Down with the “boundary system”

Published by rudy Date posted on May 17, 2011

TWO events last week mirrored the Filipino’s utter lack of discipline and the state of corruption in the country today.

The first was the directive of Interior Secretary Jessie Robredo to the local governments to keep the tricycles off major roads, citing a law that prohibits the practice. The second was the untimely death of journalist and University of the Philippines professor Lourdes “Chit” Simbulan who was riding a taxi along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City when a speeding bus rammed the cab.

We never learn. How many more lives have to be sacrificed before the authorities get real tough on the killer drivers and the operators of the “rolling coffins” that ply our streets?

How many more Filipinos will die from unsafe buses and jeepneys, and by the ubiquitous tricycles and “kuliglig” that have illegally taken over our streets, fouling up traffic and causing more misery on the road?

On the highways, the noisy, ugly tricycles occupy valuable space and compete merrily with cars and buses, unmindful of the hazard they pose to motorists, passengers, commuters and pedestrians. Hundreds of dreams, hopes and promises have met their untimely end on the streets, on the path of tricycles and “padyak” terrors encouraged by the leniency of the police and local governments.

Before last week’s car accident involving a colleague, Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino issued an order setting a 60-kilometer per-hour speed limit on Commonwealth Avenue. This was a reaction to a series of car accidents that occurred almost daily along the killer stretch, killing young and old commuters and pedestrians.

Robredo and Tolentino are fighting a tenaciously corrupt system that includes dishonest individuals in and out of government. Any attempt by the authorities to correct the status quo would engender public disorder. Protests from the affected sector(s) would likely ensue, so goes the conventional wisdom. That explains why the government is forced to do a balancing act. On one hand, it has to enforce the law; on the other, it is trying to avoid confrontation with the transport groups. I can only sympathize with them.

On separate occasions, I have met with a congressman, a former governor and a mayor to discuss reforms in the public transport system in their respective jurisdictions. All agreed that tricycles, “padyaks” and jeepneys are highly inefficient and that they are very expensive and dangerous modes of transportation, as well as heavy polluters of the air that endanger public health. They agreed that the jeepneys and the tricycles should be phased out and replaced with a modern public transport system that is safe, clean, environment-friendly and inexpensive.

Yet, all three officials were afraid to disturb the current system. Being politicians, they worry about votes and I can understand their fears. The tricycle and jeepney drivers represent command votes that could spell the difference between victory and defeat on election day. They normally vote as a bloc when they see that their own livelihood is threatened by change, no matter how urgent or good for the majority of the people.

Regrettably, it is this kind of political gridlock that keeps our people and country chained to poverty. To free ourselves from the bondage that keeps us poor and underdeveloped, our leaders must demonstrate political will and draw from the remaining reservoir of their creativity and ingenuity to solve the ills that have victimized our country for generations.

The accidents that occur daily on Commonwealth Avenue and on the other principal streets are the bitter fruit of a self-serving, if not criminal, practice popularly known as the “boundary system” in the transport industry.

If we want to bring order and sanity to our streets, if we want to reduce accidents and protect lives, if we want to abate corruption and live in a healthy, civilized environment, let’s do away, by all means, with the boundary system.

This pernicious practice is one of the major causes of street accidents. The impositions forced on the public transport drivers are so oppressive and unjust that they are forced to drive buses and jeepneys that should have been retired for good. Even the most decrepit units that need urgent repairs are mobilized day after day to transport unwary passengers, endangering their life and safety.

You need not wonder why buses along EDSA, Commonwealth and España Avenue are in a perpetual race, with the drivers outrunning each other. To pick up passengers and cram them in their vehicles, the bus drivers cut one another from every direction, effectively blocking traffic and menacing lives and limbs on the road.

I have an unsolicited advice to Robredo and Tolentino. If they want to professionalize the transport industry and save lives, among other benefits, why don’t they lobby Congress to outlaw the boundary system? They should ask Congress to ban the practice and make drivers regular payroll employees of the bus and jeepney operators.

This way, the operators would screen their drivers very carefully and employ only the truly responsible. This way, too, buses and jeepneys would be maintained properly. If the driver is a professional and a responsible person, “rolling coffins” will stop plying our roads.

I know this suggestion is not enough to bring discipline, order and safety to our streets. There is no paucity of good ideas about that. But we have to begin somewhere. Let’s start with a law banning the boundary system and making our long-suffering drivers regular employees of the bus or jeepney operators. Doing so would give our drivers self-respect and an opportunity to work like true professionals.

Profit and greed are the major engines of the boundary system. There is extra income to be had if public-transport drivers are required to fill their daily quota of passenger volume. Most drivers have no choice but to earn the surplus cash needed to put more food on the table or send their kids to school.

But the businessmen have a choice, which is to run a sane system that provides safe transportation with guaranteed regular income. That option includes making bus and jeepney drivers more responsible professionals earning decent wages with no extra demands on their industry and skills. Public safety and public health would rise as order and discipline return to the streets.

The problem is that corporate social responsibility―the current mantra in private business―is missing in the transportation trade. Officials like the DILG secretary and the MMDA manager are tolerant of the “sistemang boundary.” Congress is a bystander on the sideline.

We may need President Noynoy Aquino 3rd to pick up the battle-ax and declare a “no boundary” rule. “Walang boundary” should reinforce “walang wangwang.” The privileges of the transport businessmen call for a red light and license cancellation.–DR. DANTE A. ANG, Manila Times

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