Flowing forward: Exploring the viability of the Pasig River ferry system

Tired of bumper-to-bumper traffic, commuters may consider ditching land-based transportation altogether and travel by ferry instead.

Before becoming a dumping ground of waste, the Pasig River was once the backbone of Metro Manila’s trade and commerce. This historic waterway connects Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay, providing transportation routes that facilitate the steady flow of goods between provinces.

As traffic continues to worsen in the metro, the need for alternative modes of transportation becomes more imperative than ever. Among these is the Pasig River Ferry Service (PRFS), a welcome break from car-centric Manila, and an unprecedented and unique mode of travel for commuters.

By maximizing waterways like the Pasig River, the Philippines can revive its maritime transportation industry.

Lay of the water

After it was inaugurated on February 14, 2007, the PRFS ceased operations four years later due to financial losses and was later revived and rehabilitated by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) in 2014. By constructing stations from Escolta to Pinagbuhatan, the MMDA managed to cut the usual point-to-point travel time of three hours on land to just an hour by ferry. 

Recently, they have also tried to improve the PRFS through the Pasig Bigyang Buhay Muli (PBBM), an ambitious project that aims to restore the Pasig River to its former glory. As part of the project, the national government plans to add more boats, parks, and walkways along the river banks to encourage more commuters to take the ferry. 

The PRFS has experienced a steady annual growth in ridership. From 170,902 passengers in 2022, the number skyrocketed to 254,333 in 2023. One of these passengers is Mark Xander Ulasio, a seaman from Taguig City. For him, the PRFS is a welcome respite from the mental and financial strain of traditional mass transit. “Mas maayos ito kasi mabilis yung biyahe…[at] libre,” Ulasio says. Architect Jose Francisco Aquino Jr., who rode the ferry for the first time, also believes that the PRFS, in addition to decongesting Manila traffic, can allow people to “appreciate the city from a different perspective.”

(This is better because the journey is fast…and it’s free.)

Nautical roads

The PRFS presents a unique blend of economic viability and environmental sustainability within the transportation landscape of Metro Manila. Economically, it offers a promising alternative to alleviate the perennial traffic congestion issues plaguing the roads of the capital region. Moreover, its potential integration with existing public transportation networks can facilitate seamless intermodal connectivity, enhancing accessibility to various parts of the metro. 

Dr. Alexis Fillone, a full professor from the Department of Civil Engineering, notes that the climate is a possible hindrance to the PRFS’s smooth operation. “During the dry season, some parts of the river are also shallow, making it also not navigable.” Other weather events like typhoons and torrential rains can also make the commute turbulent. Coupled with the sunken ships dotting the Pasig River, they can transform the waterway into a dangerous route. 

Fillone also notes that the viability of the PRFS hinges on addressing environmental concerns such as water pollution and improper waste disposal. “There are still factories and households along the river that may still be using it as their drainage system,” he explains. Some of the waste can come from the ferry itself. “Since most ferries run on diesel engines, some of the fuels may be accidentally spilled into the river.”

Initiatives to mitigate these challenges, such as the strict enforcement of wastewater disposal regulations and the development of alternative fuels, are imperative to ensure the long-term sustainability of the service. Apart from tackling these problems, Fillone also suggests conducting market research on the PRFS. “There is a need to properly study the potential demand of the Pasig River Ferry Service so that the supply of services, including schedules, can be developed to fit the demand.”

Anchors away 

Much work remains to be done to take full advantage of the river ferry. Through the PBBM, an interagency council will collaborate with PRFS-affiliated organizations to set up new stations in Intramuros, Pasig, and Marikina. The MMDA has also partnered with the University of the Philippines and the Department of Science and Technology for the construction of fully electric ferries and onshore charging infrastructure.

The revitalization of the PRFS can act as a catalyst for improving maritime transportation in the country. Numerous waterways across the country can be developed not just for mass transit but also for tourism and economic development.  This has already been done by countries such as Singapore and Switzerland, where boats have made it easier to explore the archipelagos and its various attractions. Maximizing the waterways can also prompt investments in pedestrian facilities and station upgrades that benefit both commuters and residents. 

The Philippines has grappled with long lines, crowded vehicles, and clogged roads for years. By pushing for more alternative means of mass transit, the country can finally ease the everyday woes of commuters. Perhaps Filipinos just need to move away from land-based transportation systems and turn to the water instead.

This article was published in The LaSallian‘s Vanguard 2024 special. To read more, visit

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