The Philippines is an archipelago, but buses are a popular mode of long-distance land transportation in the country, especially on the large islands. With a rudimentary rail network, the Philippines' intercity bus network is extensive, and most cities and towns can be reached by bus. Even with competition from airlines, buses transport people across the country efficiently, if not on schedule.
Bus travel is a cheap and popular way of traveling around the Philippines. While planes are much faster, hassles with security at airports as well as frequent delays and the ticket prices not faring well to the income of an average Filipino, make buses even more useful and efficient. Buses have more frequent departures, but they are not punctual either, as bus stations are often in congested spots in cities, and it's not uncommon for a bus to leave only if full.
The industry is regulated by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), a government agency which also regulates most forms of public land transportation, including jeepneys but not tricycles. Fares must follow a tariff, and companies are subject to strict safety standards. They also have a hotline to report violations by drivers and operators, from overcharging to serious safety violations.
There are two major categories of buses, provincial buses, which zip through the provinces to connect every major city or town, and city buses, which are less common as most places would have jeepneys instead as streets are narrow. You can also find tourist buses approved by the Philippines' tourism department, and range from shuttles offered by some hotels, to ones chartered for group tours.
Buses in the Philippines are usually manned by two persons, a driver and a conductor. The conductor also announces stops and assists passengers, aside from punching tickets and collecting fares. Due to the distances involved, buses running long-haul runs (e.g. Manila to Bicol, or Manila to Davao) may have a second driver who takes over the wheel after six hours of driving. Bus staff in the Philippines are very helpful, but unlike airline staff, are less used to foreigners.
The Philippines' bus network is moderately regulated in terms of fares and standards, but there are over a hundred companies, some being dominant on one or more regions. In the busiest bus routes (e.g. the Manila-Batangas commuter route), they may be one or more companies, each offering varying levels of service. The list below include of some major bus companies (and affiliates), which typically serve one more region from one or more major city (commonly Manila). Companies that only serve one region or province from their operating base can be found on their respective "Get in" or "Get around" pages
- ALPS the Bus (Al Perez & Sons), ✉ email@example.com. Based in Batangas City, they run the Manila-Batangas City commuter route, but they also have long-haul operations to destinations in Bicol and Panay from Manila.
- DLTBCo.. Services run from Manila to destinations in CALABARZON, Bicol, Samar and Leyte. The company is owned by Del Monte Motor Works, a coachmaker, and is a revival of the Batangas-Laguna-Tayabas-Bicol Bus Company (BLTB, whose name is also similar with the present company)
- Five Star. A large bus conglomerate, and a sister company of Victory Liner. Brands include Five Star and Luzon Cisco Transport. Five Star serves the same set of destinations as Victory Liner, but with a mix of air-conditioned and regular buses. Luzon Cisco runs from Manila to Angeles, Tarlac City, Cabanatuan, Guimba, Talugtug, Santa Cruz (Zambales), Alaminos City and San Fabian.
- Genesis Transport. A bus company with routes from Manila to Cabanatuan and Baler, and Cabanatuan to Baguio. Its affiliates are JoyBus, which operates luxury buses, and North Genesis, which travels Manila-Baguio.
- G.V. Florida Transport. The first bus company in the Philippines to operate sleeper buses, complete with bunks, on overnight routes. G.V. Florida buses run daily from Manila to destinations in Ilocos Region and Cagayan Valley. Buses have a distinctive pink livery with flowers.
- Ohayami Transit. Has daily trips from Manila to Baguio, Solano, and Banaue, and Baguio to Banaue.
- Partas. A major bus company that runs most Manila to Ilocos services. Also has routes to Mindoro (San Jose), Baguio, and Abra.
- Philtranco. The oldest bus company in the Philippines and in Asia, founded in 1914. It primarily serves destinations in Bicol, but they also have routes to Samar, Leyte, Mindanao, Iloilo City and Zambales. Affiliates include Amihan Bus Line, which also travel to Bicol destinations of Philtranco.
- Victory Liner. The largest bus company in the Philippines, with routes from Manila to many destinations in northern Luzon (Baguio, Pangasinan, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon).
- Yanson Group of Bus Companies (YGBC). A large Bacolod-based firm that runs multiple bus companies, and dominates the bus network in Visayas and Mindanao. Brands include Bachelor Express (Butuan to most points in Caraga, Davao City and Cagayan de Oro), Ceres Liner (most routes in the Visayas except Bohol, Samar and Leyte), Ceres Transport (Manila to Batangas, Panay and Bacolod), Gold Star (Manila to Batangas City and Mindoro), Mindanao Star (Davao City to Cotabato City), Rural Transit (routes west of Cagayan de Oro), Southern Star (routes in Bohol) and Sugbo Tours (some routes in Cebu operated by companies bought by YGBC).
Provincial buses form the backbone of intercity and regional transportation, and while jeepneys may take their place in some routes where a full-size bus is are too large for some roads along the route or there is not any significant demand, most places within the tourist trail should be reached by at least one or more provincial bus routes.
There are five classes for provincial buses, which are based on comfort, number of seats, and fare. The class of the bus should be indicated on the windshield, but some don't have them posted at all. From worst to best:
- Ordinary (regular/third class) — 2-3 layout (6 in the rearmost row), with 38-41 hard seats. Stops most frequently. Vehicle can range from a large jeepney or minibus to a full-size coach. Some buses may have two doors or the front hosting the conductor's seat. The vehicles are crowded and sometimes unsafe, and foreign travelers are advised not to take them. Windows are kept open, so passengers are exposed to the elements and increase risk of catching disease, and spitting is common on these buses.
- Air-conditioned (second class, also shortened to AC or A/C) — 2-3 layout (6 in the rearmost row) with hard seats. No other frills except the A/C. May stop frequently like ordinary buses, but stops are further apart (and can be on bus stations than on curbsides or pullouts)
- Deluxe (first class, also called executive by some companies) — 2-2 layout (5-6 in the rearmost row) with 36-38 hards seats. Skips more stops, and have better legroom than regular AC.
- Super deluxe - 2-2 layout (6 in the rearmost row) with 34 reclining seats. Stops only at major cities and towns. May have restrooms, personal entertainment screens, and blankets.
- Luxury - 2-1 layout with 26 fully reclining seats, which can be turned to beds on overnight trips. Stops only at major cities (or run non-stop, not including food and toilet breaks), but rarer.
As a rule of thumb, "commuter" or short/medium-distance buses are usually run with air-conditioned or ordinary buses, while long-distance services (with meal stops/toilet breaks) are run with higher-class buses. In practice however, ordinary buses can be seen in long-haul routes as well, and luxury buses are usually offered by the large bus companies, even on short routes between cities.
Only a few places in the Philippines have city buses, and for most cities, jeepneys are a staple as they can negotiate the smaller streets. Unlike most systems in most of the world, city buses are run by private companies, some being affiliates or subsidiaries of the companies in the provincial bus network. City buses ply wide avenues, and routes often connect suburbs.
City buses are only available in two classes:
- Air-conditioned - 2-3 or 2-2 layout (6 seats on the rearmost row), with hard seats. The most comfortable.
- Ordinary- 2-3 layout (6 seats on the rearmost row), with hard seats. Cheaper, but are crowded, hot and often dangerous. Some companies have phased out this class of bus due to safety concern, and the few you may ride on are serving worker class suburbs.
Seating arrangements on city buses vary by vehicle regardless of class, but most should have room for 38 (for a 2-2 AC coach, a low-floor, or an ordinary) or 41 (for a 2-3 AC coach). Seats always face to the front of the bus on most vehicles, but newer low-floor vehicles will have bench seats, space for wheelchairs and strollers, standing room, and 2-2 seating (at the back behind the exit door).
Most city bus operators use long-distance buses, but with slight and subtle modifications to rush hour and frequent stop operation. Low-floor buses are slowly being available, starting with some intracity operators, and slowly spreading to all other city bus operators.
Express buses are available since 2016. Branded Premium Point-to-Point Bus Service (or simply as P2P) by the Philippine government, these buses, complete with luxury amenities generally available only on long-distance provincial routes, provide faster connections with central business districts, suburbs, or even provincial cities, and have only one to no stops along the route. Fares are a flat rate, and while expensive to a working class Filipino, they are more comfortable that the widely available AC buses. P2P buses are only available in Manila and surrounding regions and provinces, and there are also routes to Baguio and Batangas.
City bus tickets are always bought from the conductor, but contactless methods can be used with some operators. A few city bus companies, mostly ones operating completely ultramodern low-floor fleets, have completely fixed fares, such as BGC Bus (which serves Bonifacio Global City or BGC in Taguig) and MyBus (which runs between Cebu City and Lapu-Lapu in Cebu).
Fares and ticketingEdit
Fares are regulated (and the same throughout the country), and generally based on distance. The fare systems are:
- City bus: Mix of distance-based and zonal systems. ₱12 (ordinary: ₱10) for the first 5 km, increasing incrementally by ₱2.25 (ordinary: ₱1.75) per additional kilometer beyond that.
- P2P: Flat fare, generally twice the fare of a regular bus on the same destination pairs.
- Provincial bus: Generally distance-based, varies by class. Fares rounded to the nearest ₱0.25. Additional surcharges apply for meal stops and ferries, and should be indicated on the ticket.
- Ordinary: ₱9 for the first 5 km, increasing by ₱1.55/km beyond.
- Air-conditioned ₱1.75/km
- Deluxe: ₱1.85/km
- Super deluxe: (₱1.95/km
- Luxury: ₱2.40/km.
Fare matrixes (tariffs) are pasted inside the bus near the driver, but don't always rely on them as fares are usually rounded off to the nearest ₱5. For seniors, students, and disabled persons, a 20% discount is available as long you produce a valid photo ID to the conductor or ticket seller.
Getting tickets is straightforward. Provincial bus tickets are bought on board through the conductor or bought at the bus station. For long-distance trips, you can also book a ticket in advance, either online (on the company website or on a booking portal like EasyBus.ph) or at the terminal or curbside stop. City bus tickets are usually bought from the conductor, though on some buses in Metro Manila, it's possible to pay with a contactless card. Tickets are valid only for a single point-to-point trip, so transferring to another bus requires purchasing another one.
Bus stations in the Philippines vary from small company-owned shacks or sheds along the highway or main street, to large, complex terminals that function like an airport or train station and are built at the edge of town. Small bus stations have limited facilities, and may be just a patch of asphalt, concrete or dirt with a spartan waiting area and restroom. Large bus stations may have more than one terminal (including those serving jeepneys and vans), and may resemble a mall or public market, having shops and a food court. Cities or towns may have one or more bus stations, and if there is more than one, each might serve a different set of destinations (or serve a particular company). Small, company-owned bus stations are usually clustered on a suburban part of town and terminals are not far apart.
In most parts of the country, you board the bus from an open area with pasalubong stores and bus company offices (and/or tickets purchased on board after departure), or you just walk on tarmac, concrete or dirt to the bus. On large, state-of-the-art bus stations like the two new terminals in Manila, the departures area works like airport airside: you must hold a ticket pre-purchased at the ticketing booths before security or pre-booked online and redeemed at the station to be admitted into departures, baggage is inspected and passengers go through a metal detector, and the bus leaves on a particular time posted on screens. Once in the boarding area, look for departure boards to find the gate where your bus departs, and find a seat on the waiting area near you gate up to boarding, where you line up to enter the bus.
Arriving at a large bus station, you get down at an unloading area, which may be within the station premises or along the road. On large stations, you are led to an arrivals area, where there are also a food court, shops, restrooms and other services, and not from there, you can find local transportation or connect with another bus to your destination. Getting down along the road or on a small terminal, there may be little to find but transport to town, and few to no restaurants around the terminal.
The air conditioning can be harshly cool, so bring a light jacket, sweater or blanket to wrap yourself. This is generally useful if taking an overnight trip on any air-conditioned bus regardless of class. A few companies may offer blankets for use on overnight journeys, and is included on the ticket price.
Many buses have on-board TV or audio, which are often loud, so consider bring earplugs with you. Some buses may have multiple TV screens, and deluxe or luxury buses may have personal entertainment systems like those on airliners.
On-board WiFi is becoming common, but services are dependent on the cell phone signals along the road, and often unreliable. You can ask for the WiFi password from the conductor, or look for a posted sign for the password.
Rules on food and live animals vary from company to company, so check carefully. Food and beverages are generally allowed, and there are peddlers who enter the bus to sell food and drinks at many bus stops, but eating messy foods is discouraged, and some carriers ban them. Pets can be carried on an approved kennel or cage, but there are still companies that ban them on board and they must be carried in the baggage compartment, which is unsafe and unethical.
Passengers can carry up to 10 kg (22 lb) of carry-on ("hand-carry") luggage on board. Anything heavier than that is stowed on a compartment under the bus. In some regions, heavy luggage may be carried a roof rack instead, or even carried on board. There may be an extra fee if you have a lot of luggage.
Toilets should be available on long-distance services covering more than 200 km (120 mi) or 2 hours, but older buses may not have one, so the only opportunity for toilet breaks is during the meal stop or a toilet break at every 200 km of the trip.
Smoking (and vaping) is prohibited on board the bus (and any form of public transport). It is also prohibited at the bus station, but large ones may have a smoking area for people to smoke during a layover or before boarding. On meal stops or toilet breaks, it is also common for smokers to gather at a corner or a smoking area for the duration of the stop.
Foreigners are less often seen on public buses than on planes, so be prepared to encounter jarring behaviors as anywhere in the country. On ordinary buses, expect seeing people spitting out of the open windows, sitting with someone carrying a live chicken or all their luggage with them, or even smoking on board. At any class of bus, by the way, loud conversations are common and a foreigner can call the attention of curious Filipinos. Those said, taking the bus instead of a plane provides opportunities to interact with locals and experience Filipino culture.
Bus stops in the Philippines may or may not be marked, and the location may only be known by word of mouth. The stop usually have a shelter ("waiting shed") and is usually next to a pedestrian crossing. Most stops are also served by jeepneys, and generally labeled "loading and unloading areas" on signs.
Meal stops are part of long-distance bus trips, and the bus will have a scheduled stop onto a roadside restaurant, service area, or bus station where all passengers get off for a breakfast, lunch or dinner. The restaurant usually serve Filipino food (or the local cuisine) of varying quality, and the stopover area or restaurant are usually tied with or completely owned by the bus company. Meals may or may not be included on the ticket price. A meal stop usually lasts a hour, or longer if they are also waiting for boarding passengers or the stopover large.
- See also: Philippines#Road travel
Bus travel in the Philippines is often unsafe, especially with provincial buses. Buses do get involved in a lot of accidents, from simple head-on or rear-end crashes with other traffic, to vehicles running off cliffs on mountain roads. Some advice are:
- Ask locals or for what are the safer operators of a certain route.
- Avoid taking ordinary buses unless there is no alternative. Most are crowded and overloaded, and the vehicle may be dilapidated.
- Think twice before taking overnight buses, as they do get involved in many deadly crashes. Buses on overnight routes may not have a second driver, and the driver may have taken up drugs to keep themselves awake. Stick to reputable bus companies, or book a flight instead.
Crimes on buses is uncommon on provincial routes, but more so in city buses and medium-distance provincial routes, where standing passengers are normal. Pickpocketing is the most common crime aboard buses, but distraction theft also happen.
Beware also of scams at large bus stations. One common scam involves fake porters, which will bring you to overpriced shops or restaurants.
Buses have been the target of some terrorist incidents in the 2000s. In the wilder parts of Mindanao, buses may get bombed by terrorists or attacked by bandits, so, passengers can only board at designated stops or stations, and luggage may be inspected by transportation police.