IT HAS been almost four months since we opened discussions on the order of San Miguel Corporation to stop issuing EPASS tags for its South Luzon Expressway (SLEX)/ Skyway toll roads despite the thousands of pending orders. In response to the clamor SMC fast tracked its much delayed implementation of its RFID toll collection system. This was announced by Inquirer’s business writer Dax Lucas, known for closely following the fortunes of the top moneymakers in the country like SMC’s Ramon S. Ang. The announcement included an exciting development – free RFIC tags for the first 200,000 subscribers, aside from the benefits of speed and efficiency of transaction at the tollbooths.
In a laudable effort in change management, they even got motoring guru James Deakin to blog on the ease of getting your RFID tags which was indeed informative and helpful, considering how uncomfortable people get with change, especially since it calls for getting rid of the EPASS habit that is over a decade and a half old.
Yet nearly four months into the program it seems the RFID hasn’t caught on. A walk around the mall parking facilities in Alabang Town Center and Filinvest’s Festival Mall shows that there are more cars sperting EPASS tags than RFID stickers. In fact, I’ve hardly counted cars with RFID, and to my observation it was something like 25:1 in favor of EPASS. While the announcement of SMC giving away the stickers free to the first 200,000 subscribers, my own visit to the Bicutan Skyway office hardly showed a mad rush for this supposed super technology for electronic toll collection.
The subscriber base, I am told, is still very short of expectations despite it being free, and multitude of current EPASS users are mostly wary of the idea of turning in their tags to replace with the RFID stickers.
Facebook posts and comments in car enthusiast and club pages aren’t as upbeat as expected with concerns ranging from the technology doesn’t work, destroying their cars’ aesthetics because of the need to carve a hole on the front windshield tint for the RFID sticker, and lack of available headlight stickers.
Sure, there are implementation glitches especially when it comes to new technology and practices. But the most pressing concerns in the RFID apparently come from issues that are not technical but simply good business and operational in nature. The issues boil down to one simple thing: the replenishment of monetary load on the RFID subscriber account.
As an EPASS subscriber I know it is very easy to reload value into my account, almost as easy as reloading a prepaid mobile phone. Aside from the usual SLEX reloading centers in Bicutan, C-5, etc, EPASS can be reladed in kiosks in malls like ATC and even in Glorieta, SM Department Stores, MEPS terminals like the ones on the Legaspi village walkway, in Shell gas stations in Magallanes, Sucat, C-5 Taguig, Julia Vargas in Pasig, through credit cards, Bancnet and BPI bank accounts, and in 7-11 stores. And a most recent announcement adds Robinsons to the list of outlets. Literally this makes reloading availability in over a thousand outlets. And those are the only the ones I know of.
In contrast, RFID subscribers can only reload in the SLEX Bicutan office. There is talk of deploying reloading centers in Petron stations and with credit cards. That, of course, is currently just talk. But as we all know, the RFID was first announced over a year ago, and it took them that long to reach this stage, albeit some would say prematurely.
With the way things are going I don’t think SMC will make good its threat that they will completely phase out EPASS by December. In fact, they have modified their announcements about it, removing the year end deadline to whenever RFID would be fully functioning.
Which makes me wonder: why such a radical move and replace EPASS with RFID? Why not have both? My technology sources who guided me through Jollibee’s #chickensad fiasco last year suggest that it should not be a problem. To start with, the sensors for both EPASS and RFID are already up and running in the tollbooths together. They said the computer backend at the SLEX/ Skyway operator’s side will accept data whether it’s from an RFID or EPASS tag. Think of it like either Globe or Smart, the mobile phone operator will make and accept your call or text messages regardless of the brand of your GSM phone.
How about it guys? Wouldn’t it make the world a better place? Or at least life on SLEX/ Skyway?