The Hidden Lives of Bus Drivers, Wrongly Accused as Philippines’s ‘Road Monsters’

Despite the high quotas for new buses, drivers reportedly still prefer newer buses because these run better and are not as “hot” to the traffic enforcers’ eyes, who figured that since these buses are new, they probably don’t have much defects that can be considered as violations. But the drive to meet these quotas and evade company “charges” have forced many drivers to transfer to an old or dilapidated bus or, worse, have compelled them to work longer hours and compete aggressively for passengers.

A bus driver and conductor in Metro Manila usually work 18 to 20 hours on an average working day, for four to five days a week. “Because of low commissions, they are obliged to increase the number of their trips to increase their take-home pay,” Hachoso said.

Drivers, according to a recent survey of Kabisig Bus Transport Workers Alliance, do not have a service incentive leave, sick or vacation leave, overtime pay, night differential, hazard pay, and other benefits.

As such, the daily earnings of bus employees are not assured even if they work long hours, Hachoso said.

They do not have job security, too, as most of the bus employees in Metro Manila are contractual workers. Hachoso, who has been in the sector for 16 years now, said that when he began working they only had what is called a “no-timeframe contract.” But starting this decade, the six-month contract is increasingly resorted to by bus operators – drivers are made to sign an “endo” (end of contract) into their fifth month. They get another contract if their work satisfied the management.

Long, Stressful Work

It is the high stress of a very long working day and the chase for that pitiful commission that trigger competition among bus drivers and conductors for passengers. That they are forced to do so is the main reason why accidents happen, explained Hachoso.

Despite the MMDA’s dream of a more orderly loading and unloading system, drivers are forced to get as many passengers as they can, and from wherever they can, to increase their income. If they don’t, their families would suffer.

Moreover, driving for 18 to 20 hours is an extremely tiring job, and a tired driver easily loses his concentration or alertness, Hachoso said.

Even if it may be true that drivers’ errors are more to blame for the accidents, not much research or investigation in the Philippines have so far been done to understand why drivers continue to commit errors that result in death and injury not just to passengers but to themselves.

In other countries, researches for road and driving safety have been unearthing facts about “driver’s fatigue.”

In a June 2008 report on The Journal Of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, John D. Lee pored through 50 years of safety driving research and said at one point that “Fatigue represents a less prominent safety problem that may be underreported because, unlike with alcohol, no forensic test can measure its presence.”

Lee cited how “Controlled studies have shown that fatigue-related impairments share some similarities with those of alcohol. Drivers deprived of sleep the previous night suffered decrements in lane-keeping performance similar to the performance declines of drivers with a blood alcohol content of 0.07 percent (Fairclough & Graham, 1999). Twenty-four hours of sustained wakefulness undermined performance on a tracking task to a degree similar to that of a blood alcohol content of 0.10 percent (Dawson & Reid, 1997).”

Other researches done in Australia and UK pointed to findings that said more than 17 hours of continuous driving can result in 100 percent increase in proneness to dangerous errors, said Noel Colina, executive director of Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (IOHSAD). also cited a study by National Central University in Jhongli, Tatung University, Taiwan, recently reported at New Scientist magazine, that “driving for just 80 minutes without a break can make motorists a danger on the roads.” They found that “drivers who do not take frequent rest stops have slower reactions than those who break up long journeys.”

Furthermore, also cited recent international research suggesting that “driver fatigue is underrepresented in accident statistics, and some estimates show that it could be a contributing factor in twenty to twenty four percent of fatal crashes.”

In other countries such as the UK where almost 45,000 people are killed or seriously injured in road accidents every year, road safety experts consider driver fatigue as a major cause. Driver fatigue is shown to be responsible for more than 20% of traffic accidents in UK.

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) of Ireland Chief Executive Noel Brett also cited scientific studies proving that driver fatigue is as dangerous as driving when drunk.

These data on driver-fatigue are especially significant in the Philippines where public utility drivers complain of very long workday — the jeepney drivers from 14 to 16 hours or more, the bus drivers from 18 to 20 hours per working day.

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