5 ways to cheat Manila traffic

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In a transport system centered on cars and caught in gridlock, commuters have to rely on alternative ways of getting around, from hopping on a motorcycle to taking the river ferry. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The moment they arrived in the Philippines, Transport Network Companies (TNCs) like Grab and Uber were embraced by Manileños as the antithesis to their tiresome and vexing daily commutes. They posed as an alternative to haggling fares with testy cab drivers, hopping from jeepney to jeepney, waiting in line for hours on end for a shuttle, and squeezing into cramped MRT cars at rush hour to get to work on time.

As such, it was no surprise to see the internet erupt as news broke about the possible deactivation of more than half of Grab and Uber’s combined fleet come July 26 — the result of an order issued by the LTFRB to suspend drivers with expired or no permits. The ban was later temporarily lifted, as the TNCs filed for motions for reconsideration, and thousands of people online rallied behind both companies.

Though the affection for Grab and Uber is evident in the clamor to save them, it’s worth noting that for the average commuter, these services are still considered luxuries. Increased road congestion, due in part to the increase of vehicles on the road, results in price surges that many can’t afford on a daily basis.

1 Bike.jpg Getting a bike can be one of the easiest, most cost efficient ways to beat traffic. Still, Metro Manila can be dangerous for bikers for its scarcity of bike lanes. Illustration by JL JAVIER

When I started working in Las Piñas, I thought it would be a faster and cheaper commute, considering that I live in Parañaque. However, ongoing roadworks along Sucat Road have turned what’s meant to be a 30 minute commute into one that can last up to two hours. It also doesn’t help that the tricycle ride to my office building from BF Homes Parañaque, the subdivision I can cut through to avoid Sucat Road, costs ₱70. That’s excluding the price of two jeepneys and a tricycle I have to take to get to BF Homes.

Driving to work is even more expensive. So in an effort to save more, I bought myself a fixed gear bike. The 14 kilometer ride takes about an hour, but it costs absolutely nothing.

Yet cycling in Metro Manila, even in the more suburban parts of the south, is dangerous. There are no bike lanes throughout my entire commute, half of which includes traversing the West Service Road parallel to SLEX — a two-lane road dotted with factories and warehouses, leading to an abundance of trucks.

I’ve had to brace myself and hope for the best on multiple occasions that a truck has gotten too close for comfort. I also have to deal with pollution, which I remedy by wearing a face mask, and the heat and rain, for which I always pack extra clothes. It sounds like a lot of effort to get to work, but I prefer this to the two hours of bumper to bumper traffic and expensive trike rides.

Elsewhere, other commuters have also found ways to skirt the hassles of navigating our busy cities.

5 P2P.jpg P2P bus trips from Trinoma to Glorietta 5 are only 45 minutes to an hour though it may cost a little bit more than the regular air-conditioned buses. Illustration by JL JAVIER

P2P, Express Connect, Pasig River Ferry, Angkas

For Leon, who lives in Commonwealth, Q.C. and works in Makati, the new Point-to-Point (P2P) buses help cut his travel time in half. Though he can easily find an air-conditioned bus going straight to Ayala (around ₱46 to 48) from outside his village, he says that the trip can last up to two and half hours on a bad day. Meanwhile, the P2P bus goes straight from Trinoma to Glorietta 5, making the trip in just 45 minutes to an hour. The only downside to taking this route is that it costs ₱30 more, as the station nearest his house is still an FX away.

Another similar option is the Express Connect bus. The service offers three routes from Fairview to Roxas Boulevard, with Route 1 enabling drop-offs at Commonwealth, Ortigas, Ayala Avenue, and Gil Puyat, and Routes 2 and 3 skipping Ortigas and Gil Puyat respectively.

“This is the best option, if you were to ask me,” Leon says, as it allows to take one comfortable, hour-long ride to work which only costs him ₱46.

4 Express Connect.jpg The Express Connect bus service offers three routes from Fairview to Roxas Boulevard, with Route 1 enabling drop-offs at Commonwealth, Ortigas, Ayala Avenue, and Gil Puyat, and Routes 2 and 3 skipping Ortigas and Gil Puyat respectively. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Rudie found her traffic hack floating along Pasig River. With her home situated in Pinagbuhatan, Pasig, and her previous workplace right next to the Valenzuela Ferry Station in Makati, it only made sense for her to utilize the Pasig River Ferry. The ferry operates from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and stops at 12 stations along the river from Pinagbuhatan, Pasig to Intramuros, Manila. Rudie simply takes a tricycle to Pinagbuhatan station and travels four stations away to Valenzuela, Makati. The trip costs about ₱63. “I am paying for speed and convenience,” Rudie says, noting that the price she pays for three jeepney rides and three tricycle rides to work costs about the same, yet the trip takes almost thrice as long.

The biggest downside to the ferry? The rainy season. The open design means passengers are susceptible to rains, and the season brings in an abundance of water lilies, which clog passageways and stop ferry operations until they can be cleared.

3 Pasig River Ferry.jpg The ferry operates from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and stops at 12 stations along the river from Pinagbuhatan, Pasig to Intramuros, Manila. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Now, Rudie works in Magallanes, and instead of going up against the throngs of people at the MRT or taking two hour-long cab rides through EDSA, she opts to book with Angkas instead. Angkas is a booking service app similar to Grab and Uber, offering rides on motorcycles instead of cars. It’s an upgrade to the classic habal-habal, and lets you weave in and out of traffic with ease.

Besides being faster, it’s also cheaper. “Compared to Uber and Grab during peak hours, Angkas is 300 percent cheaper,” she says. “I only pay about ₱100 in the morning, compared to a Grab or Uber which typically costs me around ₱400 at 7 a.m.”

Another user of Angkas, Mara, says the service is especially useful when she goes out after work. “It comes in handy when I need to get to an event really fast, or when I have nights out with my friends. Because I usually leave at around 9 p.m., it's still rush hour. But if I take Angkas, it only takes me less than an hour to get most places.”

2 Angkas.jpg Angkas is a booking service app similar to Grab and Uber, offering rides on motorcycles instead of cars. It’s an upgrade to the classic habal-habal, and lets you weave in and out of traffic with ease. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Getting around the gridlock

The various means by which commuters attempt to creatively skirt Manila’s bad traffic should be some kind of indication that the city is in dire need of a public transportation upgrade. Though TNCs offer safe and convenient alternatives, they’re marred by legislative problems that don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. They also contribute to the very problem they’re trying to solve, as adding more cars to our roads doesn’t exactly ease our congestion problem.

The government’s recently announced PUV Modernization Program looks promising in its attempt to replace old public vehicles with safer and cleaner alternatives, as well as its plan to train our drivers better (though concerns on its effects on drivers' livelihoods are still not addressed). However it’s only a small step in the right direction. As road congestion keeps getting worse, we might need to look into adopting a mindset less centered on cars.