What it’s like to ride the Pasig River Ferry
The Pasig River Ferry began its operations on Monday, April 28, and as a heavy commuter, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to find out what it’s like to try it out. It was years ago when the ferry system stopped operations, but now it has been resurrected thanks to the joint efforts of MMDA and DOTC. It was proposed as the solution to ease traffic and to help improve the dreadful state of government and independently-owned public transportation. Many are hopeful that it might lessen the rush hour chaos. I went on a little adventure to find out if this commuting alternative is worth skipping buses, cabs, and jeepneys.
Stations and schedules
Operating in five stations as of now (Pinagbuhatan, Guadalupe, Sta. Mesa-PUP, Escolta, and Plaza Mexico in Intramuros), the Pasig River Ferry routes promise faster alternatives for commuting, especially if coming from Makati and Pasig to Manila (and vice-versa). After the soft launch is over, all 11 stations will be operational (including San Joaquin, Hulo, Valenzuela Bridge, Lambingan Bridge, Sta. Ana, Quezon Bridge). The departure of boats is scheduled each day, leaving in one-hour intervals starting at 6:45 a.m. from the Guadalupe and Escolta stations. During this soft launch, the trips are only scheduled between 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Since it’s only the first week operations, the faulty scheduling and organization of the MMDA crew assigned to Guadalupe station can be forgiven. Originally opting for the Plaza Mexico route, I arrived at the station at 9 a.m. Looking around, the station was well-kept, although some part of me thought, “bago pa lang kasi,” and hoped that they’ll be able to maintain the cleanliness in the long run. The restrooms were decent, and the waiting area had enough seats for everyone. Free coffee was even served, probably their way of sending an advanced apology for the scheduling mishaps.
I wasn’t able to get into the ferry bound for Plaza Mexico because the station booked too many passengers for the last ride. I’d imagine that if I really had to go to Manila for school or for work: an hour was already lost and there was no other way to redeem the lost time. Good ‘ol land transportation options seemed better at this point. I do hope the scheduling will get better as days go by though. But because I still wanted to go on with the experience, I rode the ferry to Pinagbuhatan instead.
The smell and sights of the wet city
The “ferry bus” looked like an oversized speedboat with brand new, bright orange life vests hanging on each seat. The ferry I rode could hold 28 passengers per ride. To be fair, it wasn’t a struggle jumping in and out of the ferry, with the platforms on the same level as the boat. If there’s one thing that’s memorable (or should I say unfortunately memorable) with the ride though, it’s the grueling stench of the river. It was hard not to gag, with the smell of garbage and different kinds of waste piercing through the nose. A passenger in front of me wore a protective mask, and mumbled, “hindi uubra kapag wala kasing ganito.” It made me think about the health hazards of riding the ferry on a more regular basis.
I talked to the lady beside me and asked where she was headed, and if she would ride the ferry on her daily commute. “Papuntang Taytay. Siguro oo puwede kasi libre sa ngayon at mabilis, pero kung walang traffic hindi siguro, matagal din ang hintayan eh,” she said, before putting her nose and mouth back behind her thick floral handkerchief.
The view isn’t exactly scenic, the ride will make you see the harsh urban realities and there’s no exaggeration in that. Commuting is a time when people drift their minds, daydream, or maybe just rest until the grind starts. It’s quite hard to do that in the Pasig Ferry, with the things you’ll see during the ride. Frail-looking houses stood by the river with makeshift ladders and boats as their way of getting around, children swimming in the river while mothers do laundry in the black, sludge-like water. A seemingly endless row of factories and machinery in motion is also seen, and it’s quite obvious where they dump their wastes at night.
20 minutes into the ride, I’ve already figured out the most challenging part of the whole Pasig River Ferry experience. It’s not the waiting or the sticky feel of the heat, nor the dirty water that splashes into the boat once in a while. It’s the stench that lingers on even after I’ve stepped off the boat and walked on the road. Stink, garbage, and unsavory scenery aside, the ride did live up to its promise of getting to the intended destination quickly. Within 30 minutes or less, we were in Pinagbuhatan, a destination that could have taken more than an hour if coming from Guadalupe.
Is it worth it?
It’s quite hard to say, but efficiency wise, the Pasig River Ferry could be Metro Manila’s savior during rush hour. It’s just a matter of who will ride it, being that the stations are far from the business districts with Guadalupe and Hulo closest to Ortigas, Makati, and BGC (the BGC bus even added the Guadalupe terminal in one of its stops). For those who have a stronger stomach than I do, the River Ferry is promising and will take you to your desired destination faster, as soon as the scheduling and overbooking issues are fixed.
Manila and Rizal-bound passengers can opt for the ferry ride instead of a land travel. As for the fare, the farthest (Guadalupe to Plaza Mexico and vice versa) does not cost more than Php 50; an affordable way of getting around compared to the accumulated expenses of jeepney, bus, LRT, and tricycle rides. Come two to three years, maybe the ferry system could introduce covered, air conditioned boats. But until that time, I’m sticking to jeepneys and cabs.