Toll board sees normal traffic after hiccups on 1st day of RFID payments
MANILA, Philippines—The Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) is expecting road conditions to return to normal in the coming days after traffic jams greeted motorists on Tuesday (Dec. 1), the deadline for full cashless toll.
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 told the Inquirer she was stuck in crawling traffic for two hours on a five-kilometer stretch on the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) on Tuesday night.
Assessing the first day of the full shift to RFID payments, TRB executive director Abraham Sales called these “birth pains” and that conditions improved by Wednesday (Dec. 2).
“Hopefully, in the coming days, the situation will improve further and we can hit our target of 100 percent cashless transactions,” Sales said.
While tollroad operators, like San Miguel Corp. (SMC) and Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC), were ordered to shift to full RFID payments on Dec.1 after a one-month extension, cash payments were still accepted because of the surge in vehicle volumes on Tuesday.
“Accepting toll payments in cash was an emergency measure,” said NLEx Corp. senior vice president Romulo Quimbo Jr. at a media briefing.
Through Metro Pacific Tollways Corp., MPIC operates NLEx and Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx). Its unit, MPT South, operates the Cavite Expressway, C5 Southlink and Cavite Laguna Expressway.
West Dionisio, NLEx assistant vice president for operations, said at the briefing that 83 percent of motorists have RFID stickers. Ella Francisco, MPT South head of operations, said RFID transactions hit 99 percent.
Dionisio said traffic conditions on NLEx worsened on Tuesday because an estimated 35,000 motorists had insufficient load in their RFID accounts.
“They were the ones that caused the long queue because we really had to accommodate them,” she said.
Speaking for SMC’s toll road group, Skyway O&M Corp. president Manuel Bonoan said the company’s RFID penetration rate reached 85 percent against 43 percent prior to the pandemic.
“The flow of the general traffic has been very good and smooth,” he said while pointing out there were still queues on RFID installation lanes.
He also welcomed the implementation of cashless collections as a means to cut the spread of COVID-19.
“Even in our tollways, we have many tellers who have tested positive,” Bonoan said. “I think it was a very noble objective to go cashless.”
SMC operates the South Luzon Expressway, Metro Manila Skyway, Naia Expressway, Southern Tagalog Arterial Road and Tarlac Pangasinan La Union Expressway.
The food, beverage and infrastructure conglomerate earlier asked the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to extend the penalty-free window for motorists without RFID stickers from Jan. 11 to February 2021.
Assistant Transportation Secretary Goddes Libiran said the department had given “due consideration” to motorists by delaying the enforcement of full cashless toll collection.
“The primary reason for pushing for the implementation of cashless transactions now is to protect the health and safety of our citizens amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said at the briefing.
Libiran also urged toll road operators to add more reloading and sticker installation sites to reduce queueing on expressways.
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