THE SIGNS are literally everywhere where EPASS operates. In the tollbooths throughout the stretch of the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and Skyway bright red banners and posters announce that effective April 1, 2016 that toll road system will no longer recognize EPASS.
EPASS, of course, is the electronic toll collection gadget that has been in use in the southern toll road for about 15 years. Motorists subscribing to the service have a prepaid toll account that is credited whenever it breezes through the dedicated toll booths.
But a lot has happened since the creation of this toll collection system and the Skyway. First, EPASS operated and marketed by Capstone as a supplier to SLEX/ Skyway operator CITRA, the Indonesian firm. Then CITRA bought majority of Capstone, retaining the operations management and personnel to market it. Then San Miguel Corporation (SMC), through a number of financial deals with CITRA, gained majority of SLEX/ Skyway so basically it holds majority of Capstone.
Then two years ago, SMC decided to undertake its own electronic toll collection system called Sweep, using Radio Frequency Identification technology, better known as RFID. Now RFID is nothing new. In fact, it has been around used for tracking various objects from garments out of the factory to retail outlets, to Globe’s now defunct prepaid chips for the MRT (the project was award winning, why Globe gave it up is beyond me).
After a series of failed launches it seems now that the Sweep RFID is ready to take off (they said December 2015, but it’s only now that it’s really taking off). For a bit of a background on all the craziness that went on, you can read my previous blog posts:
The funny thing is that even with Sweep’s definitive public announcements, EPASS people in Capstone technologies seem to be oblivious – if not in denial – of their impending doom. Last month, in its regular email t0o customers of which I am one, they greeted me a Happy Chinese New Year with a brief message that their offices will be closed for the long holiday weekend. I replied to the email asking about the new Sweep RFID/ SLEX/ Skyway announcement. The Capstone webmaster replied. Here’s our exchange:
Me: So what happens April 1? Wala na? (EPASS will be gone?)
Website Admin (Capstone): Good Day! There is no official notice to us from the tollways management. Thank you very much for your continued patronage.
Me: Are you kidding? It’s in all the tarps and poster in the tollbooths and in the website. Get your act together! We’re paying customers!
Website Admin (Capstone): Hi, We have seen the tarps but there really is no formal notice served to us. Thank you!
Actually, shifting from EPASS to Sweep RFID is no problem. If you turn in your EPASS they’ll transfer your load credits from one to the other. But I was wondering about the EPASS gadget which we had to pay about P1,000 for.
I guess, after everything we just have to accept the inevitable: that the financially dominant entity in any merger or takeover gets to do what it wants to do for whatever reason it deems. SMC can just junk 15 years of operational and technical experience in electronic toll collection for a totally new toy, simply because it owns the whole caboodle.
But can it? Or should it? It seems there are still minority shareholders in this case, those who will still be left holding the bag. Will SMC compensate them by buying them off? Or giving them a part of the stake in this new venture?
One thing’s for sure: those of us who use the service don’t give a damn about who owns what and who’s operating it, so long as it works and it works well.
Then again, maybe the guys in Capstone know something that we don’t. Like maybe SMC will still have operational problems with RFID that they won’t be able to make good their threat of chucking EPASS on April 1. That’s why they chose that date, because if it doesn’t happen they can all merrily chant “April fools!”