Notes & Essays

Why Do Bus Drivers on EDSA Drive the Way They Do?

And will new DOLE guidelines vs. the boundary system change anything?
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Motorists who keep abreast with the news would know that since 2012, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has been trying to implement a fixed-wage system for bus drivers.

Why? To eliminate speeding and recklessness, which is a result of keeping up with a performance-based compensation package. The so-called “boundary” system.

Seven years later, accidents and rash driving behavior continue. Even the Supreme Court has jumped in, recently dismissing a petition to invalidate DOLE’s Department Order 118-12 by various groups made up of bus operators and companies.

This year, DOLE turned to its very own National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) and its first order of business is to implement NWPC Guidelines No. 1 Series of 2019 on May 9. It's basically a set of operational guidelines for a part-fixed, part performance-based compensation scheme.

That last part is where the problem lies. 

While it may seem complex, the situation is rather elementary: it’s unlikely that bus companies and operators will ever accept a package without a performance-based incentive. Drivers want to hit the road as hard as they can, as fast as they can because that means more money, for them and the bus company.

Going fast is fun, if you’re an F1 driver. But if you’re entrusted with the lives of commuters—children, fathers with young daughters, mothers with little sons, babies, grandmothers, you know what I mean—going fast and being careless on the road is the last thing you want these public utility bus drivers to do.

Chatting with an ex-bus driver

As I continued to make sense of this seemingly chicken-and-egg situation, luck intervened and I chanced upon a Grab operated by a former PUB driver. Just seven months removed from his previous job, he laid out some interesting facts about what they do, why they do it, and who can fix it.

To hit his quota as a city driver (and get a performance-based bonus), he had to hit at least six round trips on EDSA. The number may seem small but remember that’s just the minimum, and with the amount of time they take on bus stops, you can just imagine how long a roundtrip takes.

Most of them start as early as 3 a.m. to get as many trips in before EDSA becomes a “parking lot,” which means they wake up at 1 a.m. every day.

On the topic of taking the PUB driver performance-enhancing drug shabu, my guy denied ever taking it but admits that some do. What he does is take naps in the afternoon, some 15 to 20 minutes, before heading back out again.

Note that he didn’t know I was a journalist and that his story was going to become an article so there was no reason for him to lie.

Female bus drivers

Unbeknownst to many, bus companies apparently have a policy on the scheduling of PUBs so they don’t all come out at the same time, although that’s what it feels like when you’re on EDSA, especially during rush hour. But the Grab driver says this is an easy fix. Just grease up the dispatcher and they’re off.

Remember in 2011 when Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) started a training program for female bus drivers? Mr. ex-PUB driver does, too, because in those days, no bus conductor wanted to ride with these female drivers.

Lady PUB drivers, as per their TESDA training, followed traffic rules and regulations, which made them drive excruciatingly slow. That meant none of them were meeting their quotas and making serious money.

Where are these female drivers now? They’re still all on the road, but now they drive just like the men do.

In fact, my guy said he was sharply cut off one time by, you guessed it, a lady PUB driver.

I ask him for the best solution and he says only government can fix this and it will only happen if they make a hard-enough policy stance.

He then proceeded to spit out the plain and ugly truth: that bus companies/operators and even drivers will look out only for their best interests. They’ll just keep on keeping on even if it totally paralyzes EDSA.

His own car

And how was he behind the wheel of his own car? Even after being a PUB driver for 10 years, he drove more defensively than maybe 90 percent of private motorists on the road; he was courteous, allowed other vehicles to merge, and even let pedestrians cross. 

That’s what happens when you’re driving your own car, he said.

He does lose it behind the wheel sometimes, but only when he gets cut-off by PUB drivers. I guess they’re not immune to their own venom.

Oh and by the way, he says PUB drivers think private motorists are chicken, which is why they bully them on the road a lot.

If you’re brave enough, he suggests giving them a dose of their own medicine and see them turn “yellow,” just like the lane they’re supposed to stay in.

Looking for a solution

Meanwhile, the hunt for solutions continues. Maybe the NWPC Guideline is the answer, or maybe not.

Only time and the number of accidents involving buses will tell, so it’s going to be another wait-and-see situation.

This doesn’t cover the entire issue of traffic on Manila roads, but it does provide an insight into the lives of these bus drivers, who often seem like they’re heartless machines.

They’re really not, but they’re in an industry that forces them to be merciless savages on the road.

Now that you know why they do what they do every day on EDSA, what can you do about it?

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Eric Tipan
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