Put it in reverse

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - December 9, 2020 - 12:00am

The decision of the Valenzuela local government to suspend the business permits to operate toll booths along NLEX within city limits will surely be hailed as a show of political will, if not a political stunt. Yes, Mayor Gatchalian will get a lot of praise for his action and pronouncements but once the dust settles, will he be able to say that his actions were wise and not harsh and rash? The good mayor should bear in mind that Valenzuela is not the only city that has been affected by the decision of the NATIONAL GOVERNMENT, particularly THE DOTr, to fast track the transition from cash payments to zero cash transactions. Driving back from Batangas last Sunday, we observed some build up but not enough to create attention. The shift to RFID only is ideal in terms of vision and aspiration, but it is an irrational imposition in terms of the short period for compliance that inconvenienced motorists, and now people crucify toll operators who cannot fight back or publicly argue their case because the Duterte administration and its minions have a nasty reputation of vindictiveness in politics as well as business. Cabinet members can be the most irrational, rash or incompetent but they can get away with all that because they simply tell the President half the truth and he defends them or attacks critics.

I have yet to ask the proper authorities or experts but a number of people are wondering why toll roads and operators need to secure business permits from every LGU they traverse, given that the toll roads such as NLEX and SLEX are privately operated and negotiated/granted by the National Government! If they do so for the sake of collecting tax revenues, fine; but if the same permits are now being used as basis to shut down parts of a national toll road, isn’t that beyond the power of the LGU? Some people are also wondering if the declaration of a “toll fee holiday” by the Valenzuela LGU is legal since they don’t own the NLEX and anyone who uses the length of it is required to pay by law. Personally speaking, what if NLEX ended up having to close their tollgates and ramps in the area of Valenzuela City not as a threat or push back but because they could fall into major legal complications or liabilities if a fatal accident happened during the suspension of their business permit? Last I heard on radio was that the Valenzuela traffic enforcers were manning those entrance and exits, not qualified NLEX personnel. Technically speaking it might actually be smarter for NLEX to close those ramps due to the suspension of their business permits and tell people to exit somewhere else. I’m sure that will make a lot of people happy when there is no more traffic in the area!

In any case, what we now have is people up in arms, local officials forced to implement radical solutions to appease constituents while the DOTr and the Toll Regulatory Board are whistling “Silent Night.” If you listen to the talking heads at the TRB, they will tell you that they are constantly monitoring things, they are working on ways to improve the situation, but if you pin these guys to the wall they won’t come up with anything because they DON’T OWN or OPERATE the expressways. All they do is talk and dictate on toll operators! Some people think that all the traffic and long queues for RFID is because Filipinos don’t listen or wait till the last minute. Sorry to disappoint your tribe of Anti-Filipino natives, but that is not the cause of the problem.

The transition to cashless transaction via RFID is just that – a TRANSITION, not an overnight or 3- to 6-month walk in the park. At least 30 percent of the problem on the ground is ignorance on the part of the user. They don’t know how to load, they don’t know how to queue when approaching the gate so they tailgate and mess up the readers! In addition, we Filipinos have serious trust issues and fears because people don’t trust credit cards and prepaid loading, so a system that is high tech and computerized and can be loaded online is reversed engineered by the user, who still goes to a gas station or bank or mall to load just enough for his current trip!

Readers have wondered why the RFID can’t simply be sent by mail or courier? The operators tried and guess what happened? Some people sold them online for a profit, others bought RFIDs for cars then installed them on commercial trucks. Some people couldn’t follow simple instructions and ended up doing the installation so wrong that the electronic readers could not read them! Guess who ended up being the target of bad comments? Of course they blame the toll operators, the RFID readers, etc. Just because the toll operators are now giving the RFIDs for free, it does not mean that they got them free or cheap. All of the concerns I’ve narrated are a compilation of why the toll operators now find themselves forced to do the stickering themselves.

We are far from seeing the light of day or lightening of traffic and queues for RFIDs, but of this I am certain: the decision to suspend business permits for NLEX does not help, it simply makes things worse. Mayor Gatchalian simply added another imposition ON TOP of the imposition of the DOTr. Stop blaming the toll operators for a problem that the DOTr created and refuses to admit or recognize and arrogantly won’t compromise or remedy!

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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