konting ipit lang po*
(...disorganized transport iii)

The Boundary System as a city shaper.

Cities are self-organizing systems. With the exception of planned cities like Brasilia or Chandigarh, very few cities arise ex-nihilo.

Cities respond to the needs of the individuals that comprise it and one of the key needs is mobility -to get from one point to another.

Cities are shaped by the current mode of transportation available when they grew up. So older european cities have narrow winding streets, suitable for carts and donkeys or walking. London grew up around the tube, and New York around the subway system. L.A., like Metro Manila, grew up around the automobile -so roads (at least in the newer parts of the metropolis) are wide and traffic fast.

The mode of transportation shapes the city and the demands of the city also shapes the transportation -particularly public transportation.

In our own city, public transport, as I previously discussed has been given over to the free market. The rewards/remuneration system of this particular urban sub-system, has shaped our city in ways that may have been invisible to us all these years.

The Boundary System is basically a vehicle rent system. The driver is "hired" by the transport operator, to run and maintain his jeep, bus, or FX cab. The driver can run as many trips within the boundary period (standard is 12 hours) as he wants but he basically has to pay the "boundary fee" (usually, daily) to the owner -and his source of income is whatever he makes over and above the boundary fee. The driver covers the cost of gasoline and minor repairs.

This remuneration/rent system has shaped metro-manila in subtle and not so subtle ways.

The boundary system brings a logic to earning money that shapes the driving habits of the renting drivers. If the driver only earns above the boundary, then logic dictates that he must get as many passengers as he can in as many trips as possible . The driver also benefits by having the vehicle on the road as many days as possible - as repairs and shutdowns mean no income for the day.

So, a driver will:

  1. soak up passengers by basically waiting as long as he can in a high traffic/passenger volume area and then
  2. speed up to the next high volume pickup point to soak in more passengers.
  3. he will also see other public utility vehicles plying the route as competition so waiting in a line does not make much sense,
  4. he will try to get ahead of the line (usually by doubling up on the pickup lane) so he can be closer to the "source" of passengers and so
  5. he won't be tied down on the line and can speed up to the next destination.
  6. It also means that shorter trips are preferred to longer trips and
  7. vehicle downtime and thus vehicle maintenance is kept to a minimum (=inefficient engines, =more pollution).

This system is behind the traffic chokepoints at the major junctions and intersections. The underpass in cubao, the flyovers in ortigas, the overpasses in santolan, even the grade separations in EDSA in Makati were driven by the logic of separating the buses, who spent an inordinate amount of time at the intersections waiting for passengers, from the rest of the road traffic.

The government has also probably thrown millions of pesos in soft costs at trying to manage the behavior of the public utility vehicles by throwing hundreds of traffic enforcers and by coming up with several management programs (from Oscar Orbos' bus numbering system, to Bayani Fernando's Organized Bus Routes).

The flyovers/overpasses/underpasses have made EDSA completely un-friendly to pedestrians, and the accumulation of vehicles in the intersections have concentrated exhaust/pollution in the areas around these passenger pickup junctions so these have become some of the worst parts of the city. (Ordinarily, the high pedestrian traffic junctions would be the most suitable places for commerce and retail.)

A serious re-thinking of the boundary system (legislating a wage based system seems the easy way out -but that will create it's own problems) would go a long way not only in solving intractable traffic problems but also in re-shaping the fabric of the city.

*-Part of "Konting ipit lang po, pituhan yan."

Roughly translated, "Please squeeze your thighs a bit more, this jeepney fits seven to a side."

Image credit:Manfred's Travel Pictures


Jdavies said...

it's an interesting note that in the philippines despite the traffic and narrow city roads, compact cars are not as popular as the bigger sized sedans. I have yet to read a detialed statistics that report on the number of persons per square meter of the roads per car... that remains to be seen.

your points are well taken regarding the boundary system. one must not forget that this system is employed in taxis as well as tricycles and not just the jeepneys.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

that may be a function of price points (i.e.- the people who can afford to own a car can afford to pay a bit more to buy a toyota corolla rather than a daihatsu charade)

with the exception of provincial long haul buses (which, interestingly, run on schedules), almost all public land transport in the country uses the boundary model.

ed said...

dont forget that the transport sector, the jeepney drivers, are fairly well organized, notoriously political, and resistant to change.

if our leaders in government cannot cough up the political will to implement changes, what can we as regular citizens do to work towards improving our city? where do we start?

this question applies of course not just to the transport system, but to the other topics you write about.

Urbano dela Cruz said...


run for barangay council. -I'm serious. we can effect a lot of local change at the smallest level of government.

talking about change and vision and what happens to our cities is a start. helping other people see our city through insightful pictures goes a long way to helping them see the details.

as to the political strength of TODAs (Transport Operators and Drivers Associations), my own reading is that it is failing. proposing a better deal for the drivers (predictable wages, maybe benefits) could drive a wedge between them and the operators.

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