Nothing can prepare the uninitiated for the MRT. It is mass transportation in every sense – cramped, overused, and abused. There is no such thing as rush hour in this train system. From dawn until the late evenings, it is used by hundreds of thousands of commuters making their way between suburban cities and the clogged financial and commercial centers of the metro.
Built over a stretch of an equally packed EDSA – which it had hoped to decongest yet had miserably failed because of a lack in foresight – the MRT is often the site of the best and worst in anything and everything Filipino. From the long queues at ticketing windows to dangerously packed platforms, it is a trip worth taking if you have no qualms being crammed like a can of sardines. If you’re fussy over personal space, I advise you to take a cab instead. If you’re not too keen on getting a cardio, then the long flight of stairs in most MRT stations are not for you. Elevators may be out of order; escalators too. Bring a handkerchief or face towel. You will be tired even before you get inside the train.
Taking the MRT is a tough journey, especially during rush hour. It requires patience, endurance, a certain amount of toughness, and even luck. On most days, you will miss out on a train simply because it’s too crowded. The whole system, after all, wasn’t built to handle the capacity it now handles. Clearly, there was a lack of foresight from those who envisioned the project since they only thought of using light rail carriages on a highway stretch used by millions of Filipinos.
If you’re taking the MRT during its busiest hours, learn to wait. And learn to stay in a queue, regardless how much the queue stretches from platform to a block away from the station entrance. You will get aboard one of the trains but it won’t be any more comfortable than the queue at the platform. Once a train enters a station, prepare yourself. It is madness. There is no discipline. Chaos is the currency. Regardless of how many radio announcements are made to let those alighting out first, passengers behind you and beside you will push and shove, force you in a fraction of a space that is almost inhumane for any commuter.
Next thing you know, your elbow is in someone else’s face, your hands are stuck in between strangers’ buttocks, and a man’s armpits are just a few millimetres hovering from your nose. There is no such thing as “privacy” inside the MRT; there is no such thing as comfort. Trains are air-conditioned but with carriages carrying too many people, chances are you will still be sweating like a pig inside. Breathing space will be restricted. Someone will be stepping on your foot. Someone will be pressed against your groin. If you’re a romantic, maybe someone will serendipitously take your breath away.
Every station you stop in, there will be chaos. People will fight to get outside. People will fight to get inside. You will get bruised. You will get elbowed. Sometimes, you’ll get yourself in a cuss-filled verbal tirade with a fellow commuter.
If you use the train regularly, get the stored value ticket – it will save you time. Understand station layouts, and know which are the busiest. Cubao’s northbound platform is usually where many people alight. North Avenue and Quezon Avenue can be hell for southbound commuters, especially in the morning. Magallanes northbound can be trouble too during rush hours. Santolan is almost always the forgotten station.
Taking the MRT is cheap and fast. But if you’re a long-time commuter like me, you should know its pains. Apart from the occasional suicide attempts, you may also find yourself with a paralyzed system, brownouts, shut downs, “no entries”, and even troublesome train tickets. Be a man and deal with it. If you can’t wait, there are buses plying EDSA. There are proposed changes for the system – expansions, fare hikes, and better ticketing systems. For now, you’ll have to do with the long queues, the chaos, the madness. If you can wait until it gets better and you’re ready to be harassed, then I encourage you to experience how the “masses” travel in style and “stylessness”.