The Maynila Field Trip Series: Pasig River Ferry Ride

June 10, 2014

If you haven't yet heard, the Pasig River ferry system resumed operation during the last week of April 2014. On its first week back, I wanted to try it before going to the office since they were offering free breakfast and coffee, on top of the free ferry ride for one week. The best things in life are free, right?! But eventually, I decided sleeping in was more important.

Then, June came-- a time when my weekends are far more accommodating than the whirlwind that was April and May. Initially, the plan was to take a ferry ride going to Escolta and walk around the area that used to be where the cool kids went. But since a lot of attractions in Manila are just within reach and/or one jeepney ride away, the Pasig Ferry-Escolta trip became a cultural immersion in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines.

Here's the rundown on the Pasig River ferry ride in case you also want to try it.

Stations, Fare & Operating Hours

Currently there are only 5 operational ferry stations: Pinagbuhatan, Guadalupe, Sta. Mesa (PUP), Escolta and Plaza Mexico (Intramuros). I know MMDA is trying to renovate the rest of the stations but I still haven't seen information on when they would go live.

The fare costs between Php30-50 (end-to-end station is Php50) and the ferry system is open from 6AM-6PM every day. Although it isn't plastered anywhere in the Guadalupe station, but common logic suggests that the rides would be cancelled in the event of a storm.

Note to self: Take a picture of the ferry schedule

Pre-Departure & Safety Measures

At the cashier, you will be asked to sign on the ferry manifest. I thought this was pretty normal because they have to have a record for when *knocks on wood* something bad happens during the ride. While waiting for the ferry to arrive, there's a boarding area where passengers can sit and watch the television. We saw an A/C unit but it wasn't powered on at the time.

Minutes before the set ferry departure time, we were asked to board the boat about 5 minutes earlier. I thought the ride was just gonna be ahead of schedule but it was not. The 5 minutes was spent doing a security orientation by the MMDA, the government organization currently handling the ferry system. It was pretty much clear cut: 
  • don't jump in the water, 
  • in case the boat sank, use the life vests placed on every seat, 
  • kids, ladies, older citizen will be saved by coast guard in that order, etc. 

What I found interesting was that they also let us sign another sheet of paper, identical to the manifest at the cashier. How redundant, I told myself. But then maybe it was a way of checking people who bought a ticket versus people who actually got on the boat. As we've all learned from the movie Titanic (okay, bad example), people can easily ride the vessel using another person's ticket. This was in the early 1900's but you get it.

The Ride & Duration

I would say aside from many people not knowing yet that the ferry rides are operational again, one of the main factors why I don't see a lot of people, at least in my social networking feed, taking the ferry ride might be caused by the fact that it runs over the Pasig River-- the dirty, smelly, filled with garbage Pasig River.

I already anticipated that there will be a strong, pungent odor and that it wasn't going to be a breezy ride, but I was surprised how fast the smell normalized with my nose. The smell is bad, yes but it's tolerable. If you have ridden ferries in Bangkok, that would give a good idea how the smell can be. (Note: My recollection of the Bangkok river smell goes 5 years back so it might not be a reliable comparison.)

Warning: If you're sitting at the "window" seat, be mindful of the river water every time the boat starts. It splashes a lot, and if you're unlucky and a gust of wind went by, you might just get splashed with dirty river water.

Travel Time: 45 minutes (Guadalupe - Escolta)

The 9:45AM ferry from Guadalupe station departed on time. I had no idea how long it will take to reach Escolta station so we had to time it. Even with the lengthy station stop we made in the Sta. Mesa (PUP) station, the delay with the Coast Guard when we were in front of the Malacañang Palace, and the traffic with the huge Batangas-marked barge after that, we were able to traversed the Pasig River within only 45 minutes. I'd say that's pretty good use of our time, instead of being hassled by changing trains, jeepneys and whatnot. It's also a lot cheaper than taking a car.

Additional Information & Some Thoughts

The route to Escolta passes by Malacañang Palace and since I haven't seen it yet in real life, I thought I was in for a treat. It might be the perspective of the palace but I was actually underwhelmed by the facade facing the river.

Warning: The Philippine Coast Guard strictly forbids taking photos of the Malacañang Palace for security reasons.

A Coast Guard soldier went aboard the ferry one station before passing by the Palace. He, along with every ferry crew on-board, were watching everyone like hawks, trying to find rulebreakers. They didn't say what the punishment was and  I'd rather not know. I was, however, able to sneak take one photo when we weren't directly in front of the Palace anymore. (Oooh badass!)

I think the ferry system, when finally operational at a full scale, could dramatically lessen the heavy traffic within the metro. It just needs a steady passenger-base so it won't close shop, like what happened years ago. At the top of my head, here are some of the things I think the system can improve:

  • Disseminate information in the social media. I've done my research before taking my first ferry ride last weekend and aside from the same snippets from News sites, I didn't have any idea on the ferry schedule, the duration, etc. Rappler was pretty helpful but that was it. (Note to @mmda: hold a selfie contest while onboard. It might help.
  • Electronic card passes tied with the MRT/LRT card system. I know, I know! They haven't even consolidated the MRT-LRT cards yet, but a girl can dream.
  • Efficiency. Make the twice-signing on the manifest more efficient. I could think of tying in the receipt number with the name on the first manifest, but this means the process should be automated.
  • Faster renovation of the rest of the stations. During the ride, you can see that the structure is already there, it only needs to be repainted and cleaned. More stations means, more people they can service.
  • Cheaper fares. I think the prices are very reasonable so I'd say instead of subsidizing MRT/LRT fares, give the subsidy to the ferry and bus systems. I for one think, the MRT/LRT system as it provides the fastest way from Point A to Point B in today's traffic situation, should ideally cost more than the other regular modes of transportation. But that's just me. 

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  1. Thanks for the helpful info! Might try this one out soon. :)