POSTSCRIPT / December 13, 2020 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Postpone RFID toll collection till Dec. 31

IT IS obvious that the North Luzon Expressway is not yet fully prepared to carry out the desired cashless system of collecting toll payments using radio frequency identification (RFID) of all vehicles passing through it.

Since there is no difference (no loss) in revenue whether the toll is paid in cash at the gate/exit or electronically using RFID, the operators of NLEx may want to consider postponing the exclusive use of RFID until Dec.31.

The tollway can revert to the pre-RFID payment system in the meantime and use the two weeks between now and midnight of Dec. 31 for a sweeping upgrading of the electronic setup — and start its flawless operation when the new year rolls in.

One vexing problem encountered by motorists is the failure of sensors at the toll stations to read readily the RFID decals on their vehicles. Some complain that the decals malfunction. With this technical deficiency identified, it should be easy to resolve.

At least one toll booth should remain open 24/7 for vehicles without RFID decals but want to enter the tollway and pay cash. If the line of vehicles at these booths accepting cash becomes too long, the motorists must bear the inconvenience.

Vehicles entering the tollway with insufficient RFID load or balance should be allowed in but electronically advised that their unpaid toll will be charged to their future reload or to their bank account enrolled with their RFID.

Traffic snarls at many toll plazas exposed last week some deficiencies of the RFID system. This prompted Valenzuela City, which is at the southern entrance of NLEx, to cancel last Monday the firm’s business permit and to stop its collecting toll at the six gates within its jurisdiction.

Similar situations reportedly developed at the South Luzon Expressway, where traffic congestion at toll plazas resulting from the poor RFID performance spread to nearby roads.

The trouble threatened to spread as other local governments with tollway entrances/exits in Bulacan, Pampanga and south of Manila prepared to take action similar to that of Valenzuela.

Data from the Department of Transportation have it that out of the 6.1 million motor vehicles in Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Calabarzon, only three million have RFID. The system is supposed to expedite the tollway processing of vehicles, but the opposite happened.

Reacting to the mess, the Toll Regulatory Board ordered tollway operators to upgrade their systems, replace defective sensors and RFID, and relocate RFID installation and reloading lanes to prevent congestion. The board, however, did not give them a deadline.

At the NLEx, the RFID could be reloaded only at the Tabang and San Fernando toll plazas, placing heavy traffic pressure at these points. The reloading sites should be spread out, and the RFID payment scheme linked to the vehicle owners’ back account whenever possible.

The NLEx management said Thursday it would transfer its RFID installation and reloading sites at its Karuhatan and Mindanao toll plazas to relieve traffic congestion there.

The problems that were exposed, including the overwhelming of the hardware and software by the flood of data, should be solved in the interim we are suggesting between now and the end of the month.

 Integrate SC discounts into RFID

SENIOR citizens and persons with disability should have been enjoying by now their 20-percent discount on toll payments using RFID had they not been abandoned by lawmakers during the amendment of the laws granting the discounts.

By the simple deletion of the word “skyways” from the original laws, such privilege of seniors and PWDs disappeared, according to lawyer Romy Macalintal, the SC-PWD advocate.

He explained: “RA 9257, which was enacted on Feb. 26, 2004, and its implementing rules and regulations, granted senior citizens a 20-percent discount on ‘public railways, skyways and bus fares.’

“RA 9442 enacted on April 30, 2007, and its IRR granted ‘at least a 20-percent discount in public railways, skyways and bus fare for PWDs’ and provided that such 20-percent discount shall apply to ‘toll fees of skyways and expressways.’

Both privileges can be availed of only if the vehicle of the SC or the PWD is registered in his name. Macalintal continued:

“However, on Feb. 15, 2010, Congress enacted RA 9994 (the Expanded SC Act of 2010) and on March 23, 2016, RA 10754 (the Expanded PWDs’ Privileges) was passed where, instead of expanding the land transportation privileges of SCs and PWDs, both laws removed the word ‘skyways’ from the list of land transportation where SCs and PWDs are entitled to the 20-percent discount.”

He said that with more than 300 congressmen and 24 senators, “not a single representative or senator noticed and/or objected to the deletion of the word ‘skyways’ when they passed RA 9994 for SCs and RA 10754 for PWDs. Not a word was heard from our Senior Citizen Party-list representative.”

Macalintal recalled that when he requested the DoTr and the TRB to grant such discounts to SCs and PWDs, the TRB said in a reply-letter: “RA 9994 which amended RA 9257 appears to have removed the pertinent part of the provision granting a 20-percent discount for SCs in toll fees for ‘skyways’. The same situation obtains when RA 9442 was amended by RA 10754 when the provision granting a 20-percent discount for PWDs was removed.”

Macalintal proposed that the discounts be put back. He said: “It won’t be difficult to input the discount in the RFID. For a load of, say, P1,000, the SC or PWD may pay only P800, or the P200 discount could be added to his RFID to give him a total load of P1,200 for a P1,000 load purchase.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 13, 2020)

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