Sunday, May 18, 2008

EASY GOING: MRT Edsa, Metro Manila, Philippines

The star of today's article - Metro Star! In Motion!

The train system in the Philippines is far from perfect or even great, but it is a newer to us than it is to our Southeast Asian neighbors. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand have had rails for much longer... but this is not the place to bitch about who got better colonial daddies in this region.

A Map of the MRT
The Northern-most MRT Station is North Avenue, the Southern tip of the route is Taft Avenue.

Bare Basics
The MRT stands for Metro Rail Transit, and it is one of four train systems running in Metro Manila. It runs down Edsa from North Avenue, Quezon City to Taft Avenue, Manila. It is called the blue line, as opposed to the yellow (LRT1, that runs down Taft Avenue) and purple (LRT2, that runs down Aurora) lines. The MRT is open daily and starts running a little before 6am seven days a week, and stops operations around 10 in the evening.

They have a stored value card available at all stations, which easily saves you the trouble from having to buy a new card after you make your stop. The stored value card is highly recommended for frequent and regular users of the MRT.

Buying Your Ticket
At every station there are three to four stalls that sell tickets. One of those stalls are reserved for exact fare only. The exact fare lane is where you can usually buy Stored Value Cards.

Pick a Stop
The major stations are adjacent to, or directly connected to a major shopping Center. Taft Station is connected to Centerpoint Mall, Ayala Station is connected to SM Ayala, Guadalupe is connected to Guadalupe Commercial Center, Shaw is connected to Shangri-La Mall and Star Mall, Ortigas is a few steps away from Megamall, Cubao connects to Farmer's Market, and North Avenue now connects to Trinoma Mall.

You will notice that for lack of street signs, most of Metro Manila is best identified or accessed by the nearest mall.

Cubao is the connecting city of the blue and purple lines. From Cubao station, It's a quick walk to the LRT2 Purple Line through Farmers Market and Gateway Mall. Aside from the fact that they're both trains and meet in Cubao, note that Metro Rail is different from Light Rail and you cannot use an MRT card on LRT or vice versa.

The MRT's busiest times are from 9am to 10am, and 5pm to 7.30pm. The busiest stations are Taft, Ayala, Cubao, Ortigas, and North Avenue.

All stops are identified by big signs on the platform, and some carts and cards have a map of the MRT printed on them. There are also recorded announcements of each stop aboard the train, but they aren't always coherent.

The MRT Survival Guide
It is advisable to add about 30 minutes to your estimated travel time if you're taking the MRT. While there are very few occasions of trains breaking down, it can happen at any time, and it's always advisable to allocate time in the event of an emergency.

The standards apply: dress comfortably, and mind your valuables. There's this habit of commuters to put their handbags on their laps to prevent pickpockets from getting to them. It's highly advisable to do that, especially during rush hour.

Commuters on the line

Abide and observe train etiquette by letting passengers out of the train first before entering, or giving your seat up to a kid or an elderly. Do not let the agitation of commuting override order and good manners. You can say to hell with manners in the face of rush hour, there is still no effective means of managing the crowds of commuters at that time, so you actually have no other choice but to elbow your way through. But even in that rush, do your part and let people out before boarding.

Segregation starts here

Even with the small and narrow make of the MRT, they still implement a segregation scheme. There are about two train cars reserved only for women, children, the sickly, and elderly. It's tempting to feign femininity, or even pregnancy for the comfort of a seat, but it's highly advisable not to give into such mischief. Of note, this is one area where rarely anyone gives up a seat for anyone else, so just grit your teeth and prepare to stay standing even if you are in dire need of that seat.

Chugachugachuga - the tracks from Buendia Station to Guadalupe Station

In spite of the crowds and flaws, it is the fastest and most reliable way to get across Metro Manila.

Happy trails!

Sources: Metro Manila Rail Transit System, Last accessed: May 18, 2008.


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