The Real Cost Of Commuting In Manila

Gone are the days when I could say yes to every invite on a whim because I could easily Uber or Grab my way to wherever. Well, not that it happens often, you know how much I value my me-time, but you get what I mean.

I write this out of my five-year stint commuting from QC to Makati and back, in hopes to share my wealth of experience that may consequently derive insight. I also include what I've learned from commuting in college the whole four years, and occasionally, in high school, in those times I was left behind by the school bus. Awww.

I'll save the times I've commuted to and within provincial areas for another story. 


Manila Commute Tricycle Dog

Each ride is simultaneously a journey to self-discovery.


Tricycles are a lot like motorcycles. They are accident-prone, and zip through traffic as if being on less than four wheels makes them invincible. And because they enjoy being at top speed so much, they also like going through road humps and deep road crevices violently, and then act like nothing happened. My ultimate tita tip is, if possible, choose a driver who doesn’t look high on life. Also, keep your head down.

For lady passengers, riding one when you’re about to get your period might be a painful experience in certain areas, if you know what I mean. Also, I know it looks funny, but when it’s raining, it’s acceptable to use your umbrella as a makeshift door for the trike, to keep you safe and dry, like baby diapers.

Cost: Your hair that you've patiently blow dried this morning. It won't be a problem though if your hair is naturally "balik-ayos".



In Manila, there’s the MRT, with a record-breaking number of times it has broken down; the LRT 1, which offers both its old and new carriages—your experience depends entirely on which option you'll eventually choose; and the LRT 2, perhaps the one that’ll keep you sane the most.

First, is the ever-so-popular MRT. I can dedicate an entire post on my horrifying-I-cannot-even train experiences, but the moral of the story is, especially during rush hour or whenever it rains, if you can avoid it, do so by all means. The MRT, in fact, has such a monumental impact on my life that my career decisions are influenced by whether I am riding it or not. 

Cost: Your soul. You’ll leave it with all energy drained from your entire being. Also, your well-ironed office attire will look like you've slept in it. Prepare to be judged in the office for it. 

Each ride is also a journey to self-discovery. All your life you thought you were a patient, kindly, well-meaning and proper lady—until this. You will cultivate the most evil of thoughts and breed anger you never knew existed within you. If this is a concern, trust me, you will soon learn how to manage it.


I’ve seen the LRT 1 at its worst, too, but overall, the train delivers. It’s just that I’ve met the wildest, most outrageous passengers there, and it’s where I have witnessed true and literal humans on what they call "beast mode". I’d like to think they’re all just excited to see their families back home, or they are motivated by the thought of a fresh-from-the-oven dinner that’s waiting for them, and if that’s the case then I understand completely.

Cost: Your sanity, as you try to deal with people from all walks of life.


The LRT 2 seems like a healthy option, although I’ve never really tried riding it during rush hour, so I cannot give an honest judgement. But during the times I’ve taken it, I came out practically in the same state as I came in, no wrinkly clothes or foreign smell after, so I consider that a good sign.

Cost: The possibility of getting confused about where to exit, especially at the Katipunan station.


Manila Commute Bus Jeepney Motorcycle Jimmy Domingo

Cost: Your freshness in the morning.


I’ve experienced all three types: the non-aircon or "ordinary" ones, the air-conditioned, and the P2P, or the point-to-point bus that follows specific bus stops and doesn't overload with standing passengers. All three are fairly priced within reasonable means. Or in other words, you get what you pay for.

The non-aircon ones are a risk to take. On worst days, it’ll strip off your dignity, guaranteed that you’ll smell like everyone else’s collective morning-under-the-Philippine-sun human odor right after a short, sweet ride. And everyone will notice in the office, I can assure you that.

On best days, you’ll need to ride it for a good few minutes because it’s the easiest other option, but you have to remember to still be on guard, of your phone, of your belongings, of the creepy co-passengers (I’m not going to lie, this is where they’re most abundant!), and of yourself. Prepare to scream or have your foldable umbrella ready to smack a potential attacker with.

Cost: Your freshness in the morning.


The air-conditioned buses are rather more bearable, and most of the times, you’ll be in the company of other young professionals, who share with you the same sentiments and thoughts (e.g. "I don’t care how or how much anymore, I just really want to get to the office!!!"). So, in a way, this is a safer option.

Cost: A possible deformation of your well-toned butt, a result of sitting too much. Trust that you’ll be stopping by all the bus stations, even in non-unloading areas, making your trip from your residence to a CBD longer than a trip to La Union (well, not really, but it certainly feels like it!).


The P2P is like the business class in buses. It’s got free coffee and ensaymada, and occasionally, a blanket, but all will come from your own baon commuting starter pack. You cannot argue with this fact because you can dare try and bring all these to a non air-conditioned bus and trust me you’ll either be met with uncomfortable stares that’ll make you drop your coffee like it’s hot, or you’ll be ingesting a very smoke-flavored merienda. So it’s really only possible to snack, watch whatever movie is playing, and chill, so to speak, in the P2P.

It has become a great commuting alternative because one, the bus driver won’t be obsessed with squishing as many passengers inside (no standing, yay!); two, since the fare for the P2P is more expensive than that of normal buses, you can expect less savage passengers riding with you; and finally, three, because they have an extensive movie list that goes beyond the usual Star Cinema classics and Jaws or anything that's shark-related.

Cost: Your money, but trust me, it's well worth it.



This includes its other permutations, like the ulo-ulo taxi, and the very convenient and effective taxi alternative, courtesy of the ride-sharing apps.

Save for the dagdag and general turning down of passengers, and the MOs (such as spraying the vehicle with a substance that will make you dizzy or unconscious, tinkering with the door locks so you can't open it from inside, et cetera), taxis used to be a safe place that relieves you from the Manila heat, has the familiar fragrance that comes from the pine tree cut-out hanging from the rear view mirror, and blasts radio ads that will leave you with a serious case of LSS, like the Starwax ad or the Love Radio jingle. 

Cost: You may leave with a headache from the pine tree smell and the noise pollution from the radio ads.


A variation of the taxi is the ulo-ulo, which magically appears when the train breaks down and suddenly a throng of passengers are looking for alternative options. Ulo-ulo means "by the head", where four to five passengers share a ride and carpool in a taxi, headed off to a common destination. Fare is usually a hundred to a hundred and fifty, which is quite reasonable, especially since a taxi ride to Makati averages to two hundred and fifty.

Cost: Time, which you could've saved if the train was fully functioning.


I consider Grab and Uber heaven’s gift to commuters like me. I do have my fair share of bad experiences with it (such as getting into a minor car accident and dealing with a driver who didn't know how to use Waze), but that's another story. The bigger issue now lies with the LTFRB hounding them for not complying with their requirements, which they do have the right to do, except that it feels unfair that they aren’t addressing the other commuting and traffic related issues that have been existing for years.

Cost: Your utter dependence on them, which is rather more evident now, since Uber is gone. 


Manila Commute Jeepney Felipe Ronique

Remember to hold on to the hand rails, and your dear life.


In UP, I advise that you should memorize the rooftop and destination color correspondence (cheat sheet: yellow for ikot or rides within the campus, red for Katip, green for Philcoa and beyond, rainbow for all). That way, you can be the first to hail the jeep you’ve spotted from miles and miles away. Do it with pride and confidence. 

Going to Antipolo or Marikina, the jeepneys are very, uh, ~*extra*~, as they say. They take their exterior art seriously, and have a heightened sound system with heavy bass speakers that’ll send intensely strong vibrations right through your fragile tita heart.

At night, jeepney drivers feel like they’re king of the road, and will often speed through their route as if they were in a Crash Bandicoot PlayStation game. Remember to hold on to the necessary hand rails, and your dear life.

You’ll also encounter snatchers who’ll grab ‘n’ go everything they can from right out the window, be it your necklace, your earring, your phone, or even your cap. So stay alert and hold on to everything. Preachers of the word of God, Christmas carolers, and strangers in need, handing out envelopes for cash donations are also common occurrences inside jeepneys. It’s often advised to pay no attention to them because most are probably behind syndicate groups, and giving will only encourage this illegal means of collecting money.

Cost: Your private property when snatched, and your private space, when invaded by co-passengers.



There's the FX, the UV Express, and the colorum vans.

The FX and UV Express are much like jeepneys. They, too, value head count over waistlines and body mass, so if five people are supposed to fit in a row, they will squish five men and women, regardless of shape and size, in a row, even if it means that they won't be feeling their thighs and legs after the ride. They also drive as they please, and would stop anywhere the moment you utter the magic word (para!). Air-condition is practically the only difference between jeepneys and vans.

Cost: Your limbs, which can turn numb, but only for a short while.


Meanwhile, the colorum van is the same, but functions more strategically. It operates ~secretly~ and its marketing efforts relies on word of mouth. The reason why commuters take them is because the colorum vans masquerade as private cars, therefore, they don't need to follow a specific route, and can cut through side streets and such, to avoid traffic on main roads and get to its destination faster. Riding it feels like you're in the movies because sometimes, you do get chased by a police car.

Cost: Your conscience.


I'd like to know, what's your commuting experience like? Tell me all about it and share this article through the buttons below!


Photo in the middle by photojournalist and professor Jimmy A. Domingo, who has taught me the basics in photography back in college, and, to this day, continues to inspire me to take better shots of the everyday.

Last photo is by Ronique Felipe, also a student of his.





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