Buses and traffic discipline in Metro ManilaThese were my comments on iReport's "Too many buses, too many agencies clog Edsa": (hat tip to Eugene for leading me to the article)
Margie Grey's PCIJ article on the travails of the public bus system in Metro Manila was (characteristically) well researched and gives a quick overview of the confusing governance of traffic numbers involved in the PUB system. Thank you, Margie, for pointing out that private vehicles outnumber PUBs 9 to 1. A viable traffic solution must involve reducing private car use -and that can only be accomplished by providing more efficient public transport.
Margie's article does fail to account for the role of the economic model of PUBs in the behavior of bus drivers. I believe this less an oversight of the reporter than it is a serious blindspot among our policy makers.
We seem to have taken the "boorish behavior" of buses on EDSA as a given, taken it as function of (at best) a lack of driver education, or (more often_ as a lack of discipline among bus drivers. But bus drivers behave the way they do, drive the way they do because of the economic drivers (no pun intended) behind their occupation.
The "boundary" or commission system ("12 percent commission if daily earnings are P10,000 or less and 14 percent if earnings are more than P10,000") dictates the driving behavior as surely as confusing layers of governance on EDSA.
As I wrote before: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 system is behind the traffic chokepoints at the major junctions and intersections of our cities. (I've written extensively about how our disorganized public transport system has shaped the built fabric and the quality of life in our metropolis.)
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:
- soak up passengers by basically waiting as long as he can in a high traffic/passenger volume area and then
- speed up to the next high volume pickup point to soak in more passengers.
- he will also see other public utility vehicles plying the route as competition so waiting in a line does not make much sense,
- 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
- he won't be tied down on the line and can speed up to the next destination.
- It also means that shorter trips are preferred to longer trips and
- vehicle downtime and thus vehicle maintenance is kept to a minimum (=inefficient engines, =more pollution).
We've thrown good money after bad in countless traffic control and traffic discipline systems to try to get the "boorish behavior" under control. The OBR is just the latest incarnation (remember Oscar Orbos' sticker system?).
I find it amusing that Director Lantion thinks that getting buses to compete on "brand" will be the best approach to getting better traffic behavior from our PUBs.
Changing the economic model - to a salary based system, where the driver's income is NOT based on how many passengers he can pick up, will change driver behavior overnigh and will restore sanity to flow of PUBs on EDSA even without the expensive RFID systems.
Benjamin de la Pena
a.k.a -Urbano dela Cruz