The Philippine capital Manila, and the cities that make up its metropolitan area, has some of the worst traffic in the world. “Carmageddon” is a regular occurrence that can be triggered by holiday seasons, construction, or rain. And sometimes, the policies meant to solve this are causing even more trouble.
Some authorities delegated to manage traffic spend their time handing out tickets to unsuspecting drivers for vague violations of the law. Meanwhile, public vehicles, especially buses, are notorious for their dangerous driving. Both of these behaviors, experts say, can be credited to badly designed ‘quota systems.’ These incentive-based schemes were supposed to encourage good behavior but have sprouted new problems instead.
“The problem with incentive-based systems is that sometimes, you end up creating what’s called perverse incentives, so it results in certain behavior that is not anticipated,” Leland Dela Cruz, sociologist and former director of the Development Studies program at Ateneo de Manila University, told VICE World News. “Incentives alone are [not] enough to make people behave properly. Reality is often more complex than that.”
Many traffic enforcers in Metro Manila follow a ticketing quota that requires them to issue a certain amount of tickets each day. This system has reportedly been around as far back as 2005 and continues to exist formally and informally today. It has been slammed time and again for distracting officers from managing traffic since they’re more focused on meeting their quota. There are now Facebook Groups and articles that warn citizens of “ticket traps.” In May, Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto even vowed to remove this quota scheme in his city.
“The question [here] is whether or not the enforcers are doing their job. And their job should not be defined by the number of people they catch as an absolute number. It has to be relative to the number of people who actually committed violations,” said Dela Cruz.
Meanwhile, many public vehicles such as buses, jeepneys, and taxis operate under a “boundary system” to determine their pay. A baseline of the revenue collected by drivers goes to the owners of the vehicles, and whatever they collect in excess, they get to keep.
The business model encourages drivers to transport as many passengers across the city as efficiently as possible. This explains why drivers cram their vehicles with people, drive at breakneck speed, and stop in the middle of roads and highways to pick up passengers.
“There’s really no formula for the quota system. Even the literature is not conclusive as to when quotas or incentive systems are effective. You have to iterate until you happen upon a formula that will work,” Dela Cruz said.
That’s what policymakers have been doing over the years. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) began requiring traffic violators’ signatures on issued tickets to validate claims. In 2016, they set up the no-contact apprehension policy where motorists caught violating traffic rules via closed-circuit television (CCTV) are fined remotely.
In other cases, a line must be drawn between modifying systems and scrapping them altogether.
In 2019, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) ordered bus firms to replace their boundary systems for a part-fixed, part-productivity scheme for drivers and conductors. This entitled drivers to a fixed wage and benefits, as well as bonuses based not just on revenue and ridership, but also safety and conditions of routes. While this is good news for bus drivers, it does not necessarily result in a behavioral change. This is where quota systems went wrong.
Dela Cruz suggests self-enforcing regulations as a better alternative to incentives. He cites the modified lane assignment implemented during quarantine as an example. Instead of being able to weave in and out of the “yellow lane,” buses are limited to a single lane on the highway, which is enforced by road barriers. Buses then have no opportunity to pick up passengers in the middle of the road. It also allows them to transport passengers much faster.
For Dela Cruz, the main reason why these policies are still in place is because some people are still benefiting from them. For change to happen, those negatively affected — in this case, commuters — must come together, he said.
“When it comes to changing these policies, it all boils down to political will,” Dela Cruz said. “If the riding public were more organized in pressuring [transport stakeholders] to get its act together, then there might be more political will for decision makers to act in the interest of the riding public, rather than vested interest.”