POSTSCRIPT / December 30, 2014 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Drilon can tell PNoy about toll integration

DRILON DELAYED: Many of us plain motorists are happy that the top dog of the Senate himself spent 11.5 hours crawling on the expressways from Metro Manila to Baguio some 240 kms away on the day after Christmas.

Suddenly Senate President Franklin Drilon, although he had a chauffeur, woke up to what we real motorists have been complaining about some operational aspects of the Luzon expressways (NLEx, SCTEx and TPLEx).

By reflex, the senator threatened to conduct one of his endless committee inquiries into the traffic congestion that spoiled his holiday trip to the Pines City (as if another of those Senate Inquisitions would fix the problem).

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MONA LISA FATE: Had we known he was going to Baguio, we would have suggested that he cajoled President Noynoy Aquino to join him, but minus his phalanx of hawi-boys and their intimidating blinkers.

That way, President Aquino himself would have experienced one major complaint of Drilon, which was the slow processing at the toll plazas interconnecting NLEx (84 km), SCTEx (94 km) and TPLEx (62 km so far).

The ideal is for a motorist to pause at the NLEx entrance (or just slow down if he has an Easy-Trip transponder) to get a card, then move non-stop to connect to SCTEx and to TPLEx until he exits after paying the total toll (or let his transponder settle the accounting).

That seamless solution to linkage hassles has been on the desk of President Aquino for a long time now, we heard, but it seems to have been overtaken by a Mona Lisa fate (“they just lie there, and they die there”).

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INTEGRATED TOLL: The deal for the integrated operation of the NLEx and the SCTEx has long been awarded by the Bases Conversion Development Authority to the Manila North Tollways Corp., but the contract cannot be executed without the say-so of the President.

So the integration of the billing and collection of toll in both the NLEx and the SCTEx, which is a logical benefit of the MNTC contract, cannot be implemented — and even VIPs like Drilon are annoyed by the unnecessary kilometric lines at the toll plaza.

The Senate president would be doing us motorists a big favor if he personally lobbied for the President’s finally putting his imprimatur on the contract already signed and sealed by BCDA and MNTC.

He could tell the President what he has told the media: “I can’t understand why the collection of toll fees (sic) can’t be integrated, so that only one entity handles the collection. It’s not rocket science.”

Personnel of MNTC are already manning the NLEx and SCTEx toll booths. All that is needed is to integrate the identical systems so we motorists only need to stop or slow down at the entrance and exit at whatever point without having to line up like Drilon did at toll plazas in-between.

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ON THE HIWAY: Now if I may presume to share my observations over decades of driving through the highways in all kinds of weather (and after not a few accidents of my own):

• Among the worst moving hazards on the expressways are city drivers who sally forth into the open road during the holidays without leaving behind their unsafe driving habits. Shift mentally to highway mode when you enter the toll booth.

• Old vehicles that can survive short trips in the city may suddenly suffer a breakdown and cause an accident on long drives if they are not safety-checked preventively before the trip. Roadworthiness is basic.

• Many accidents on high-speed highways have been traced to bursting tires that are bald, under- or over-inflated. Double check your tires, the vital elements connecting your car to the road.

• Swerving, a common practice of city drivers, could prove fatal on the highways where perception of time and distance are distorted by speed. Before you realize it, bang!

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TRAVEL NOTES: More lessons learned on the highway:

Check travel advisories before starting out. If traffic buildup is expected, make sure you have enough gas to cover the delay, and ample time to relieve your bladder in case you get caught in a jam in-between rest areas.

Be ready to hand the correct amount for the toll. Never grope for your wallet only after you roll down the window to ask how much. Filipinos are notorious for being veeery slow in ordering at food counters and in paying toll.

A smooth quiet ride is pleasant, but could also make you drowsy. It takes only a split-second to lose control of your car, your life and that of unfortunate collateral others. Take advantage of rest areas to nap once you sense sleep creeping in.

There is a tendency, especially among city drivers let loose on the highway, to tailgate – either out of habit or out of fear the other driver on the next lane might cut in when he spots a gaping space. Tailgating is another major cause of accidents.

When a speed maniac bears down on you from behind with bright lights on, let him pass. If he is in a hurry to get killed, don’t let him take you with him. Signal before you change lanes.

At night, avoid blinding drivers coming in the opposite direction, as well as the one in front of you. High beam (like horn blowing) is resorted to only in emergencies, not in normal driving. And unless there is fog, which is usually absent, there is no need for those darned fog lights!

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 30, 2014)

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