Is Manila’s Hellish Commute System Harming More Than Just Our Physical Well-being?

Picture this: you’re on your way home after a long day at work or after a full day of classes and all you want is to be able to sit down with your family and have a nice dinner. But then you get to the nearest MRT station or bus stop and realize that it was all a futile hope. At rush hour, the lines for the trains creep out of the stations and onto the sidewalks. The crowds watching out for the next arriving bus could actually crush you. Jeepneys pass by with people hanging out of them by the 3’s. 

This is the everyday commute for someone living or working in Manila. The reality for us daily commuters is knowing that even a 30-minute trip can stretch out to several hours — and having to accept it. We live in a perpetual existence of being drained: we arrive home late and tired but unable to sleep right away, then we wake up tired needing to leave early enough for our morning commute, and we go through the rest of our day still tired. 

mrt line manila

(LOOK: Netizen shares photos of the daily commute life in Manila)

Inevitably, this leads to adverse effects on our physical health. It’s pretty common for commuters to suffer from neck and back pain, especially given how people are forced to mold themselves like pretzels in public transportation. Respiratory problems stemming from pollution is another obvious issue. Add to that a higher risk of heart attacks, high blood pressure, and increased blood sugar and it’s obvious that a monstrous commute is in no way good for our physical well-being. 

But that was already obvious from the start. We also have to consider that commuting in these terrible conditions hurts us in more ways than we think. 

The research has been done and the numbers add up: a stressful commute will generally lead to unhappiness. It’s not just irritation or whining about the situation, either, it can be genuine discontent with life. The United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics actually reported that those with a daily commute longer than 30 minutes suffer high levels of stress and anxiety. They are also more likely to deal with depression. 

And if you think about it, it makes sense. Commuting here in Manila, regardless of the time of the day, puts us in constant stress. We are always rushing to places, racing the person next to us for a seat, and all the while worrying about snatchers or pickpockets. We fix our lives around a commute which, let’s face it, has no actual schedule. 

It also means less time for friends, family, and ourselves. Being stuck in transit for multiple hours a day takes away our energy from catching up with friends or checking in with family members. Cursory greetings once we get home and sticker replies on Facebook are the best we can do when feeling like we just want to fall face-first into our beds. We lose out on leisure and socialization, things that humans invariably need. 


(MMDA Warns That Traffic Will Only Worsen In Upcoming Months)

Being forced to live a life where we devote so much time to work and commuting, or school and commuting, leads to burn out. We tire both our bodies and our minds, barely having any time to recover. It’s not difficult to see how this could make anyone feel dissatisfied with life.  

Professionals suggest that some ways to combat this is to make our time spent commuting more productive or personally fulfilling. It can be anything from getting lost in music to catching up on the latest chika. But these aren’t long-term solutions. 

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As long as the public transportation system in Manila remains as ineffective as it currently is, people will continue to suffer. The only thing we can really do is to demand a more efficient system. We need trains that leave and arrive on time, clean buses, and fair fares. Lighter traffic wouldn’t hurt anyone, either. But these outcomes will only happen when we redirect the conversation to those who can actually do something about it. This problem warrants more pressure put on those who are tasked to serve us: our government officials. 

What do you think can be done to address the problem of commuting in Manila?