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Gatchalian: RFID mess still being monitored

RFID lanes utilizing cashless transactions are seen at the Balintawak toll plaza on NLEX.

SEN. Sherwin Gatchalian bared “more loopholes” in the glitch-ridden radio frequency identification (RFID) cashless toll collection system at the expressways, as calls mounted for the relief of regulators who had allowed the poor state of affairs to go on for the past few years.

Gatchalian revealed more problems even as his brother, Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, conditionally restored the business permit of the Nlex operator, the Metro Pacific Tollways Corp., on the latter’s failure to promptly resolve RFID glitches that had caused long lines of vehicles near the Valenzuela toll booth, causing traffic jams.

Senator Gatchalian indicated they are keeping close watch of the promised reforms even as “more loopholes” were uncovered in the implementation of the RFID system.

According to Senator Gatchalian, the glitches 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 was alluding to the DOTr’s and the Toll Regulatory Board’s (TRB) imposition of an arbitrary deadline for the shift to a cashless system, without making enough preparations.

At a recent Senate hearing on the RFID fiasco, Gatchalian said lawmakers learned that “the mandatory cashless toll collection proceeded, even 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 senator lamented that Tugade “subscribed to ineptness in overseeing the accountability of toll operators due to the absence of any specific sanctions or penalties and key performance indicators.”

Grilling transportation officials at the recent Senate hearing, Gatchalian asked “Whose leadership are you talking about? You said leadership, whose leadership?” In reply, Tugade pointed to “the head of the TRB (Toll Regulatory Board), the executive director, among others.” Tugade sits as the chairman of the board in the TRB, overseeing its executive director Abraham Sales.

Sales, in turn, informed senators that “the matter on the glitches in the RFID system was only discussed in a consultation meeting after the DOTr issued Department Order (DO) No. 2020-012—the policy mandating cashless transactions in all toll roads in the country beginning December 1, 2020.” Moreover, he said those glitches are “still currently being addressed by toll operators.”

Gatchalian joined Senator Grace Poe, Public Services Committee chairman, in highlighting, among others, “the lack of schedule of penalties in the concession agreement of the TRB with Nlex Corporation, operator of the 101-kilometer North Luzon expressway (Nlex), the gateway of Metro Manila to Central and Northern Luzon, as well as in the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of DOTR’s department order.

The senators lamented the lack of any existing sanctions and performance standards that could hold toll operators liable on issues such as the radio frequency identification (RFID) mess. “How did it come to this when we have regulators assigned and given powers to do their job? We are shortchanging the motorists,” Gatchalian said.

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