It’s always a challenge to drive by a wet market. Because it’s a destination for so many people, that means (surprisingly enough) that there will be lots of people there! People also means traffic, the bane of most inhabitants of Metro Manila. The road from our house was pretty clear for the first while. In fact, I commented to Eva that there were only a few people on it. I guess leaving just after 8AM meant we missed the Monday morning rush. Normally when we get to the main corner, I avoid a left turn because not only does it lead to the market, it also goes past an elementary school, a mall, and a grocery store. During old normal times, driving past a school is always a bit touch and go because if you happen to hit a time when kids are either going to, or coming from school you can expect a rather long wait. It does help develop patience, however.
Today, however, we needed to visit a drug store right beside the market to pick up some medical supplies to help a friend. Our trip went fairly quickly and arrived at the drug store in good time. I did have trouble parking for two reasons. The first is because there were no more slots left in front of the store. The second was because there was a line of people standing on the street in front of the store. Lest you think that there was a sale on and people were lining up for that, I need to tell you that most people in Metro Manila do not drive their own vehicles. Rather they take public transportation. These people were lined up to take the next available ride to their destination.
Public transportation in the Philippines is both convenient and complex — at least to a certain extent — because it’s possible to take a ride from basically your front doorstep all the way to wherever you want to go in the Philippines. Here is what a typical journey looks like.
Before leaving home, I gather everything that I need for the journey — keys, coins, handkerchief, hat — and then head downstairs. Then head back upstairs for my face mask. Once I get my shoes on, I head out the gate, then go back inside to get my umbrella.
[If you are unaware of what an umbrella is, here is a simple explanation: An umbrella is a somewhat cumbersome device that if you take it with you it doesn’t rain but if you leave it at home — saying to yourself after looking at the sky, ‘It’s not going to rain today’ — then rain is guaranteed.]
As I walk down the lane from our house to the street, I see a green tricycle stop and signal to me if I want a ride. A raised finger eyebrow is all that’s needed to engage their services while a wave of the hand means, ‘No.’ (If I choose to not hire the roving tricycle, I can always walk a few steps to the corner where there is an official terminal for yellow tricycles). For the uninitiated, a tricycle is a motorcycle with a covered sidecar attached. Passengers can either sit in the sidecar, which is equipped with 3 seats, or sit sidesaddle behind the driver (2 more seats). In our area there are three main tricycle associations, each with their own colours.
The tricycle payment system is rather complex. If you hire a tricycle that is in the terminal lineup it costs P25 for a ride out to the main road. If the tricycle is not full, the driver is allowed to pick up other passengers on the way (who pay P10 each), with the proviso that the initial hire gets to sit in the best seat.
Once we get out to the main street, about 1.6km away, the tricycle pulls over to the side and we get out and pay the driver. There is a small market area here, too, in case we need to get something on the way home. But since we are going further we head around the corner to where the jeepney awaits. If the front seat is full, we need to board from the door in the rear, entering crouched over we make our way to the front and hope there is room on one of the two bench seats that run down each side. On the rare occasion that the jeep is full, it’s possible for men to hang from the back (sorry ladies, you will have to wait for space on the inside).
Payment for the jeepney is also interesting, if less complex than that of the tricycle. The base fare is P9 and increases are based on distance travelled. When unsure it’s possible to simply ask how much it will cost from one point to another. When it’s time to pay, you simply say something like, “Bayad ho” [“Here’s my payment”] and reach your hand toward the driver with your money in it. One of your fellow passengers will grab your money and keep passing it forward. When it gets to the front, the driver will ask, “Ilan?” [“For how many?”] and then pass back the appropriate change (if necessary).
Once at your destination, simply say something like, “Para ho sa tabi” [“Please stop at the side”] and the jeepney will stop for you. Exit is through the same door you entered. If you are going further, you can always take a bus, either to somewhere else within the city or to somewhere else in the country. The rule of thumb is, the smaller the vehicle the higher the fare. Thus tricycles are the most expensive and busses are the cheapest.
Apart from this there are also airconditioned options such as taxis, FXs, busses, and the LRT/MRT. But we need to save those journeys for another day.
How do you get around where you live? What unique features does your public transportation system have? Please let us know in the comments below.
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Image is my own.