RFID birth pains

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) had ordered all tollways operators (SLEX, NLEX,  SCTEX etc.) to implement a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) payment system by December 1. Initially, the order was set to start by November 2, but DOTr moved the deadline after the clamor of motorists who have yet to apply for RFID tags. But even this extension did not anticipate the problems that could result from an entirely new system for motorists that our transportation bureaucrats imagined can be made to appear at the mere stroke of the pen. The first week of RFID implementation, according to press reports, have resulted in horrendous traffic jams or “carmageddon” that this new DOTr policy has wrought. 

Take the experience of a media colleague, Alex Vergara, who narrated his personal calvary negotiating his way through the new RFID scheme. “Since both San Miguel and Metro Pacific are removing the cash option by requiring its users to get RFID cards, I had to comply. I started around two weeks ago with Coastal, southbound lane. They only have two lanes leading to two booths manned by people manually installing stickers (with matching cards) on cars. Imagine the number of cars funneling their way to those two booths just to get those stickers. Major bottleneck! Although the queues were moving, they were slow. After some 40 minutes I finally got my pre-loaded Easytrip RFID card worth P200 and sticker.”

Vergara’s ordeal did not end there. “And I thought that (previous experience with Coastal Easytrip RFID) was bad, but it doesn’t come near the time I spent getting a counterpart card, an Autosweep RFID card, from San Miguel. Imagine how surprised I was when I saw the line of cars snaking just directly under NAIAX— more than a kilometer long,” he said. Vergara was at the queue at 630 in the morning and it took him four and a half hours to get his RFID. What made the experience for Vergara doubly irritating was that the cards had to be issued on the ramp “which required every motorist to pay a P45 toll just to spend another P200 to get those cards/stickers,” he lamented.

And then because many motorists have been unable to get their cards by the Dec. 1 deadline, it is this mass that has made a mess of clogged tollways exits because cars are lined up to make a mad dash trying to get RFID stickers. According to one news report, “long queues at toll plazas formed as system glitches surfaced and thousands of motorists adjusted to RFID payments combined with a rush of people returning to Metro Manila after a holiday-extended weekend.” One driver was quoted by a newspaper report that she was stuck in crawling traffic for two hours on a 5-km stretch on the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx). TRB executive director Abraham Sales called these RFID’s “birth pains” but Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian is far from assuaged, as he threatened to suspend the business permit of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) Corp. over the heavy traffic caused by the implementation of the RFID toll system saying, “For everyone’s information hindi po nagtatapos ang laban natin sa bulok na RFID system.”

The same problem has afflicted the SLEX and CAVITEX tollways going south as well. Personally, I also had my share of carmageddon as it took me almost an hour just to exit CALAX at Sta. Rosa last December 3 and the situation seems to be getting as bad elsewhere. So, it is welcome news that Senator Win Gatchalian, vice chairman of the Senate economic affairs committee and also brother of the Valenzuela City Mayor, has taken the cudgels for us hapless motorists. He is urging the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to provide more booths for the installation of Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) stickers and help ease the traffic build-up along the expressways caused by motorists lining up.

The more sensible recommendation that I have heard so far is from San Miguel Corporation (SMC) president Ramon S. Ang who appealed months back to the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to extend the (December 1) deadline for cashless transactions till February 2021 for the sake of motorists scrambling to get their RFID stickers. “Given the surge in last-minute applications we’re seeing, we don’t think we will be able to serve everyone. A large number of motorists will not make it to the December 1 deadline,” he warned then. “And that is what we are asking the government. To allow us to retain even just a few cash lanes until February,” he stressed. I certainly agree to this proposition in order to ease our motorists’ plight and I close with the prayer for our responsible officials to act immediately to make this Holiday driving less stressful and more enjoyable for all. 

Peachy Vibal – Guioguio is a PR strategist who has lead communications departments in GMA Network, ABS-CBN, and TV5. She enjoys long drives, taking scenic routes, and finds a thrill going wherever she pleases behind a wheel. She has yet to learn how to replace a flat tire.

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