Kings of the road

“The strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must.”—Thucydides

Thousands of commuters were stranded, elementary pupils and secondary-school students missed class, and daily-wage earners, including bus drivers and conductors, lost a day’s pay, thanks to bus operators who did not like the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority’s (MMDA) number-coding scheme.

To be fair, legitimate bus operators felt they were being unfairly targeted. Arlene Camello of the Metro Manila Bus Operators Association said, “Before they concentrate on us, they should start with those who are operating illegally.”

She meant authorities should first get rid of colorum buses before they even think of number-coding everybody. But why does vehicle reduction have to be done sequentially, illegal buses first? Can we afford that luxury?

The Japan International Cooperation Agency did a study on the number of buses Edsa can carry per day. That number is 1,600. MMDA counts the daily number of buses on Edsa at 3,800, more or less. That means Edsa must be rid of at least 1,000 buses a day. Now. MMDA and the bus operators can sort out the colorums later. Number-coding is just aspirin, anyway.

The main cause of traffic is not quantity but chaos, buses encroaching on lanes not meant for them. If buses followed the rules, you can have 10,000 buses plying Edsa and no one will be inconvenienced. Unfortunately, we have the boundary system. It motivates bus drivers to do what they must in order to earn a little something. So boundary has to be replaced with something that does not encourage anarchy.

Rep. Teddy Casiño proposed such an alternative. House Bill 3370 will require bus operators to pay bus drivers and conductors a fixed monthly salary. No more rat races for commissions.

    “The difference here is drivers and conductors will get enough rest while operators will spend almost the same amount for salaries, thereby improving conditions in the industry. Operators will also gain as it will redound with the fierce competition on the road and will lessen accidents since drivers and conductors are better rested and have security of tenure,” Casiño explained.

So there you are, better working conditions for drivers and conductors, less traffic jams, and safer roads. Everybody happy? Not really.

Alex Yague of the Provincial Bus Operators of the Philippines said they were for Casiño’s bill as long as it is accompanied by reforms in franchising and fares. In other words, less franchises and higher fares first before they consider doing away with boundary.

    “We are not totally against this bill because we also think that it is rational. Bus operators like us are even willing to help polish this legislation for the improvement of our employees’ working conditions but we will do so not at the expense of our operations.”

How does the bus operator’s bottom line change when a salary regime, according to Casiño, costs the same as boundary?

Well, some bus operators make money not only from their legitimate operations but also from the kabit system and, almost all of them, from exploiting their drivers and conductors.

Casiño’s bill will cause complications for the kabit system: Who will carry the kabit drivers and conductors on their payroll, the kabit or the franchisee? And how will the kabit and his accomplice avoid detection?

As to drivers and conductors, boundary is fixed. How many roundtrips does a bus driver have to make before he starts earning something for himself and how many trips can he do on a bad day? But an operator never goes home empty-handed; every centavo before boundary belongs to him.

In addition, those who do not make boundary must share the cost of fuel with the operator. So not only do drivers and conductors go home with nothing on bad days, they also have to dig into their pockets. Drivers and conductors also carry the payoffs to cops; and cops expect to be paid religiously. Most important of all, drivers and conductors do not enjoy full employee benefits under the boundary system. So things must change.

But bus operators are the kings of the road and they will run over anybody who stands in their way.

Manuel Buencamino

Buencamino was a weekly columnist for Today and Business Mirror. He has also written articles in other publications like Malaya, Newsbreak, "Yellow Pad" in Business World, and "Talk of the Town" in the Inquirer. He is currently with Interaksyon, the news site of TV5. MB blogged for Filipino Voices, blogs for ProPinoy and maintains a blog, Uniffors.com. Game-changers for him, as far as music goes, are Monk, Miles, Jimi, and Santana.

  • rego

    Metro manila turned into just one city governement my ipinion is a really bad idea. Its just too big and unmanagebale. Its unconstitional too . the consitution has defined what consitute a city. the population, income etc. I would go with Upn, just qappoint Usec Puno to get rid of the illegal operators.

  • UP n Grad,

    I agree with you on the point that it is one convoluted mess. Actually the ideal way is to really turn Manila into just one city government. Merge MMDA into that government. turn it into something like New York or Montreal. The problem is the officials in the various city halls of course will oppose this move. They’ll lose their jobs!

  • UP nn grad

    The first step of “removing all the illegal operators” makes sense. And I have a name to suggest to be project-lead — USec Puno.

    IF… IF it is the PNP with the responsibility to identify and shut down the illegal operators, then Puno overseeing the PNP over this project makes sense. Usec Puno has been in this capacity before (President Noynoy’s authority over the PNP), he can do this again.

    IF the mayors who have responsibility, then Puno as Malacanang’s representative still makes sense. Usec Puno has been in this capacity before (interacting with local mayors), he can do this again.

    If the MMDA has responsibility, then Puno can pull rank (namely President Noynoy pulls rank and then appoints Puno as his point-man). No matter what, surely the MMDA would need the PNP to get in the act and Usec Puno can only be a great help.

    Maybe a problem is that there is a spaghetti-maze of whatz-this-mess??? amalgam of mini-fiefdoms with their hands in the pie. Then for sure Usec Puno may be tailor-made to be project-lead.

  • Cocoy

    UP n Grad,

    nationalization is the wrong way to go. Government shouldn’t enter into business. Wasn’t it done before with the whole love bus thing?

    IMHO, the whole mess of buses in Manila could be cleaned out by removing all the illegal operators. Then from there start giving these bus drivers a monthly wage. The operators will say, that would lead to their drivers not being aggressive enough on the road and all that. In EDSA that shouldn’t be a problem now would it when there is a shortage of buses in the first place?

    I agree with Manuel on this one.

  • UP nn grad

    And there is a problem that has not been solved yet — getting food and supplies to Divilacan and other communities that were devastated by Typhoon Juan. Navy/Coast Guard can’t/has not bring in supplies. Philippine Army/Air Force can’t /has not brought in supplies. All the fishing boats in the towns were destroyed by Juan.

  • UP nn grad

    Instead of this law where Congress dictates how the bus operators should make a profit in their business, why not instead for the government to own 💡 up to the problem? In other words — nationalize the metro-Manila bus transportation system.

    The drivers who are hired will be happy — they will have regular pay 😀 plus retirement benefits. The operators will be happy — they can sell their businesses to Malacanang. Malacanang will be happy 😛 — it will have all these moving advertisement-platforms.

    The kotong 👿 cops won’t be affected (they can still mulct from government bus drivers).

    As for the passengers? Who knows, pero mahaba ang pasensiya ng mga Pinoy. Parang si Presidente — mabait at maunawain.