How to survive the morning rush hour in the MRT

This is supposedly a morning rush hour in Tokyo (which was one of the few things I made sure to miss out when I got a chance to visit). It is not Manila. But it could very well be–minus the guards pushing the passengers into the train. We, Filipinos, are only too capable of pushing ourselves into very crowded trains, and too eager even that more often than not the logic/courtesy of waiting for the other passengers to get off the train before getting on it seems to escape most.

I do think of the above scenario every time I ride the MRT in the morning rush hour. Something which I started to do, twice a week for the past few months for year-long project. Of course, it’s crowded like most commuter trains in big cities, but I still get a bit surprised every time I see the platform at eight in the morning, thick with people. And I think, Okay, you can do this. Time to put on your ‘train face’ and not get pushed around. Oh, how naive I am.

While I often wax poetic about riding trains on vacation and having a big idiotic grin plastered across my face, when I ride the train at home during rush hour, the grin is long gone (replaced by stern I-mean-business ‘train face’). I still love how trains make it relatively easier for me to get from point A to point B; I just don’t like how it makes people lose patience and common sense, and sometimes gain a violent streak, during rush hour. Anyway, if you do find yourself braving rush hour MRT madness in Manila, here are a few things that might help for you to come out of it at your right stop and with your shoes still on.

1. Women, children, and seniors only. The MRT trains have three cars. The front car has been made exclusively for women, children, and seniors Most women passengers prefer to take this train. And they’re going to get on it even if it means pushing and elbowing their way in.

From personal experience, groups of women are often more ruthless vs. men when it comes to getting on a crowded train. They push fellow femalesย  harder and seem to care less whether they’re already elbowing someone to get inside. (I would sometimes ride the male car and they tend to still give you even an inch of personal space; but the amount of manly sweat produced in the two other cars are no match for the air-conditioning. So I still stick to the women’s car.)

2. Holding your ground won’t matter. As soon as a train stops in front of you, the crowd behind you will push you towards the doors. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t opened yet, they’ve opened partially, or there’s no inch of space for you inside.

I have tried to hold my ground a couple of times, and once my wrist got twisted into this painful knot I thought it was going to break. Another time, somebody stepped on my shoe and it was left on the platform. I yelled for it, and perhaps since I was among women, they gasped, stopped pushing for a moment, and gave me a second or two to come back for it. Cinderella leaving her glass slipper in the ball doesn’t stand a chance.

3. So one more thing, wear snugly-fitting shoes. None of those flats or slippers that can easily come off.

4. Take risks. In the evening rush hour, between 5:30 pm to 8 pm, the north-bound trains are packed (in the morning, it is the south-bound trains that are crowded). What many commuters coming from Makati’s CBD usually do is take a “roundtrip”. They ride the south-bound train since when it stops in Taft Avenue (the last station), it just picks up passengers, then goes back northbound. There are no platform changes so passengers don’t have to get off. (This is not the case for North Avenue, the last station in the north.)

So if you’ve been stuck in the platform, say in busy Ayala Station for more than 30 minutes and you still can’t get on a damn train, you can simply go back up the stairs, across the south-bound platform and the ride the train all the way to the end. Just don’t count on having a seat as most north-bound passengers in the evening tend to do this so the car remains pretty full when it reaches the last stop in the south.

5. It pays to be patient. Sometimes going on a roundtrip isn’t the best option. The one time I did it, suddenly the south-bound trains stopped coming for 20 minutes. The north-bound trains kept coming, though they remained packed… until a glorious empty train came, opened its doors, and every north-bound passenger was able to go on board. I found myself exchanging looks with the women beside me, who also had the same roundtrip idea; we smiled at each other and our luck.

6. Where to stay. If your stop is more than three stations away, best to position yourself away from the door–unless you enjoy feeling the crush of people entering the train doors at every station.

While Pinoys are generally a genial lot, we can also get quite emotional; all that pushing and shoving can get on anyone’s nerves so shouts (“Aray! Aray! Aray! Huwag na kayong manulak!!!), insults (“Are you all stupid?! Can’t you see there’s no space inside?!”), rage (“Magpalabas muna kayo!” followed by a sharp elbow to make the point), and sadly desperation (“Isang oras na kami dito! Kailangan namin sumakay!”) can all be heard first thing in the morning or on the commute home. Yes, the desperation is thick during rush hour, so unless you like the taste of it, don’t stay by the door.

Now, if you’re a tourist in Manila with a big baggage in tow, sadly all I can suggest is to try not to cram your way into the train anywhere between 6 to 9 am or 5 to 8 pm. It won’t be the most pleasant way to start or end your trip.

Metro Rail Transil System Line 3 (MRT-3), located along EDSA (otherwise known as Metro Manila’s biggest parking lot) stretches from Quezon City in the north, down to Pasig, Mandaluyong, Makati and Pasay cities. The MRT stations are:

(North) North Avenue (the station is connected to TriNoma mall)
Quezon Avenue (northbound station is near Centris shopping center)
GMA-Kamuning (southbound station is beside GMA Network building)
Araneta Center-Cubao (stop for Araneta Coliseum, Gateway Mall, and Farmer’s Market)
Santolan-Annapolis (closest station to Greenhills)
Ortigas (northbound station is between Robinsons Galleria and Megamall)
Shaw Boulevard (northbound station is connected to Shangri-La Edsa Plaza mall)
Boni Avenue
Guadalupe
Buendia
Ayala Avenue (northbound station is near the bus station of The Fort-bound buses; southbound station is connected to SM Makati and Ayala Center)
Magallanes
Taft Avenue (jeepneys going to SM Mall of Asia are found outside the station)

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12 thoughts on “How to survive the morning rush hour in the MRT

  1. When you’re a commuter, being a bit resourceful and finding humor in the madness do help.

    Miracle Train, where have you been all my life? ๐Ÿ™‚ “…when women have worries or insecurities, the Miracle Train will appear” I love Japan! Plots of animes never cease to amaze me. Thanks for the info…now I need to look for a copy ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. i consider myself lucky for i don’t have to take the MRT going to/from work.. hehehe ๐Ÿ™‚

    nakakatawa naman yung mga guards sa vid. sila pa talaga ang tumutulak sa mga pasahero. ehehehe

    • I still count myself lucky that at least I don’t have to go to work every day, hehe.

      And yeah the guards in the video are funny–but i love the fact that none of the Japanese are yelling at each other, they’re all so quiet and obedient while they get pushed into the carriage ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Interesting points, especially the first one since it’s the only one I can’t relate to being a guy. ๐Ÿ˜€ Yeah, riding the MRT and LRT during rush hour sometimes call for a competitive spirit and a bit of resourcefulness. ๐Ÿ™‚ One trick I do when boarding the northbound train at Shaw during rush hour is to stay near the door because for the remaining stations, the doors that open are at the other side. That way, I don’t have to move to give way to alighting and boarding passengers. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Found your blog just now! I haven’t used the MRT is the morning lately, but a few weeks ago, the Santolan-Annapolis MRT station enforced a queue system during the morning commute. It was very well done: the guards were very strict about passengers lining up; no one tried to cut the lines; and people in line waited for people to get off the train first before getting in. Also when x number of people get off the train, x number of people got on the train, sometimes a bit more if you can squeeze in.

    I don’t think other stations did it, because as I rode the train, I could see the “angry mob” outside on the platform trying to shove their way in.

    Hats off to the team at the Santolan-Annapolis station. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hi Tracy! Wow, that’s a great move by the people in Santolan-Annapolis station. Hats off to them talaga–and to the passengers ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope it’s something MRT management can also implement in the other busy stations.

  5. just taken a ride today with the MRT that’s plying the EDSA route and I was amazed:) the passengers no longer crowd in the train door, rather they now fall in line, I overheard the guard say three lines, and the passengers are obeying the instructions. Iba pa rin ang Pinoy, kailangan lang may political will ang mag uutos…sumusunod at ibig pa rin ang maayos

    • that’s great to hear! although I don’t think they apply that to all the stations during rush hour since I still experience the desperate rush of commuters to enter the train just this week. but yah, I agree that if there are instructions, Pinoys will obey. Sana eventually there would be no need for guards to enforce rules, na that kind of discipline comes naturally.

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