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Safe, reliable, and efficient travel for commuters. This has been the guiding principle of the government as it explores ways to improve our commuting experience. 

From the new EDSA Carousel bus system, the closure of U-turn slots along EDSA, to cashless bus payments, even the adoption of RFIDs for cashless tollway transactions, all these affect each and every one of us, whether you are a commuter or a motorist. And with all of us still learning to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic public health guidelines, having to adjust to a new set of motoring rules, directives, and pronouncements have proven to be disruptive to our accustomed routines. And lately, they have been an added burden to the struggles we continue to face each day. 

Changing a widely accepted behavior, especially one that has been adopted by a society whose people are stubborn and lack the basic tenets of discipline, as what we see everyday on our roads,  is a task that should not be taken lightly. 

According to a 2011 study on behavior change interventions by Michie, van Stralen and West,  behavior is an interaction among three necessary conditions –  Capability, Motivation, and  Opportunity. All three are needed to be present and addressed if behavior is hoped to be changed. The study summarizes Capability as the psychological or physical ability to enact a behavior; Motivation as the automatic and emotional desire, our weighing of the pros and cons to do something;  and Opportunity as the physical and social environment that enables us to do it. 

Let us take for example the behavioral change on adapting cashless transactions for our tollways. For the longest time, we have been used to paying cash to a tollbooth teller. We have accepted as normal the long lines leading up to a tollgate. To many, cash is more practical as there is only payment on a per use basis. Then comes the Department of Transportation which finally declares that come December 1st, all tollways will implement a 100% cashless payment system, or what we know better as RFID. 

If we look at the three essential conditions to behavioral change, where are we with regard to Capability? In general, motorists have the financial ability to switch to an RFID system. The amount, while an added upfront cost, is still within bounds of most budgets. But what about the  RFID readers themselves, do all work as they should?

How about Motivation? The need to curb the spread of COVID-19 has been the primary motivation for the DOTr to implement this change. While convenience through toll gates, along with shorter and faster queues, are equally motivating and compelling reasons to shift to an RFID mode of payment, these have been relegated to the sidelines in lieu of public health. 

And Opportunity? Has the accessibility of RFIDs been addressed? Have they been easy to procure and install? Does the process of installation project convenience and ease? 

Clearly, with the RFID anxiety being experienced by motorists up to this day, the three behavioral change conditions have not been met. And while the government and the two tollway operators are hell-bent on pushing through with this major behavioral change, resistance, confusion and frustration among motorists still abound. Now, apply this with every other motoring and transportation project now going on.

The same behavioral change study reveals that there are intervention functions that government and the behavior change instigators can resort to in order to satisfy the three essentials: Persuasion, Incentivisation, Coercion, Training, Enablement, Modelling, Environmental Restructuring, Restrictions, and Education. In one way or another, bits and pieces of each have been implemented along the way to influence Capability, Motivation and Opportunity. However, it is the lack of cohesiveness and at times, coherence in implementation that has really made the change difficult for all.

The lack of an overall implementation strategy in most of the measures being pushed forward now is pushing the limits of the public’s patience. It is as if the government is relying on the public’s passiveness to just accept whatever change it intends to pursue. And while we are a nation of mulish men, does it justify a pig-headed approach as well? 

The haphazard, and sometimes backpedalling, way of implementation as we have seen with the EDSA busway, the RFID, the cashless bus payments, the social distancing in public transport, the closing of U-turn slots, and even the acceptance of everyday traffic as something we just have to live with, is leaving a sour taste in the mouths of the everyday commuter, the motorist and even the common pedestrian. 

To compound matters, the proponents of change have not done a proper information dissemination campaign to get the public on board. With every information campaign, time is crucial, and the lack of it is showing in the limited reach of the government’s message. The channel is also important. While social media has widespread penetration, not everyone follows the government’s page, or has a smartphone for that matter. Even commercial product advertisers know how to pay for the reach they want. And government pages are just like other accounts that need to be promoted. How about broadcast media? TV, radio, print? Even gas station flyering will be of great help if only to reach as many motorists as possible.

And of course the message. Any communication effort needs a clear, concise and unambiguous content. The message should be simple, easy to understand, engaging and easy to relate with and share. What convinces people to do things your way? How about the cost versus benefit argument to show the potential positive outcome? What is the incentive to adopt the new behavior? All these should be set and planned even before any project that affects the public’s way of life is undertaken. Sadly that does not seem to be the case here. 

As we have seen, every policy change, every new measure, every directive, has a grave impact on the rest of society. And it is not just motoring. The value of our work, the time we spend with our families, the quality of life we have, our health, all these are intertwined with whatever the government enforces. 

The earlier the government understands that people need to be capable, motivated and have the opportunities to be able to  adopt a change in behavior, the more seamless and accepted that change will be. 

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said,  “Change is the only constant in life.” Unfortunately for us, despair and pain are also right up there too as our perennial givens. We know all things will become difficult before they are easy. But by God, how long do we still have to wait?

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