Sunday, November 18, 2007

transport & traffic

There’s nothing quite like getting around in Manila. It is a huge sprawling collection of cities that make up the area of Metro Manila. Our cast is hosted in a few different areas (I’m in Quezon City), and because of the amount of traffic, we only get together as a full group every few days. Most days we travel directly to our service sites and home again, and that travel takes many forms.

Most students take taxis, which are everywhere, and are usually easy to hail, unless you live in a congested part of town. Then no one wants to drive you home, because it takes too long, and they can make more money picking up someone else. If that happens too many times in a row, or if you are near your home and know the direction to go, you can take the other two main forms of transport: jeepneys or tricycles.

The jeepney is a remnant of the influence of the US occupation. It is modified jeep that is the length of a suburban. The back is an open entrance, and in the main body of the jeep are benches along each side. It costs you 7.5 pesos (about 13 cents) to ride, and about 20 people pack onto the vinyl benches. They are fairly quick, relatively consistent, and cheap, but they mostly go on the main drags. Most people hop off a jeepney a little ways from their final destination and take a tricycle the rest of the way.

A “tricycle” is a motorbike with a huge metal sidecar that seats 3-4 people (cozily). There is also room for 1-2 people behind the driver, so essentially one motorcycle can carry 5-6 people plus the driver. Tricycles are also cheap, and the price depends on how far you’re going. Their biggest perk is to-the-door service, and their biggest downside is lungs full of exhaust (and wondering if the sidecar ever falls off—which Ana swears has never happened-- that she has seen, anyway).

There is also a bus system and a rail transit, but both aren’t accessible where I live. As for walking, it isn’t very common. Most people take tricycles even short distances. There isn’t really pedestrian infrastructure—sidewalks are hit & miss, and the residential area that I’m in isn’t within walking distance of anything but the corner store and Laundromat. Most other gated communities are similar.

Getting around makes every day an adventure. Traffic can be dead-stopped for minutes, and inching for hours. A place that’s 15 minutes away in the middle of the night can take you two hours to get to during the day. And there aren’t exactly consistent times of day for traffic either, so in general, we leave really early and hope that we don’t hit any.

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