The Toll Regulatory Board (TRB), as the primary regulator of toll operators, cannot escape the blame for the tollway mess, the radio frequency identification (RFID) system or cashless transaction, Senator Grace Poe said Thursday.
During the virtual hearing of the Senate Public Services Committee chaired by Poe, the latter said it would seem that the TRB had been content to do two things and nothing else: raise toll rates and collect fees.
“Truth be told, TRB can’t even do its job of collecting toll fees that well,” she said.
To support her statement, Poe cited the Commission on Audit which said the TRB failed to collect toll fees in the amount of P44.24 million in 2017 and P859.94 million in 2019, almost a billion pesos.
She said: “It should be noted that the TRB, like the NDRRMC and PhilHealth, suffers from having a governing board which is dominated by ex-officio Cabinet secretaries who have more important things to do.”
The senator emphasized that the backlash in the implementation of the electronic toll collection system reminded those in public service about the importance of careful planning and thorough preparation.
She said it also exposed the tendency of some government agencies to yield to what seems like “trial and error” when it comes to implementing new policies.
“Indeed, some policies require urgent implementation – especially during a pandemic. However, requiring a shift to 100 percent cashless toll collection system in a matter of three or four months seems a little hasty and unrealistic.”.
“At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will say it again – we laud the intention behind this policy,” she further stated.
Sen. Emmanuel Pacquiao urged the TRB to fix the problems besetting toll operations using cashless transactions and provide immediate solutions.
Otherwise, Pacquiao warned he would recommend the suspension of the implementation of the cashless system on tollways and revert to the combined use of cash and radio frequency identification (RFID).
“Before we go fully cashless, we must fix the system. The primary purpose of cashless transactions is to hasten the flow of traffic on our tollgates, and that is what we want,” said Pacquiao.
“That is the goal, so that our motorists will not be inconvenienced,” he added.
He called on tollway concessionaires Metro Pacific Tollways Corporation and San Miguel Corporation to balance the number of cash and RFID toll gates to ease the congestion along expressways.
“Let us address the problems related to the implementation of the cashless system without delay,” said the senator.
Sen. Imee Marcos echoed the questions asked by President Rodrigo Duterte in his latest public address on the RFID system
Marcos said: “Did we really hold a dry run? Do we have a trial run? In 2018 there’s already a problem, and then suddenly there’s a 3-month deadline for the implementation, also the threat of penalty to those who will be unable to install RFIDs.”
Marcos also inquired if there were consultations with the two operators, San Miguel Corporation and Metro Pacific Tollways Corporation, “knowing full well that they are not interoperable?”
Sen. Joel Villanueva thanked Poe for initiating an inquiry into the issues surrounding the implementation of the RFID/cashless transactions on expressways.
Villanueva said it was ironic that the RFID-based toll collection system made heavy traffic the new normal in the expressways and even added burden to motorists.
“It is time that we, as representatives of the people, look into how our regulators and concessionaires are working to ease the problems in our toll roads,” said Villanueva.
“We are also willing to work with them to find practicable and simple solutions to make our highways true expressways,” assured the senator.
Using a video presentation showing his driver attempting to drive through a toll booth and backing up when the radio frequency identification reader failed to register his RFID, shared his experience passing through the Balintawak exit at the North Luzon Expressway.
“As you can see instead of us going straight because of my RFID reader, this is what we go through on a regular basis. As early as 2018, there have been problems with the RFID,” Gatchalian added.
In the same hearing, Sen. Nancy Binay, chairperson of the Committee on Tourism, cited the need to fix the country’s airports “with a sense of urgency.”
Poe’s committee also looked into the P107.54 billion Ninoy Aquino International Airport Comprehensive Capacity Enhancement Project.
Binay said this was especially true in the case of the NAIA, which is the first airport tourists see.
She also inquired from the Manila International Airport Authority the timeline showing the dates when the Consortium of 7 and Megawide Construction Corp. submitted their proposals for the said project.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asked transport officials if they were open to sit down again with Megawide and find a way to proceed with the project.
Transportation Sec. Arthur Tugade told the committee that if there would be compliance on the part of Megawide regarding equity, capitalization and other requirements, he saw no reason why it would not push through.
“Yes, we can see that there are a number of issues that must be resolved and yes, these must be resolved so that we can proceed with this project and I’m sure that Megawide is still interested in pursuing this and Sec. Tugade appears to have an open mind about this,” said Drilon.
“Maybe what we can do is to give the parties a chance to sit down again. To me, this is the only way we can proceed at this point when there’s a lot of loose ends that must be tightened,” Drilon added.
Tugade also said Megawide took back the operations at NAIA after it was informed by the National Economic Development Authority that the company has problem with its financial capacity.
But Poe insisted that NEDA should be consistent in this policy because in the case of DITO Telecom, it only has P20 billion capitalization but the roll out project amounts to P250 billion.
However, NEDA did not stop the telecommunications project.
Jun Feliciano of Megawide pointed out that they had complied with all the requirements asked by NEDA for the consortium.
“What they have been saying was that we have a problem with our equity, but it’s clear that we have a partner here – GMR Infrastructure,” said Feliciano.