IS THE Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) run by another do-nothing politician appointed by the President in the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC)?
This is the question that kept turning in my mind as I drove into the C5 entry tollbooth of the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) on the way home to south of the Metro.
It was still well into the midweek morning that I swung by that EPASS satellite office just beside the SLEX C5 toll plaza to load my EPASS tags. For those unfamiliar, the EPASS is what is generally called an Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) system. Toll road systems around the world have found that they can make collection more efficient by having an ETC prepaid system to eliminate the cumbersome and time consuming cash payment at the toll booths. Generally vehicles have electronic “tags” that signal a toll booth receiver on the “funds load” of a subscriber to their central database.
I have been using an EPASS on my vehicle since moving back to the south some six years ago and must admit that, as one who regularly traverses SLEX to and from functions in Manila, Makati, Taguig or Quezon City, it is difficult to live without it. Just the mere sight of cars lining up toll booths 10 deep just to pay the toll while you can practically breeze through in your exclusive lane makes the investment on the tag worthwhile.
I stopped over at the EPASS C5 Satellite office to reload my tag’s funds since I was in the area. While waiting for the guy manning the computer terminal to enter my “load” I thought of applying for a new EPASS tag. My current tag is still registered in my sister’s name since it came with the car I bought from her. I thought it would be nice to give her the tag and get one for myself, registered in my name. So I asked the EPASS guy for an application form.
I was sorely disappointed.
To get a clear picture, let me give you the exact conversation we had:
Me: Gusto kong mag apply ng bagong EPASS (I’d like to apply for a new EPASS Tag)
EPASS GUY: Wala po. (There isn’t any)
Me: Anong ibig mong sabihin? Walang kang application form? (What do you mean? You don’t have application forms?)
EG: Hindi po. Hindi nag-i-issue ng bagong EPASS. (No sir. We don’t issue new EPASS tags.)
Me: Ha? Bakit naman? (What? Why?)
EG: From top management.
Me: Top management? As in utos lang nila? (As in they just issued the order?)
EG: Yes sir.
Me: So, just give me a form so that I can apply and just let me know when it will be available.
EG: Wala rin po. Useless naman kasi walang EPASS na ibibigay. (There are no forms too. Useless to give you since there are no tags being issued anyway.)
Me: Kailan kaya magkakaroon? (When do you think the tags will be available?)
EG: Di namin alam. (We don’t know.)
I was stumped. And EPASS Guy was clearly unwilling to engage me any further. It seems that he had gone through this uncomfortable conversation many times before.
I called Capstone Technologies later. This is the company that basically provides the EPASS system and its their number that’s in the tag’s packaging for technical support. Basically I got the same answer from a lady at the other end of the line – top management directive to stop EPASS tag subscription – with a slight difference. I could have filed an application to make sure I had a tag reserved if and when the order to issue new subscription came down, if it even would. I asked how many have done that, and she said there were a lot. I persisted, wanting some information so that I could decide to make the drive to their office in Bicutan: “Hundreds? Thousands?”
“Basta marami talaga, sir. (It’s a lot)” she replied.
This “top management” directive by Capstone doesn’t make sense. I had written about the EPASS before (Click here to see my previous blog post on EPASS) and by all means such a system makes good economic sense all around. Buses, trucking and other institutional users swear by its practicality, both in keeping their travel schedules as well as for cost controls and auditing (Capstone generates regular usage reports by email).
And residents in all the suburban enclaves in the south which extends all the way to Laguna have been experiencing the convenience of the EPASS for their daily commute to the central business districts. With the rapid growth of these southern communities I’m quite certain that many of them are among those thousands in line for new EPASS tags.
It couldn’t be the rollout of that new Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system that’s plastered all over the toll booths. The guys manning the booths say that it still isn’t up, and there hasn’t been any announcement of its implementation.
Which brings me back to the question that’s been turning in my brain. With such economic advantages to the motorists, the toll road operator and the economy as a whole, what is government – specifically the TRB – doing about it?
TRB’s Executive Director is Edmundo O. Reyes, Jr., former congressman of Marinduque. He was appointed by President Benigno S. Aquino III and is among those politicians who sit in this agency under the DOTC.
And as we all know DOTC is headed by Joseph Emilio Abaya, another former congressman and Liberal party stalwart under whose watch the MRT is in disarray and whose other agencies like the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) are in such a sordid mess. Think: no car plates available; no drivers’ license cards available, vehicle and driver registration computer system in a mess; accident prone rolling coffin buses careening in the streets; taxi system with massive windshield blocking driver IDs… the list goes on.
Is TRB and Reyes part of the curse of the do-nothing DOTC politico? Will he act on this EPASS impasse. Or does this scion of Marinduque’s Reyes political dynasty just that: a local politico waiting for his turn in the next election while sitting on his hiney in a cushy appointed position?
Wake up, Mr. Reyes! We need those EPASS tags!