- Trains break down, forcing huge human traffic jams.
- Long queues at the ticket booths, winding all the way down the stairs and spill out into EDSA. People here can wait as long as 30 minutes or more.
- And after the long ticket lines -- you have to line up for bag inspection, causing another 30 minute wait.
- More time lost inside the station as you wait for a train to arrive.
- All this time, no one is announcing if a train will be coming or what time.
- And when the train finally arrives, there's no room to squeeze in, which makes you wonder why the train bothered to stop.
What WorksIn other train stations (like in Bangkok, Australia, Europe and even in our own LRT-2 -- note, I include LRT-2, or the Aurora line), riding the train is a smooth and stress-free experience. We list things that work in these stations.
Ticket MachinesThe good stations use automated vending machines to dispense tickets. There is often a window with a human, but only to give out change, special tickets, or information.
Wide Passageways and CarsThe other train stations have very wide passageways so human traffic flows more freely and crowds do not accumulate. The cars also have wider bodies, designed for lots of commuters to move around in. Not so in MRT, where cars are small and cramped. This is why people in MRT are always packed like a Brother Mike service.
Lots of Information and Maps for PassengersStation names are prominent and announced clearly by a recorded message. If you're on the street and you don't know anything about the area, you will see prominent signs indicating a train station. Schedules are published on video screens and even announced through a PA system so people don't wander about, wondering whether a train will ever come. Plus, they have maps showing the train stations and the vicinity. If there are different train lines, the map gives useful info on how to get to the other lines. (Instead of bombarding us with too many ads, why won't MRT ask these advertisers to sponsor maps of the MRT?)
Special PassesSpecial passes help decongest human traffic in the ticket booths and give a more convenient option for customers. In the countries described above, you could purchase special tickets or "passes" -- a day-long pass allows you to ride all day long. A weekly pass lets you use your ticket for 7 days, and so on. Like prepaid cards, you can easily recharge these special tickets.
What Ails the MRT?
I used to wonder why problems plague the MRT. After some years of observing, I have figured out some design flaws in their system(s).
The main stations and terminals (North EDSA, Quezon Ave, Makati, Taft) have bad real estate designs:
- Narrow passageways and waiting areas. At North EDSA station, which receives almost all of people from the North, there is only one narrow stairway, a slow and hot elevator and 2-4 ticket windows. Same is true with Quezon Ave. Since there is too much human traffic in the first two northern stations of MRT, people often try to go as far as the GMA-Kamuning station or do a "round trip". All these are symptoms of the trouble that MRT is experiencing, and still, nothing is being done to alleviate the bottlenecks!
- Slow ticket dispensing. All tickets in MRT are dispensed by humans, and most of the time they fumble as they count change. Why not activate those vending machines that I saw rotting in the corners of the station?
- MRT has stored value cards -- the closest we can get to special passes from other countries. But such is the ineptitude of MRT management that they still run out of stored value cards! I suspect that MRT "runs out" only because... they are waiting for those silly Samsung ads to be printed on them!
- Useless and slow bag security checks. In Ayala, there are many turnstiles to accommodate traffic, but inept management introduced a choke point -- a baggage check with two guards intercepting everyone entering the turnstiles. Imagine how many office workers are pouring into the station, only to be choked by two guards. I believe that baggage checks are useless deterrents to terrorist attacks (any sufficiently motivated criminal or terrorist will think of a way to outsmart these inattentive guards, anyway. What if they instead let everyone enter the waiting area, and then the guards could conduct random checks in the train waiting area?
- Several times, I have been stuck inside the Shaw station's waiting area (longest was for one hour), waiting for a train that never arrived. I felt helpless and duped, since they could have advised us in the first place that there was a problem. No one told us what was happening. To top it all the place was hot, because the architects never paid attention to ventilation design. People were about to riot. In contrast, Bangkok's SkyTrain stations are all open to let the breeze cool the area naturally.
When we are voiceless and misinformed (most of us Pinoys are), we tend to be more tolerant of bad service design. Thanks to the LRT-2 (the Aurora line) we are given a taste of a better alternative. You should try getting a ride at the LRT-2
It's been how many years now since we started encountering these MRT problems? Things do not seem to be improving. The only innovation I have seen so far was the introduction of a cordoned area for women, children and senior citizens. But this is not a solution to the root problems. This is merely cosmetic. Things will worsen if MRT management does not examine more closely what's happening.
I don't think the solutions will be difficult to find. If someone like me who knows nothing about crowd control and train systems can make these observations, what more these experts at MRT? Or do they really know what they're doing over there?
- MRT described in Urban Rail: http://www.urbanrail.net/as/mani/manila.htm
- Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manila_Light_Rail_Transit_System