila. 

A pedicab is a bicycle with a side car that operates like a tricycle. It can be found in pocket areas of Metro Manila such as the downtown where Chinatown and Divisoria are. It works the same way as tricycles but be reminded that unlike a tricycle which is supposed to be registered with the government, pedicabs are usually colorum. There is no recourse for being ripped off.

Public Transport Manila
Pedicab Public Transport Manila / Image Source: E-Pow Philippines
A calesa is a horse-drawn carriage (it is not as romantic as it might sound) which is mostly found in downtown Manila, used in lieu of a tricycle or pedicab. It is also the preferred mode of transportation for tourists who want to tour Luneta, Rizal Park and Intramuros and this is where it gets sticky and sometimes dangerous. Tourists are always viewed as easy prey and are bullied into paying higher than the agreed standard fare.

Public Transport Manila
Calesa Public Transport Manila / Image Source: Trek Earth 

Below is the minimum fare for each mode of transport but they will vary depending where you get on, where you want to go, what time it is, how desperate you are, how much you’re willing to pay and sometimes, how much you weigh(!).

(US$1 = PhP 45)
·         MRT – minimum fare PhP11
·         LRT – minimum fare PhP15
·         Taxi – flag down rate PhP35
·         Bus – minimum fare PhP12 (for air-conditioned bus but with Manila humidity, don’t bother with non-air-con)
·         Jeepney – minimum fare PhP8
·         FXs – minimum fare P10
·         Tricycle – minimum fare PhP8 per person if shared with other passengers; rates for solo ride will depend on where you get on
·         Pedicab – minimum fare P50 (you might be charged double if you’re on the heavy side)
·         Calesa – minimum fare P50


From the point of view of a foreigner or expat, the rates must seem cheap but if you are not careful, it might cost you everything.

To avoid being ripped off, the safest bet are the MRT and LRT as rates are fixed. The only thing you need to watch out for when riding them is keeping your belongings safe. And if you’re a woman, take care against groping although there is a designated coach for women and senior citizens. Be ready to spend a lot of time queuing. It is not an uncommon sight to have long lines snaking all the way down to the major roads. And even if there are lines, once the coaches stop, there will be a run for the doors so it’s the survival of the fittest.
Public Transport Manila
MRT Public Transport Manila / Image Source: Urban Rail
Buses, jeepneys and FXs are also reliable when it comes to fares as there is a standard fixed rate by law but sometimes, if not most of the time, be ready for reckless and fast driving. If you have a heart problem or are not used to such driving, skip them. There is seldom a queue for buses, jeepneys and FXs because no one bothers with a line so be ready to elbow your way to a seat. You also need to be vigilant. Keep your belongings safe and secure. As much as possible, do not take anything out unnecessarily as to attract unwanted attention. Don’t let yourself be distracted by someone talking to you. Chances are, their accomplice is going through your belongings. There have also been incidents of hold-ups and should you encounter them, just give the muggers what they want. Don’t try to be a hero or jump off the vehicles as some have done and paid dearly with their lives. 

As for tricycles and pedicabs, although there is a standard rate, sometimes they will charge you higher because you look like you can afford it, you’re gullible, or you’re desperate for a ride. So the key here is to look poor but not desperate. And then sometimes pedicabs will charge you higher than the agreed rate upon arrival because you were too heavy for the manual pedalling. They get away with this because the drivers know that people put up with it or are scared of what the drivers might do to them. If you don’t want to go through the hassle, just walk as their route covers only a few blocks. 

But tricycles and pedicabs have nothing compared to the calesas which are notorious when it comes to over-charging especially if you want to take a tour around downtown Manila. There have been complaints about being charged a hundredfold although this doesn’t happen all the time. If you really want to take them, better do so with a feisty local. If not, just try not to look like a fool ready to part with his money.

And last but certainly not the least in the list of notoriety are the taxis. Never get on one without seeing the meter turned on. Always bring small bills as some drivers will use the excuse of not having change to give you your rightful amount. Know how to get to your destination by doing some online research. Make a print-out of the directions highlighting the landmarks and street signs that you need to pass. You can insist on your desired route and get off if the drivers veers off it.

Make sure all doors are locked or can be locked. Call your friends and family on the phone and send them pictures of the plate number painted on the doors, not the license plate as sometimes, the license plates are bogus. And if you can steal a shot of the driver, why not? Talk to your friends and family loud enough for the driver to hear that others know where you are.

Never pay until you have collected all your stuff. If you’re with company, have someone stay inside the car until all your belongings have been unloaded.

Sometimes, you will be asked point blank for a tip (amount specified) even before the trip has started. You are free to refuse the driver and just walk away but walk real fast. And then sometimes you will be asked to pay extra because of the hassle of serving your distance (they waited a long time for a passenger, etc. before or after the trip.) Again, you are not obligated to do so but be very cautious when refusing. Be indignant only when there are a lot of people around.

If all this is scaring you, well, you can always try the rental cars and be ready to face Manila driving and traffic but that’s another article. It's More Fun in the Philippines!

1 comment:

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