Sen. Gatchalian laments loopholes in RFID system

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian has lamented the loopholes in the implementation of cashless transactions in toll ways, during the recent Senate hearing on the mandatory cashless toll collection using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags.

Sen. Gatchalian, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Services, was among the lawmakers who convened last week to probe the implementation of the cashless toll collection system in all major expressways. The body particularly took note of the first few days of the shift that resulted in gridlocks, as motorists were greeted with long lines and wait times.

Transport officials grilled at Senate hearing

According to Sen. Gatchalian, the various problems encountered during the cashless toll collection prompted Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade to “accede to the overall impression of failure of leadership and failure of enforcement of regulatory officials manning the expressways.”

He also hit the DOTr and the Toll Regulatory Board’s (TRB) for the imposition of an arbitrary deadline for the shift to a cashless system, in the absence of enough preparations. He particularly noted that the cashless toll operations proceeded “sans any clear-cut policy and sanctions against erring toll operators, plan on the site for installation and reloading lanes, and without ensuring first whether there are still glitches in the system.”

The lawmaker grilled DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade, TRB executive director Abraham Sales and other transportation officials at the hearing. In particular, he highlighted the lack of existing schedule of penalties in the concession agreement of the TRB with NLEX Corporation, operator of the 101-kilometer North Luzon expressway (NLEx) and the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Department Order (DO) No. 2020-012 – the policy mandating cashless transactions in all toll roads in the country beginning December 1, 2020.

Transporation officials apologized to motorists and LGUs affected by the traffic congestion, assuring the public that steps are being done to address the glitches. “Again I express my apologies to the users of the tollways, to the local government for the convenience whatever it cost. Be assured that the cost of the inconvenience is not designed, is not intended,” Sec. Tugade said. For his part, Sales told lawmakers that glitches in the RFID system was discussed in a consultation meeting, and that these are still currently being addressed by toll operators.

Toll holiday in Valenzuela

Earlier this month, the Valenzuela City government suspended the business permit of NLEX after receiving numerous complaints from motorists like faulty RFID sensors and missing or insufficient load balance, causing massive traffic jams in the city.

The suspension loosened the traffic build-up but prevented NLEX from collecting tolls from motorists in passing through Valenzuela toll plazas. Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian later ordered the conditional lifting of the suspension after coming to an agreement with NLEX regarding toll collection policies, ending the toll holiday.

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