Greater Manila Transit Map: A Story of Integration, Branding, and Cultural Power

By the time we've posted this blog article, we might have seen this transit map that has been going around on Philippine social media for the past 24 to 48 hours. To be honest, we were surprised of the virality that this map has made. It was unexpected and unprecedented! From what was supposed to be a hobby and pampalipas oras after cooking for the annual Christmas tradition of Noche Buena, here it is--shared and counting, and we couldn't be thankful enough for this support online.

We have been mapping for quite some time now. It's both passion and work. It is an unsolicited personal effort as a concept map of integrated transit systems in Greater Manila Area, using actual data.

However, there is a back story behind why we created the transit map of Greater Manila. Here's how it went.

Integrate it!

Our Greater Manila Rapid System is composed of three rapid rail (metro) transit systems, one river ferry system, and one commuter rail system. Different companies or agencies manage these rapid transit. Each have their own rules, own standards, their own. Stations were built as if the other lines, and even the buses, don't exist. In other words, integration is...*buntong hininga.*

If you ask us, for a metropolis of 20 million, that's not enough! But that's all that we have.

The management agencies of the rapid transit systems in Greater Manila Area.

Then, these rapid systems are accompanied with the complicated mumbo-jumbo of bus transits (that are not BRT, by the way), jeepneys--a Filipino cultural icon that is a symbolic leftover from World War II, and tricycles, not to mention UV Express service--that are mostly owned privately or on cooperatives (sometimes competing ones).

And it has the same thing as the rapid transit systems--no central authority except for a franchising bureau that is on the hot seat, and different local government units that has their own set of rules, mostly different from one city to another.

And we haven't seen a map online that has integrated these different systems in a manner that it is understood by the public.

In line with this challenge, we integrated these systems (except for the buses and jeepneys to which we believe another series of maps should be done).

Why Include Pasig River Ferry? It isn't Rail

Our ancestors made Pasig River their highway all the way until sometime in the 20th century. Goods and services pass by here when roads were just for calesas. It was the city's life line!

Pasig River Ferry at Plaza Mexico Station, Old Manila

Today, its potential is being undermined by highways and roads. As Metro Manila grew more car-oriented, the river is relegated to other uses: dump site, drainage, and freight.

When the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority launched Pasig River Ferry System back in 2000's, it didn't meet the expected ridership. Only a few years later, it ceased to operate.

Recently, MMDA reopened the system, although using open-air boats rather than the air-conditioned catamarans. Some of their boats in the fleet used reconfigured tug boats with baby buses on top of it--making it sometimes as the butt of the jokes on rapid transit.

Pasig River Ferry line (in teal color), from Plaza Mexico in Intramuros, Manila to Pinagbuhatan in Pasig. It takes more than an hour to cross from Manila to Pasig. Though slower, but you wouldn't encounter much traffic congestion at the river--unless during "water hyacinth season."

Years on, thank goodness they are still operating on limited basis. Ridership isn't really at par with those of the battered MRT, but the river passes through some of metropolis's busiest communities like Manila, Makati, and Pasig. And yes, it is somehow "connected" to the system since the stations are a few meters away from the rail stations like Lawton and Guadalupe (this one a challenge though).

There seems to be a lack of push in promoting Pasig River Ferry system. It isn't integrated in the transit maps. It has the potential of bringing passengers from Manila all the way to Calamba, just like how Bapor Tabo in Jose Rizal's novel El Fili experiences.

It needs more push, and hopefully with this map integrating it within the system, would push for more ridership someday. We're still hopeful. Pasig River after all, was our highway--and perhaps one of Metro Manila's idle potential in moving people--not cars--within the Greater Manila area.

One Station Name Please

Have you ever experienced having to transfer stations from one transit line to another, and that station has a different name? It's a common thing in Manila's metro transits.

Wouldn't it be simpler to have one station name for two connecting stations at one place?

Manila's metros were built in different agencies, administrations, and visions--and integration was not really a priority. Anyway, you can just simply go down and walk at the sidewalks then go up to the station again. That's how it is.

Going back, for example in Pasay City:
MRT-3's southern terminal is "Taft Avenue" Station. Obviously it's named after the road that intersects EDSA at that area.

A few meters from the corner is the "EDSA" Station of LRT-1. It was named because the road intersects Taft Avenue is EDSA. LRT, being the older line, named the station first.

Both stations are connected through an elevated walkway and Metropoint Mall.

Most locals of the Greater Manila Area call the place where Taft Avenue and EDSA stations as "Pasay Rotunda." Buses and UV Express to the airport, to Cavite, to Batangas and jeepneys to Divisoria pass by here--and for most locals, this area is understood as "Pasay Rotunda," named after a roundabout that existed decades ago.

Or these two in Manila?

In other places like Singapore, even if the stations and the platforms are few meters apart, in the name of convenience, simplifying, and integration--they named it as one. For example, Singapore's Dhoby Ghout or Kuala Lumpur's KL Sentral.

Same case as with Recto and Doroteo Jose. People fondly know the place as "Avenida" even if it is Rizal Avenue corner Recto Avenue. Same with Lawton as well. PNR's EDSA Station intersects with MRT 3's Magallanes Station. Those who travel in SLEX would recognize the place as Magallanes already.

Araneta Center-Cubao is consistent, even if the station is a 500 meter walk from each other.

The places that are consistent with naming, ironically, is Araneta Center-Cubao. Both LRT-2 and MRT-3 named their stations as such even if it's half a kilometer away from each other (500 meters apart). It is more than enough simply because people know it is Cubao District of Quezon City, and the stations are beside Araneta Center.

Suggestive line names aside from the line color and the numbering system.

Also, we suggestively named some of the lines in Filipino like "Linyang EDSA" or "EDSA Line," rather than "Yellow Line" or "Green Line." It has more recall, and most likely colors change, but not the name of the place that easily.

Branding: The Least of the Transport Sector's Problems

In Singapore, Hong Kong, and New York, their respective rapid transit systems have a standardized typography and graphics to their signs and publication materials--to the point that it becomes an icon or a cultural brand of the city. New York and it's white Helvetica on black sign is one. Singapore's LTA Typeface is evident to almost everywhere. Hong Kong even made merchandise souvenirs of their trademark tiled interiors.

The attempt to standardise the typeface of Manila's Rapid Transit has started when Light Rail Manila managed LRT Line 1. It has changed the signs from usual Helvetica to Cabin. The agency is also standardizing its publication materials to Cabin as well, hoping others would follow and create a cultural icon on Manila's rapid transit systems.

In Manila, upon the succession of Light Rail Manila Incorporated (a private company), it has made a subtle effort in standardizing its typeface all throughout the system. From the drab, PVC-covered, yellow and black Helvetica signs, they used the font "Cabin" gradually to their Station Names, their pub mats, and signage.

Singapore's MRT system map, with LTA Typeface as its official typeface. Source: Land Transportation Authority of Singapore

It suddenly became more decent to look at and somehow it takes one step forward in branding what Manila's public transport should be.

Hong Kong's MTR make merchandise out of these metro signs.
The effort hasn't gone to the different rapid transit stations, because again "branding" is the least of their problems right now--especially the pitiful plight of MRT-3 in EDSA and how to increase movement of the people--not only of cars, in the Metro?

It is understood, though hopefully we shall eventually go there. To have a simplified and integrated typeface is a step towards a more efficient mass transit, together with better maintenance systems of course.

Multilingual: Anong Problema doon?

It would have been reserved for the airport signs, but here we are. We started it in the maps. The transit map is written bilingually, with Filipino emphasized? Why? Because we are in the Philippines.

We don't see the reason why we should relegate Filipino on the sidelines, or a second priority. It is part of our identity, and most likely tourists may prefer seeing a sign on a different language along with English.

Don't worry folks, English isn't going away or prioritizing our local language over international ones doesn't make us dumb. Though my Filipino here needs improvement.

In Kuala Lumpur, they have written their signs bilingually, with Bahasa as a priority over English. In Thailand, they wrote their signs in both Thai and Latin alphabet--and they do have more foreign tourists than us.

Klang Valley Integrated Transit Map written bilingually, with Bahasa priority.

Some pundits would say, it is useless and impractical. They assume that ALL Filipinos understand English and SHOULD understand English since it is impractical for Filipinos to learn local languages because they will not be competitive to the rest of the world. Please, don't. Some nationalities don't have an "impeccable English" like we do, but they are now leading in terms of economic, social, and political power in the international scene.

We don't need Tagalog or local language signs on public transport, since we Filipinos understand English well...(sigh). This is in Kuala Lumpur International Airport--more foreign passengers come through here than NAIA.

If that would be the case, why are we still taking TOEFL and IELTS as a requirement?

This sign in Mactan-Cebu International Airport would have been better if it has the Cebuano (language spoken by Cebu locals) together with the English translation. "Tagbo-an/Meeting Area" would have been better.

Para kanino ba yang transportation system na yan? Sa mga dayuhan o sa atin? A simple multilingual approach would do wonders, sometimes to those who doesn't understand English context well enough. Anong nakakahiya doon?

Going back, it isn't a pain in the butt if we go bilingual or multilingual. Not too deep, but clearly understood in today's context. A simple "Labasan/Exit" or "Bilihan ng Tiket/Ticket Counter" or "Bawal Tumambay/No Loitering" would do. We are aware that the rapid transit managements have been doing it, but we think we can push it a bit further.

Integration, Coordination, and Simplicity

Transit maps aren't made to be geographically accurate. They are made to convey the transit's destinations and ways as clearly and concisely as possible. That is why we see most of these transit maps are done in 90 and 45 degree angles.

Traveling in Greater Manila Area is already daunting as it is--with complicated bus and jeepney routes, it'll take time for a visitor to comprehend it. Heck, even a local may find it hard to travel from Point A to Point B, especially if they are not familiar with the place.

NAIA is pretty much out of the system, aside from the shuttle service offered to NAIA Terminal 3 and buses that pass through Terminals 1 and 2. That shall be for the next transit map.

The lesson from making transit maps is to make things clear, simple, concise, and integrated. Transit maps from all over the world are already daunting enough to understand--like Tokyo's outstanding metro system. But overriding the complexity with simplicity, a person's perspective of going within the city is not as daunting as it was. Transit Maps provide that information and guidance--especially for those who travel. After all, for the riding public, there is no such thing as LRTA, Light Rail Manila, or Metro Rail. It's just one metro system for Metropolitan Manila.

Coordination between agencies is the key, and we are fully aware that this is not an easy task. Doable and possible, but it may take an extra push.

The resolution of the North EDSA Common Station hopefully is the beginning of a more integrated and humane rapid transit system. You can actually go from QC to Makati through LRT-1! :D

We are fully aware that branding and making transit maps are the least of the problems our transport sector--given the daunting task of fixing the overcrowded, antiquated system that we have. However, small steps are appreciated in one way or another.

We're hopeful that someday, somehow, our transport system would improve dramatically. But for now, here's what we can contribute to make our transport sector better.

Click this photo to download the high resolution map for your use! Print it if you're offline! Happy travels!

One thing's for sure, this would not be the only time we'll create transit maps.

Thank you very much for your support and happy travels! Maligayang paglalakbay sa lahat! :)

This map has a Creative Commons License Attribution NonCommercial Generic 2.0 (CC BY-NC 2.0). Please refer to the license page for more information.