Friday, December 14, 2007

Ceres Liners

Denizens of the roads from north to South, bright yellow Ceres Liners are an iconic means of public transportation in the Philippines. The parent company Vallacar Transit Company Inc. is the largest bus company in Negros. It has over 1700 units traveling in Negros, Mindanao, Cebu, and Luzon.
There are many smaller bus companies in the Provinces; most own a few tattered coaches with more body filler than sheet metal. These lumbering local run busses often stop every kilometer to pick up passengers, a slow way to get anywhere. A few operators offer modern but small coaches that look more like space ships than public transport. These small hot rod busses for lack of a better term often are rolling music venues, with huge subwoofers blaring the latest disco or hip hop mix. Bounding down the highway with reckless abandon, this is truly a multi sensory experience. This variant is not so prevalent in Negros Oriental. They do ply the routes from Cebu City south to Car Car and beyond.

Ceres liners are a class above these lower echelon rides. Well maintained coaches (by Philippine standards), some are air-conditioned and feature onboard movies. The size of the bus often will depend on the route. Sometimes their will be a small express run for students and commuters between neighboring towns such as Dumaguete and Siaton timed for local school and work schedules.
Ceres liners operate both from proprietary terminals and public ones. They also make unscheduled stops along the way, depending on whether they are an express or local run. If you are a foreigner and 6 feet tall, you will quickly realize that in the Philippines everything is downsized for the average Filipino. A Diminutive people, the average man stands about 5”4”, and the average female about 5’. The bus seats reflect this as well as the legroom. Combine this with the Philippine tendency to get as much as possible from a revenue standpoint, and you will quickly discover that the buses while large are cramped.

There is little regulation concerning public safety in the Philippines. In some ways this is a refreshing change from highly regulated and litigious societies in the West. As a traveler you have to accept the fact that you are in a foreign country and it is their rules and culture. I have never had a problem riding any public transportation here, but one needs to responsible and keep a watchful eye.

The buses have no seat belts, and the conductor will fill the seats first, and then fill the isle with passengers sitting on plastic stools. After that if there is any standing room that is used as well. Not all trips are so crowded, but if you are claustrophobic, be aware of the possibility. Ceres does not at this time sell tickets in advance. The protocol is to get to the terminal early and sit in the waiting area. There are no announcements, you will watch for your bus to arrive. In larger terminals like Cebu if you are an obvious foreigner, there will be many “volunteers” looking to help you. Be careful; never give your bags to anyone. If you have more bags that you can carry, make sure you see the porter put your bag in the lower compartment and close the door.

Once the bus arrives at the terminal, everyone just gets up and boards taking any available seat. Normally there is no problem. However, if this might be the last trip of the day on a busy run, be prepared for bumping and jostling to get a seat. On rare occasions people will storm the door before the passengers on board are even off the bus. Join the fray. No one seems to get angry, pushing your way on is normal in these instances.
After the bus is on the way the conductor will first come down the aisle and give you your ticket after asking your destination. The ticket has several columns with numbers. Some numbers will be punched. Read the ticket from left to right to determine your fare in Pesos. The conductors in my experience are honest, but in the Philippines education is inconsistent, so simple arithmetic skills vary, learn to read the ticket and count your change. That said, the money as compared to Western currency is so low, you can’t lose the bank.
Money is not collected when the ticket is issued. In typical Philippine efficiency, the conductor makes two trips up and down the aisle. If he does not have change for you right away, don’t despair, he will return later with your change.
I have met some very interesting people, and made some friends riding the Ceres Liners. As a rule you will find fellow passengers friendly and very willing to help you if you don’t understand something. The worst thing that you can do is get angry and aggressive over some issue. While this behavior is tolerated in the West, it is considered rude and insulting in the Philippines. Go with the flow, and be patient, everything here runs on “Filipino time”.

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