Believe it or not, there was a time when the MRT was shiny, new, and best of all—unproblematic. Back in the late 1990s, riding the MRT was a bit of a novelty. As it wasn’t yet a tried-and-tested method of plying busy EDSA, not too many people rode it. And I liked it, especially on the weekends when I went to the Ortigas malls with my friends.
Fast forward to 2003 when I had to ride it to get to work. Although more people began to realize the comfort this fast train brings, riding it was still a cinch. It was as it should be—cheap, fast, and on time.
When more isn’t merrier
But things changed barely a year later. The morning rush was a given, sure. But somehow, MRT wasn’t as pleasant as when I first rode it. And I can tell that the people around me felt the same. The frustration that came with braving the EDSA traffic while riding the bus became as frustrating as riding the MRT. As more people began to ride it, the more riding it became like a game that brought out the competitive streak in all of us. It was a race to the train’s door.
But what’s nice about that time was that the MRT didn’t break down as often. And we didn’t have to wake up on the wee hours of the morning just to get a comfortable ride—unlike these days.
Hell on earth
You probably came across that Facebook infographic which says that there’s no need to look further for hell on earth. It’s right here in the Philippines. Just compare the number of people riding the train in Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines to the actual number of train lines available and you have your answer. And I couldn’t agree with it more. I have personally ridden all above-mentioned trains and the Philippine train system is sadly the worst.
Taiwan and Singapore have efficient and dependable train systems that you’re sure will take you from point A to point B on time. As a tourist in these countries, I was able to travel to famous tourist spots by just following easy train directions from the Internet.
Thailand has the BTS Skytrain and the MRT subway to get you to key places at the center of Bangkok. While a student there, I had no trouble traveling. And you know what, their system just keeps getting better because new destinations are being built to extend the reach of this train network.
While living in Korea also as a student, the subway was also my best friend. Despite the relentless emphasis Koreans put on studying, I actually had time to squeeze in some travels to tourist spots. That’s what an efficient train system gives you: time—lots of time—to do what you’re supposed to do… and more! And what do we have in our country?
Nothing much. Except for…
I could never quite pinpoint the optimum time to get out of the house and ride the MRT comfortably. Even the first hour of MRT operations has been problematic. I get out of the house early in the morning, expecting to come to work early, but no, something’s always bound to go wrong with the MRT. I’ve resorted to riding the “shuttle” because legit public transportation doesn’t work.
High ticket cost. I was all for the added ticket cost, thinking that it will lead to better service. Ticket prices in other countries I’ve been to, after all, charge more to maintain the quality of the train system. But I was wrong. And I’m sorry. I was thinking in terms of a citizen living in a country where officials do their job. I forgot that I’m in the Philippines. It simply doesn’t roll that way here.
Overtime charge. Corollary to the high ticket cost is that good-for-nothing overtime charge. Think about it: You buy a stored value ticket, with the assumption that it’s more economical in the long run. But then, you are subjected to a long line to get to the platform, which takes around an hour. After which, you wait another one or two hours at the platform just to ride the insanely packed train. Sometimes, there’s a “technical problem” which you patiently wait for. Sometimes, there are simply just not enough trains to service the MRT riding public. And then you wait another hour or so (if your destination is the North EDSA station from Buendia, like me) as the train moves and stops at various stations with desperate people trying to stop the door from closing as they squeeze themselves inside. All, in all, around three or four hours. By the time you get to your destination, it’s already way past the allotted time for you to ride. And was it your fault? No. But who’s punished for it? You. You’re forced to pay extra for service that wasn’t rendered properly. Plus, you lost precious time you could’ve used to do other more productive and lovely things.
Bad customer service. I actually wrote to the MRT’s official email address for complaints about this unjustified overtime charge. But as with how things roll in this banana republic, I didn’t get a response. Why do I keep forgetting that this isn’t the place where citizens’ concerns are heard?
An eerie way to bring out the worst in people. It’s old, it’s cramped, and it frequently has “technical problems.” It’s supposed to simply bring us from point A to point B in a fast and cheap manner while in relative comfort. Aside from the stress of the rat race, we’re also subjected to the stress of riding this train. We just want to get from our homes to our office (and vice versa) hassle-free. But the MRT makes us compete for tiny space that even the most mild-mannered person will be forced to shove and shout at others.
A solution that doesn’t seem to address the problem. What’s also amusing are the new ticket machines that are supposed to make riding the MRT more efficient, something which we can only scoff at because, well, what we actually need are more well-maintained train systems. But if there’s one good thing about the MRT, it’s the polite security guards at the platform who can deftly handle the heat from disgruntled passengers. Somehow, they are almost always cool, calm, and collected. And I salute them for that.
My litany of complaints could go on and on. Like other Filipinos who have experienced riding trains in other countries, I ask the same question of why it can’t be the same in the Philippines. I just wish to travel comfortably and make use of my time to do the things that I’m supposed to do. And I wish to go there with relative speed. I just wish to go somewhere without feeling that I am going nowhere fast.