A PARTY-LIST lawmaker has urged the Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. to delay until January next year its plan to go on a fully automated toll collection operation on its tollways through the use of pre-installed radio frequency identification (RFID) tags starting November 2.
Metro Pacific Tollways is the operator of the North Luzon Expressway, the Subic–Clark–Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) and the Manila-Cavite Expressway.
At present, Ang Probinsyano party-list Rep. Ronnie Ong said toll operators have their own RFID and easy pass lanes but are not interoperable thereby discouraging motorists using multiple tollways from availing RFID tags and other forms of electronic toll cards.
Ong said MPT’s plan is not only premature but it is also ill-timed because hundreds of toll booth collectors, who are already struggling to survive because of the pandemic, could lose their jobs once toll collection becomes fully automated.
He stressed that while he is not against the plan for a full transition to cashless tollway operation, this should be implemented only when all tollway operators have already integrated their electronic toll collection system.
Ong said this would allow motorists to use just one or a single RFID tag instead of having to use several RFID tags for different tollgates.
Ong noted that there are some motorists who barely travel to the north that would require them to use RFID tags for NLEX and SCTEX or to Cavite via CAVITEX and are only equipped with RFID tags intended for tollways in the Southern Luzon area.
Buying another RFID tag that is intended only for a single trip is not only oppressive and impractical but it can also cause so much hassle for motorists particularly to “probinsyanos” who live in Southern Luzon, Ong said.
“I don’t know why Metro Pacific Tollways is in a rush to go fully cashless. For one, they should consider the fact that not all motorists are frequent travelers to the North especially those who live in the south. The government should not allow these tollway operators to have different RFID tags because this would mean additional financial burden for our motorists. Wag naman nila tadtarin ng RFID ang mga sasakyan ng motorista kung pwede namang isang RFID na lang sa lahat,” Ong said.
“Besides, what would happen to our toll collectors if we go fully automated especially now that we are in the middle of the pandemic? Instead of using the RFID as an excuse purportedly to protect the toll collectors from the corona virus, the MPT should just equip them with proper Personal Protective Equipment and ensure that all health and safety protocols are strictly observed. Sana huwag na muna nilang ituloy yan,” Ong noted.
Ong said that MPT should wait for the other operators to integrate their system into one RFID database with one electronic collection system so that one RFID tag is all that is needed for all tollways.
He said this would also ensure travelers need only apply once, instead of having to stop by each to avail of the RFID for that expressway.
The lawmaker also questioned why the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB), which is the government’s regulatory arm on all tollway operations, is so quiet about the plan of the MPT despite repeated calls by members of Congress for them to facilitate the implementation of an integrated electronic toll collection system.
“Dapat isang RFID lang pwede na sa lahat ng tollway hindi ‘yung paiba-iba depende kung saang expressway pa. Congress has been asking the TRB to do something about this but it seems to me that the management is busy doing other things other than crafting policies that would improve our tollway system,” Ong said.
At present, there are at least nine tollways in Luzon that are operated by different operators and these are the North Luzon Expressways (NLEX), South Luzon Expressway (SLEX), Manila Cavite (CAVITEX), Metro Manila Skyway, NAIA Expressway (NAIAX), Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR Tollway), Subic-Tipo Expressway, Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) and the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX).