Manila’s primitive public transport system: A national embarrassment!

It is no longer news that Metro Manila, the Philippines’ premiere urban centre is a mess, and its residents’ biggest bane is its mass transport system. For a metropolis the size of Greater Manila, the existing rail network is extremely sparse and public road transport is utterly chaotic. Over the last couple of years alone, appalling “mishaps” have beset the city’s most “modern” commuter rail lines. Most recent is a head-on collision that occurred on the Light Rail Transit line where, forunately, only one person suffered minor injuries.

Metro Manila's sparse and decrepit public transport system results in billions in lost productivity annually.
Metro Manila’s sparse and decrepit public transport system results in billions in lost productivity annually.

Years of neglect have turned Manila’s train services into decrepit national embarrassments. On the busy Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3), the number of trains operating has gone from 20 down to just 8 simultaneously running trains resulting in long queues and dangerously-crowded platforms all over the network. MRT management have dismissed the unbearable queues and delays as “normal” even as it attributed the drastic service cuts to “techincal problems such as speedometer malfunction, air-conditioning and poor lighting system.”

Even without these “mishaps”, just looking at the public transport newtwork diagrams of other major southeast Asian cities already gives one a visual idea of just how behind on transport infrastructure development the Philippines is.

Bangkok is currently served by three rapid transit systems: the BTS Skytrain, the underground MRT and the elevated Airport Rail Link. Although proposals for the development of rapid transit in Bangkok had been made since 1975, it was only in 1999 that the BTS finally began operation.


The BTS consists of two lines, Sukhumvit and Silom, with thirty stations along 30.95 kilometres (19.23 mi). The MRT opened for use in July 2004, and currently consists of one line, the Blue Line. It runs for 20 kilometres (12 mi) and has eighteen stations, three of which connect to the BTS system. The Airport Rail Link, more recently opened in August 2010, is operated by the SRT and connects the city centre to Suvarnabhumi Airport to the east. Its eight stations span a distance of 28 kilometres (17 mi).

Rail transport in Malaysia comprises heavy rail (including commuter rail), light rapid transit (LRT), monorail, airport rail link and a funicular railway line. Heavy rail is mostly used for intercity passenger and freight transport as well as some urban public transport, while LRTs are used for intra-city urban public transport and some special uses, such as transporting passengers between airport buildings. There are two commuter rail services linking Kuala Lumpur with the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The sole monorail line in the country is also used for public transport in Kuala Lumpur, while the only funicular railway line is in Penang.


The railway network covers most of the 11 states in Peninsular Malaysia. In East Malaysia, only the state of Sabah has railways. The network is also connected to the Thai railway 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) network in the north. If the Burma Railway is rebuilt, services to Myanmar, India, and China could be initiated.

TransJakarta is a bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was the first BRT system in Southern and Southeast Asia. The TransJakarta system began operations on January 25, 2004. TransJakarta was designed to provide Jakarta citizens with a fast public transportation system to help reduce rush hour traffic. The buses run in dedicated lanes and ticket prices are subsidized by the regional government. As of 2014, the buses carried more than 350,000 passengers per day with more than 500 buses in operation and more than a hundred in maintenace and for reserve. The subsidy per passenger-ticket in 2011 was around Rp 2,900 ($0.29) and for 2012 the subsidy is expected be around Rp 2,100 ($0.21) per passenger-ticket.


Currently TransJakarta has the world’s longest BRT system (208 km in length), with 12 primary routes and 10 cross-corridor routes. Three more corridors are due to commence construction in 2014 or 2015 and will be partially elevated whereas the existing corridors are at ground level. In addition there are 18 ‘feeder’ routes that continue past the end of the exclusive busways into the municipalities surrounding Jakarta and use special buses that allow for boarding at either ground level or the TransJakarta station platforms.

[NB: Parts of this article were lifted from the articles “Bangkok”, “Rail transport in Malaysia”, and “TransJakarta” in a manner compliant to the terms stipulated in the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License that governs usage of content made available in this site.]


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28 Comments on "Manila’s primitive public transport system: A national embarrassment!"

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Dale Gozar
Focus not only on additional coaches, line extension or new lines (Subway/LRT/MRT/PNR), maintenance & upgrading existing train facility. But much better to include the following: 1. Additional Railway for semi or full express train service (w/ limited stops) to reduce travel time and prevent train fast deterioration (wear & tear) 2. Exclusive railway for Freight (container/cargo) train to accelerate the flow of goods and reduce no. of truck or lorry in roads/highway. a “A devel­oped coun­try is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use pub­lic trans­port” – para­phrased from Enrique Penalosa, for­mer Mayor of… Read more »
Gunther Benavidez

My baseline for mass transit would be Hong Kong’s MTR and the Japanese mass transit system.

These mass transit systems are also privately owned however their governments are “hands on” on the operations unlike in our country.

In HK’s case a delay of I think 10 mins in train arrival should be escalated to the national government. In Japan, when the train is late, the station will give you a notice that the train is late to show your school/employees.

Miles Henri Sumner

I’m from Los Angeles, California, U S A. I’ve lived in Philippines over 2 years.
My entire experience with the rail transport here consists of seeking out alternative ways to travel from place to place about these islands.
I believe the Filipinos will find ways to improvise whatever they do.
Each trip I take I like to include some rail travel. Each jurisdiction finds a way to make my adventures interesting.
I want to see better maintainence too; every thing has a price and extra fees. Perhaps more accountability is in order.

Irineo B. R. Salazar

Yeah, Manila’s public transport is behind that of the other ASEAN neighbors – excellent article! OK an extreme proponent of free markets would say that is a sign of “communism” for the others, but would at least have to have a better and functioning private road network to show for. Even brutal neoliberals would have be able to boast of skyways over shabu slums for the fittest that survive to drive over – nada.


This piss poor excuse of a public transport system doesn’t even have a subway (No, not the restaurant chain. Those are in abundance).

I suspect the appalling state of its rails are what’s keeping the crooked bus/taxi/puj companies at the top of the food chain thus clogging up the streets. That license plate color code law should apply to these assholes too.


no major city can ever be great without a public transport system. Let’s face it in the Philippines it will never happen. I told an alveo condo salesman, leave the country if you want to live in a country with a future


The population density in Metro Manila further exacerbates the problem. If only there were more development in the outlying areas.


Aquino does not care. All he cared about are the: DAP, PDAF, BBL Law…where the money in the budget go. And his cahoots are thieves like himself.

Aquino simply did not do anything. And he continues not to do anything…

Indeed, Manila’ s public transport system is embarrassing from any angle you look at it. It is reflective of national and local leaders who are perverts. Yes, perverts, because every govt project is decided on the basis of how much tongpats they can milk out of it. And they need tongpats for two reasons: (a) to fund their political war chest so they could persists in their various positions, elected or appointed, and (b) in 80% of cases, to maintain their amorous, more likely gold-digging, “mistresses”, or “toy boys”, they have in their not so secretive lives. So, the end… Read more »
Robert Haighton

A little bit off topic but still.

Is there something really outstanding good in the Philippines? What about the rice, the lechon, balut, clean air, clean drinking water, nature?


One can’t understand a city without using its public transportation system.

You wrote TransJakarta was designed to provide Jakarta citizens with a fast public transportation system to help reduce rush hour traffic. Sounds very nice now go to Jakarta and try it out. World class crap. Jakarta’s infrastructure is a disgrace. Soekarno Hatta airport is a dump. Built to handle 20 million passengers and now serving nearly 60 million a year. Travellling around Jakarta is as bad as travelling around Manila. Just like Manila both cities suffer the same problems, corruption, over population, lack of infrastructure development. Lots of talk, plenty of stealing and no action. Anyway back to Manila. Travelling… Read more »

Minsan lang ako lumuwas sa Maynila but a week ago, the last time I rode LRT, napansin ko ang bagal talaga ng andar. And I paid twenty pesos for that kind of service (sa isang iglap nag-increase ang singil ng 5 pesos when they see that a fare hike will make up for their losses. Talo na naman ang masa)

Did they not spend billions already for its rehabilitation? Nasaan ang development? Bakit lalong nagde-deteriorate?

Sige lang, Pinoy. Bayad ng bayad until you die.


let’s just narrow it down to metro manila only instead of saying the philippines. the rest of the archipelago has nothing to do with the stupidity of the government/private sectors in NCR, Luzon.

I think its high time they started considering building a new national capital. Some other countries have done so. Metro Manila cannot be fixed especially with all the self serving city mayors with disjointed planning (if any planning exists) and a toothless MMDA that doesn’t function to the benefit of the capital and mostly goes around painting the ugly areas or has guys standing in blue uniforms waving at the traffic. As if that helps!! Start fresh with proper built infrastruture. Move the congress to that place so they can build something that will benefit themselves (we cannot change their… Read more »
We had an extensive rail network back in the day. Some of them, including Cavite and Antipolo lines, were dismantled due to lack of use, which is unbelievable for today. Tramlines were destroyed in ww2. They were not repaired due to financial reasons. Roads were instead emphasized, probably influenced by American car and oil companies. In 1973, a Japanese-funded study called UTSMMA originally emphasized rail lines. But in 1977, a World Bank-funded study authored by Palafox & Assoc. called MMetroplan changed all that; roads were emphasized once again. As a result, Love Buses were introduced and substituting a monorail for… Read more »

NEDA for years conduct studies to anticipate future economic happenings and recommend what actions to take at preset.
Roxas after a year of Pnoy was DOTC Czar. Therefore Roxas was aware of this traffic problem but favor Pnoy move to stop all GMA projects for alleged anomalies and did not fastract the infrastucture improvements.
We now have this traffic problem due to his inefficient actions


this jakarta ?