Trust and Efficiency

In the Philippines, we do public transportation in a weird but interesting way.

I’ve never really paid it much attention since I have been immersed in it for as long as I can remember. It was only when I started travelling that I realized the strangeness of it all.

You are expected to pay for your fare (this is normal). What’s different is that nobody enforces the payment.

When you board a jeepney, you can pay any time from when you started the ride, to just after you end the ride. You pay to the driver, but if you sit far behind the vehicle (there can sometimes be up to 14 people to your left or right at any given moment) you’ll have to pass the fare to people who will pass it on in behalf of you who will then pass it on until it reaches the driver.

You then shout your destination and where you boarded, and the driver will then give you back your change (again, passing on through the other passengers if you happen to be sitting at the back).

You won’t be the only one paying though; most of the time you’d be joined by five or six other people trying to pay simultaneously as you.

It sound chaotic, but it’s really very efficient. Everyone pays the amount they should pay (fares are adjusted based on the distance you are travelling) and the driver gets his fair compensation.

What is interesting is that the whole process hinges on trust.

The driver trusts that whatever source and destination you shouted are correct, because they can’t track all 28 passengers’ fares. You trust that the other passengers aren’t pilfering some of your change during the transit from the driver to your hands. The driver trusts that everyone actually pays them, and nobody tries to ride for free.

It would be very inefficient (and it would take forever!) if there was some sort of ticketing system to ensure that people pay for the correct fare each and every time. It just can’t handle the volume of transactions that happen throughout the day.

Imagine if all our interactions are oiled by trust. Imagine how efficient they would be: you can work wherever you are (even at home or at a coffee house) because your boss trusts you to deliver; you can leave your camera and laptop on the bed in a 8-bunk hostel to attend a pubcrawl because you trust your roommates not to take them; you can eat your food at a street canteen and the proprietor trusts you not to leave without paying.

Actually, you don’t have to imagine those because they’re already happening. For some reason, people figured out that it’s so much more efficient to trust that people do the right thing, rather than spend effort into keeping tabs on them.