When we speak of improving the traffic situation in Metro Manila, we usually talk of building more roads or lessening the number of vehicles on them. Very rarely do we look beyond the confines of cars to consider alternative forms of transportation, despite the fact that these may do more to alleviate the daily gridlock on our streets.

The Pasig River Ferry as a Kaleidoscope of Metro Manila

One such example is – unexpectedly enough – the Pasig River Ferry. At the mere mention of its name, you probably recoiled and held your breath, imagining the murky green waters of the Pasig River and what surely must be the foulest of odors wafting up from it and into your nostrils.

I anticipated this unpleasantness, too, but the Pasig River surprisingly did not reek. Riding through it on a small ferry was better than any experience I had on a cab or on a jeep. I would even go so far as to call the trip serene – when standing on the bow, there’s just you, the water, and a gradually changing vista of the Metro Manila.

In the span of roughly an hour – which is how long it took me and my group to sail from Binondo, Manila to San Joaquin, Pasig City – I managed to see, in microcosm, how truly diverse our country is. Just look at this ten-second clip, and then envision what you might see over the course of another three thousand, five hundred fifty seconds.

While I took the trip with friends, the Pasig River Ferry is, at its heart, a deeply personal experience. My friends, it seemed, were as much in their own world as I was in mine. I zoned out for the whole trip, thinking of nothing other than the scenery that passed before me and how little of the Philippines I had really seen during my three years here. The landscapes, then, served as a kind of challenge: Where will you go next?

The Pasig River Ferry as an Experience

This emotional slant is exactly how the Metro Manila Development Authority should package the Pasig River Ferry – not as a service, but as an experience: the passenger as pioneer, boldly going (and dreaming) where no one has gone before.

Such an angle would seem unlikely to come from a government agency, but we only need to look at the Department of Tourism and their “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign to know that these institutions do have the capacity to be creative, so long as it’s in their best interests to do so. As intended, that campaign brought the country more tourists. A campaign that effectively sells the Pasig River Ferry as an experience will no doubt drive more passengers onto their boats.

Even with this appeal, change will not come easy. Taking even just one leg of your journey by boat is a huge leap in both behavior and attitude. Commuting on our nation’s strained highway system is so ingrained into our culture that even complaining about the traffic seems to have become a national pastime.

Yet we can cause this tectonic cultural shift, so long as the commitment is there. I don’t kid myself that filling these boats up will alleviate our traffic overnight – our passenger manifest had something like twenty-nine passengers, and it was already looking decently full – but we must start somewhere.

When even a few people avail of our largely unused waterways, we are freeing up some amount of space on our highways. This amount is probably negligible now, but if more and more Filipinos choose to take the Pasig River Ferry when it makes sense to, in turn spurring the commission of more boats and the implementation of a fuller schedule, we can very well see a measurable difference not just in our daily traffic, but in our communities.

Our communities will be more liveable, our air breathable. And – who knows? – it might even encourage the exploration of more alternative forms of transport beyond cars and jeeps:

If the Pasig River Ferry can get me to see beyond the sphere of my life, it might very well be able to accomplish anything.

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  • Commander_Chico

    It certainly changes the way you smell Metro Manila. It’s a good way to get around but lack of fixed schedules and variable speed of travel make it questionable as a commuter option.