Press Release
December 17, 2020

Senate Committee on Public Services
Dec. 17, 2020

The first part of this hearing will focus on the rehabilitation of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport complex. Just two days ago, the Manila International Airport Authority revoked the original proponent status granted to Megawide-GMR consortium.

Due to this hitch, the committee's concern is that all of these supposed PPPs will remain as mere "PowerPoint Presentations" when time is of the essence, especially since the number of passengers in NAIA is projected to reach 101.5 million by 2040.

The second part of today's hearing will focus on a series of resolutions pertaining to the mandatory cashless policy in toll expressways. We shall look at the issues surrounding its implementation and explore what can be done to address the complaints and improve the travel experiences of motorists.

We will ask DOTr and its attached agencies three basic questions: (1) What did you do? - your preparation for this transaction; (2) What are you doing now? - the status of the implementation of the cashless toll collection system; and (3) What will you be doing moving forward?

Without prejudice to the facts which may arise in the course of these proceedings, the general sentiment of the public reveals a lack of foresight on the policy and gross mishandling of the situation.

Essentially, tolled expressways are waiting lines which obey the same universal law: if customers arrive faster than the rate at which they can be served, then the whole line will bog down. This is exactly what happened on NLEX:

- On the supply side, only 25 to 30 percent of frequent NLEX travelers were RFID users in 2019. This is quite low compared to the usage rates of contactless toll systems in Asia: 90 percent in Japan, 75 percent in Taiwan, and 74.2 percent in South Korea. This ensured that there would be a sudden surge in the number of RFID users which should have been handled. Sa kabuuan, may tatlong milyong sasakyan sa NCR ang walang RFID bago pinairal ang cashless system.

- On the service side, matagal nang marami ang mga reklamo tungkol sa unreliability ng NLEX toll gates. Pero mukhang walang ginawa ang concessionaire. For example, here is an opinion column from 2018: "The electronic toll gates of NLEX and lately SCTEX suffers from frequent slow or misreading at toll gates."Minsan daw, mas mabilis pa sa cash lanes. Tandaan po natin, 2018 pa po ito.

Ito naman ang mga comment mula sa social media noong 2019 pa lang: "Ang bagal o ang hina ng mga sensor ng RFID ng NLEX. Every time ginagamit, need pang itutok at minsan aatras ka at aabante several times para lang ma-detect ito." I, myself have experienced that. Ang maliit lang sana na reklamo noong 2019, naging malaking problema ngayong 2020 dahil nagpatupad nang polisiya habang hindi pa handa ang sistema.

The Toll Regulatory Board, as the primary regulator of toll operators, cannot escape the blame. It seems to me that the TRB has 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. According to the Commission on Audit, 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.

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 future of the TRB is another issue which must be resolved during this hearing.

The backlash in this implementation of the electronic toll collection system reminded those in public service about the importance of careful planning and thorough preparation. 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. Hindi naman tama na sa pagmamadali natin, kapakanan ng ating mga kababayang motorista ang masasakripisyo. We have seen this before. Magmamadali mag-implement ng bagong polisiya, tapos ititigil kapag maraming nagreklamo.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will say it again - we laud the intention behind this policy. The objective of this hearing is to identify areas of improvement and hopefully, prevent predicaments like this from happening again. Para sana sa susunod hindi na kailangan na may mga mayor na magsususpinde ng business permit o mga senador na magpapasa pa ng resolusyon bago maaksyunan ang mga reklamo ng ating mga motorista.

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