Political will or arrogant authority?

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2020 - 12:00am

DOTr Secretary Art Tugade and his crew have painted themselves into a corner by insisting that there will be no further postponement, extension or compromise regarding the cashless transactions on all toll roads. After giving in once, they have decided to put their foot down and declare no further delay in the implementation of the policy. Unfortunately, it is now become evident that implementing the program is neither simple nor easy. Aside from the deluge of customers wanting to beat the deadline, there are now reports of hundreds of people being ignorant about how or where to load credit on their RFIDs and creating serious slow down and traffic jams at the tollgates. There are also isolated reports of failure of equipment or RFID scanners. In a rare publicized appeal, SMC boss Ramon Ang asked the DOTr to push back or extend the deadline because the volume of work was simply too much. This has been repeated by Senators Poe and Binay as well as thousands of individuals on social media.

Given the numerous appeals made by stakeholders and partners of government, why is Sec. Art Tugade taking a hardline on the deadline? Is he hell bent on showing political will or is it, as his critics have claimed in past issues, arrogance in authority because he is boss? To be fair to Sec. Tugade, he has pushed for seemingly wild ideas that could or have worked. His idea of gondolas crossing the Pasig River is interesting to say the least, while the EDSA Bus Carousel has certainly silenced naysayers. But I’m sure that Sec. Tugade will also admit that his non-traditional or radical solutions cause birthing pains, such as the closure of U-Turn slots on EDSA that now necessitates elevated bus stops that will double as U-turn slots.  The cashless RFID program is similar. It needs to be tweaked or refined and putting one’s foot down or fist on the table won’t solve the problem.

For the record, the DOTr order is correct and timely, but it is one that could have been done in a much better fashion rather than forcing motorists to comply or be inconvenienced or penalized, which has resulted in the expected deluge of vehicles in stickering sites and creating traffic in parts of various toll roads. The end result is that the order has created a serious disruption of business for toll operators, as well as thousands of motorists. Sec. Tugade or the Toll Regulatory Board could have ordered the toll operators to do a gradual reduction of cash booths on all toll roads, accompanied by a schedule of implementation alongside a stickering and public information campaign. They could have also followed something based on car plate endings such as the “Odd – Even” scheme or a system based on LGU of origin, etc. Or a random raffle of applicants per day based on the ability and time of RFID installers.

The idea behind cashless transactions is to minimize physical contact with tellers as well as currencies being exchanged. The RFID is also meant to make payment and passage convenient for motorists. Unfortunately the DOTr imposition does not make stickering and the implementation of the policy convenient for operators or consumers alike. It is a situation where the DOTr is ordering everybody around but is not in anyway experiencing the burden and inconvenience they have created directly. They are in a figure of speech “bossing everybody around” to comply while they sit in their air-conditioned cars and chairs, arms crossed like overlords out there in Clark field. They passed the cost and burden of implementation to the private sector and their solution to the hundreds if not thousands of complaints is to tell the toll operators to increase venues and dates for stickering. The DOTr is obviously unaware that the operators are practically doing village-to-village stickering as well as in commercial centers such as Home Depot, etc.

What I’m really wondering about is why the DOTr is hell bent on following a timetable or schedule that has clearly shown to be almost impossible and extremely inconvenient and difficult. In terms of immediate concerns, the RFID implementation is not as important as getting more and more PUV and provincial buses back on the road. In terms of urgency, the cashless transaction cannot possibly be more critical as the need of airlines to be allowed to increase their flights from 20 percent to 50 percent or 75 percent.  The RFID and cashless transaction system will not create jobs, it will take away jobs. So shouldn’t the DOTr prioritize the movement of ferryboats and ROROs in order to further stimulate transport, cargo, travel and tourism?

Yes, I support the cashless transactions and RFID policy but its implementation should be based on what the people on the ground, the operators and engineers recommend. If it is for the safety and convenience of the public then the DOTr should first prepare the plan, be the lead organizer and creator of the plan and a workable system. In other words, don’t tell people what to eat if you can’t even cook the meal. If you can’t be part of the solution, at the very least don’t be the problem.

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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