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Lopez slams toll operators over cashless payment system

HOUSE committee on Metro Manila development chairman and Manila Rep. Manuel Luis T. Lopez on Tuesday denounced the supposed “undue advantage” of toll operators in the implementation of a cashless payment system on toll expressways.

In a hearing held Tuesday afternoon, the lawmaker from Tondo pointed out that the amount collected in November 2020 alone for either NLEX or SLEX Corporations could not be below a billion pesos by way of minimum load upon acquiring the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). The minimum load requirement for one RFID ranges from P200-P400.

“This amount takes into consideration only the minimum payments made by owners of the 3.2 million vehicles which have been reported to have acquired an RFID…,” Lopez explained in his preliminary remarks.

“We can just imagine how much more is to be made by the toll operators when this cashless system is fully implemented. And in all probability no one at any point in time just maintains the minimum balance. I see vehicles in front of me that have balances of tens of thousands of pesos. They would be holding billions of pesos in advance and, considering that no discount is given for any prepaid amount, they can already use and are being paid even if their services have not been availed of. To be sure, it appears that there is an undue advantage on toll operators and an obvious disadvantage to vehicle owners with this current cashless system,” he added.

According to Rep. Lopez, records have shown that as of 25 November 2020, about 3.2 million vehicles have acquired RFID tags. There are still a lot of vehicles without said tags as Metro Manila alone has around 6.2 million registered vehicles.

“We need to dig deep into whether or not this cashless system is truly what we need now. We cannot afford to continue such a rushed, costly and anti-poor scheme without concrete basis. This enormous benefit to the toll operators must be passed on to our motorists and riding public by way of discounts or toll rate reduction,” Lopez stressed.

“More than just the prevention of the spread of COVID-19, we have to assess, among others, if (1) there is truly a need to make all tollway transactions cashless, (2) this will encourage more motor motorists to use toll roads, (3) if the penalties are necessary and justifiable,” he added.

To give the committee an update on the implementation of cashless or contactless transactions, representatives from the Department of Transportation, the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB), the NLEX Corporation, and the San Miguel Corporation have been invited.

On 13 August 2020, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) issued Department Order 2020-012, requiring Cashless or Contactless Transactions for All Vehicles Travelling on Toll Expressways primarily to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“After this Department Order, numerous events transpired: altercations in the super hi-way between the crowding motorists and poor Tollgate frontliners; complaints from angry motorists who had to endure long queues and hours of inconvenience, just for the required RFID installation and prepaid toll fees; traffic jams reaching as far back to city roads; and many other forms of inconvenience to our motorists and riding public,” Lopez lamented.

Following these instances, the initial deadline for the full implementation of the cashless system was moved from November to December 2020.

But overwhelming complaints continued to pile up, with Valenzuela City suspending NLEX’s business permit due to system glitches and faulty sensors. Again, the deadline was moved to January of 2021.

“It must be noted that if this deadline is maintained, motorists who do not have the required RFID, one kind for the North and another kind for the South expressways, could not use these roads and can be subjected to penalties,” Lopez said.

“If the glitches, heavy traffic and other manifestations of their lack of preparation continue, the total roll-out of this cashless system will burden our motorists. We cannot let that happen hence, this hearing,” the congressman said.

The two RFIDs being used are the (1) Autosweep tag by San Miguel Corp. (SMC) for the Skyway, South Luzon Expressway (SLEx), STAR Tollway, Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx), Ninoy Aquino International Airport Expressway (NAIAx) and the Muntinlupa-Cavite Expressway (MCX); and the (2) Easytrip tag —issued by the Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. (MPTC)— for use in the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx), Cavite Expressway CAVITEx), C5 Southlink and Cavite-Laguna Expressway (CALAX).