By Casey Calara and Diane Cheng
As kids, we often marvelled about how fast and efficient the train systems are in different countries where we have been to such as Japan, Hong Kong and the States. It is sad that we haven’t tried any of the snakelike lines of the trains plaguing Metro Manila because of negative feedbacks from our relatives, friends and even from the media that kept buzzing through our ears which made us stay away from the train lines, keeping us discouraged from trying it out. We grew up using our private vehicles and sometimes, taxi cabs but never was a time that we had to ride the trains. From the outside, anyone could see the passengers of the train doing their best sardines-in-a-can impression especially during peak hours and also by that reason, we cannot bear the thought of getting squeezed in with a bunch of people just to avoid the traffic.
Rarely the case but it happens, there would be random bursts where we wanted to take the train instead of taking the car because of the excessive traffic. It is really the fastest way to reach our destinations unless we have a helicopter, which we don’t. These train systems may not be as bad as how we perceived them and that’s why we both wanted to give it a try.
We chose to try the Metro Railway Transit (MRT), a lightrail system along the EDSA highway connecting the business districts of the metro. We went there twice – our first time with our key informant, one of our househelpers who is a veteran in commuting and the second time without her.
It was around 3 pm when we decided to give it a go and went to the station. Get in, buy a ticket, board the train, and reach the destination – easy for us to plan but execution-wise, we were hoping that we could accomplish all of these safely.
Starting from the North Avenue station, we decided to make a round trip until the Araneta-Cubao station. Upon entering, we looked for guards or officers whom we could ask regarding the system, asking a few statistics of how many passengers do they service each day, where would we line up, how do we get a ticket, where do we board and such although it’s our helper that thought us how to get a ticket. From our little chat, we have found that this train system services half a million passengers in and out of Metro Manila daily, exceeding its capacity of 350,000 passengers. MRT spans the stretch of EDSA highway and passes through six different cities. We also learned about the two types of tickets: a ‘stored value ticket’ which costs a hundred bucks and a single journey ticket for those who do not travel using the MRT on a regular basis. The single journey tickets are valued depending on the distance between the point of origin to the point of destination. There’s also a separate counter for those who have with them an exact fare and for those who would want to buy a stored value ticket. Luckily at the time we went there, the lines were quite short and we were able to purchase our tickets quickly.
We observed the station and the layouts in different stations are mostly the same. Two boarding platforms, the one’s going to Taft which is southbound and northbound. There were different ticketing booths for each platform and stations invested on restrooms and elevators for the disabled. Usually, the two platforms are joined by an overpass and stairs, escalators and elevators can bring you there.
Our helper also told us that the first few coaches of every MRT line are allotted for women, those with children and the disabled and it’s less crowd there. We also asked for tips and strategies from the guard and he gave us a few advice for our next visits. He told us that we should avoid wearing shorts and be as conservative as we could, just like what our parents told us when they knew about our trip to the MRT. He also added that we should not show off our gadgets and jewelry.
Our helper reiterated that we hold on to the hand rails and to not lean on train doors as safety measures. There are also arrival announcements made by the train operator. There were still a lot of space inside the train but for some reason, the passengers still prefer to bunch up beside the doors. You could still get a seat at this time.
We assumed that most of the people who rode the MRT were working in the business districts of Ortigas, Makati and Cubao as most of them disembarked the train at the stations of Shaw, Ortigas, Ayala and Cubao.
On the second day, we were there at around 6 pm and there were flabbergastingly long lines The train was packed and there was not enough space in between bodies. It was apparent from the people’s faces that their tempers were flaring up.
Passengers who are going to board should give way to passengers who are alighting. Ideally, this is what should happen. However, it is not the case, as what we have witnessed, all the passengers were so impatient and they were competing for every speck of space available. We were pushed, brushed aside, and squeezed. This kind of mayhem happens every peak hour.
We were stressed by the long lines, the heat because of the lack of ventilation, the congested trains and the non-functioning elevators. These flaws make commuting a living hell and this might be the reason why there are absurdly many negative feedbacks about the train lines in Manila.
We have come up with a few strategies we should take into consideration in the future when riding these trains:
- When approaching our destination, as much as possible, we should to stand closer to the doors because people usually aggregate near the doors for them to easily get out.
- If we’re carrying any luggage, we should bring it to our front for it would collide with all the people inside and it would also hug up precious standing space. By doing this, we could easily guard this from pickpockets.
- Try to learn to be flexible. In times like these, it is crucial that we all learn to minimize the space we’re occupying because there are numerous passengers who will do anything just to get inside of the coach. One must also learn how to balance one’s body to not fall especially when the train is halting.
We have to admit, our transportation system is not exactly the best in the world and it’s not even close. Despite all these inconveniences and the congestion inside, the Metro Trail Transit is still the most cost-effective and it really is the fastest mode of travel avoiding the terrible traffic.
Our life is like an MRT ride. It really is hard. You face a lot of challenges, you encounter different along the way, you see various faces from different walks of life, you hear their stories and take a chance in looking at glimpse on their lives. It truly is risky and it takes guts to face it. But after all these experiences, if you follow the rules, go with the flow and strategize how you will face it, you will still reach your destination.
This adventure is definitely something we would look forward to more often.
For proof of visit, video link is uploaded here: tinyurl.com/calaracheng
1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
Just by observing the transit when we ride our cars, all we can see is how packed the MRT was without having a first hand experience. Participation here is riding the MRT and buying the tickets where as observing will lead to just seeing packed people since you can’t really observe what’s happening in the MRT without riding the MRT itself.
2. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
The key informants, being the guard, knew much more than we could have observed since he works in the MRT station most of the time. He knew what is most likely to happen in the MRT because he was already able to observe or notice during their work hours. Things that he would notice are where or when people are more likely to be pickpocketed in. These stuff we never would have observed if we only ride the MRT once and for the first time.
He served as a guide and gave us security. He also taught us strategies and shortcuts when we didn’t know where to begin. Our helper on the other hand, is an avid rider of the MRT and thus, she knows strategies and gave us tips on our MRT ride.
3. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
In this participant observation, we observed at the people’s natural setting which is the MRT and we can see what happens without interference. Also, we were able to notice and observe what we would never have thought about like people cut in when the doors of the MRT open and they don’t even wait for people to come out unlike in other countries where they prioritize exiting people first.
We were able to experience the challenge firsthand by looking at it more closely and in more details. We would not have understood why people complain about the MRT system if we didn’t experience it. It’s an opportunity to be in MRT riders shoes and see through their lenses. To hear someone describe the MRT is very different from immersing yourself in the activity. Moreover, by observing from inside your car along EDSA won’t have the same understanding and feel.
4. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
Questionnaires would be better than participant observation because shorter time is spent getting information with a wider range of people than one could get with participant observation. Interviews and questionnaires are better because they answer what you want to know directly. They are not time consuming as compared to participant observation where you have to wait and observe until you’re desired outcome shows. Interviews are detailed and are surely responsive to better your understanding of the topic. In participant observations, there is a limited setting where we were only able to observe a few people and we didn’t know their backgrounds or personalities unlike in interviews. We just assume and perceive them from what we see. Also, in participant observation, we wouldn’t be able to uncover past events unlike in interviews or questionnaires where we can just ask them. Again, we only base our assumptions on what we have observed therefore observer bias exists. Observer bias is when the observer has an expectation on what he or she sees. Just like us, we expected the MRT to be crowded and thus, it affects our insights.