reprint: on the boundary system

Note: OK, I'm being lazy. Here's a replay of my old post -from August of 2008 2005 (thanks, chesca), on how the economic model of public transport in the city shapes both driver behavior and our actual built environment. You can catch the original post and the comments here. And here's the whole series on disorganized transport.

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


exskindiver said...

your date said it was a reprint from august 2008.
I know you are a rather advanced guy, but this might be stretching it a bit.
I found this post interesting because I have rode many a jeepney in my life.
One time, I was outside ali mall trying to get on a proj 2-3 jeep but all were full.
so i decided to "SABIT".
Would you believe the sexist driver refused to budge because of the fact that I was a woman?
So of course I raised a stink.
(of course!)
teka, perhaps i should do a blog spot on this. long story short: I got home.

hey i tried calling you last wednesday...because I had just visited diaper zen. You know why I called.


Urbano dela Cruz said...

hey chesca,

sorry I missed your call. am currently on a (very exhausting) business trip. -the side benefit is I do get to visit w/ mr. barros. -will catch you when I get back (and don't have to pay exorbitant roaming charges)

yes, i know why. and thanks, in advance. (it hasn't been easy)

I'm surprised no one was gallant enough in the jeep to give up their seat for pretty-woman-exskindiver. -sayang, that was the pre-cell phone age (sorry, did I just date you/us?) -you could have so easily called any of your "fans" with cars and they would have gladly picked you up.


dave said...

a repost is a good opportunity for me to comment on your past entries, which most of the case is just to express my agreement :p again, the idea is something simple, but... politics, culture, etc. you get the drift.

tutubi said...

the boundary system alright, besides the fact that there simply are too many of them competing for passengers, except during rush hours

Peter said...

Does anyone really know number of buses use this system? I know of a few which do not so am just curious if this problem cause is as prevalent as we think it is. Just asking as a matter of getting better info to base analysis on.

Aside from some city bus companies that do not pay drivers on the boundary system, there is also the provincial buses which also do not all pay on boundary yet they still commit the same prisoners dilemna type behavior. It's one reason that I think boundary system may be only a small part of the problem and that at least part of the solution can be gleaned from that link you display on MMDA appealing a ruling that they can not impose their regulations on provincial bus companies regardless of how rational it is (story of our bansa).

btw I must say while I'm sorry to hear about your losses, it's good to have you back as I always enjoy your posts!

Urbano dela Cruz said...


I'm all for more info. Haven't found any as of yet (I'm sure it's buried in the bowels of LTO).

I'm willing to bet that the operators not using the boundary system are in the minority. (Which bus lines do you know use a salary system?)

And yes, the larger Provincial Buses (which, by they way run on schedules -how closely they actually follow it is the question of course), are not on the boundary system.

I'm not sure if things have changed but I remember their "bad behavior" occurred around the bus stations -which, are badly situated (along EDSA).

Here's where the carrot approach could work (since the stick failed) - the goverment should invest in (and subsidize) multimodal transport centers. Where MRT and LRT passengers can get off and connect to the provincial bus stations.

Am I dreaming?

Peter said...

Actually you're not dreaming MMDA is pushing for one in the north and one in the south exactly to prevent provincial buses from plying local routes! One is supposed to be near SM north edsa where they have 2 giant malls and 2 stations of the mrt and the other one is in the south where either lrt1 and mrt3 meet or where mert3 and southrail meet. That's why that article you posted which I mentioned is important, the regulations needed to make sure the private provincial bus companies comply have been questioned in court and have actually been struck down!!! So much for eminent domain. Imagine all the NJ buses now plying 5th ave trying to pick up passengers to bring them out accross the Hudson instead of going only to the bus stop besides the garden! Oh well remains to be seen.

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