Regulatory board may impose SLEx toll discount
The Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) will start determining the toll discount for motorists caught in heavy traffic congestion on the northbound portion of the South Luzon Expressway (SLEx) as a result of the construction of an extension of the Skyway in Muntinlupa City, a board official said on Sunday.
With the daily gridlock on SLEx, the toll road operator is shortchanging people taking public transportation and motorists using the SLEx and Skyway, said Raymundo Junia, private sector representative on the toll board.
The TRB move came after San Miguel Corp. (SMC) Tollways, operator of SLEx and Skyway, did not show up at a meeting with the regulator on Oct. 19.
Junia said the failure of SMC Tollways officials to appear at the meeting meant that the company would no longer make its own offer of lower toll or suspend its collection.
The no-show is tantamount to a nonoffer, he said. “It’s that simple.”
Besides, he said, SMC president Ramon Ang had already publicly opposed any toll reduction.
Only officials of the SMC unit Skyway Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Corp., headed by its president Manuel Bonuan, came, according to Junia.
Bonuan, he said, told the TRB that he was not authorized to speak for Skyway O&M Corp.’s mother company.
“We will proceed with the process of determining the just and reasonable discount, which will be tackled by the TWG (technical working group),” Junia told the Inquirer in a phone interview.
Junia, who also heads the TWG, said the computation for the adjusted rates would be based primarily on the length of the toll road affected by the traffic logjam and the completion period of the project.
“We’re doing that regardless of what Ang has publicly announced. [Rejecting calls for lower toll] is not for them to say because there’s a [government] regulatory body to do that,” he said.
Outermost lane closed
The TRB started to study calls for toll suspension or reduction after commuters and motorists complained about the horrible traffic flow along the Metro Manila-bound stretch of SLEx, the main artery connecting Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) to the metropolis.
The traffic jam was caused by the closure of the outermost northbound lane of the Skyway at-grade level just after the Alabang viaduct on the evening of Sept. 24 to give way to the construction of the P10-billion extension of the Skyway from Barangay Cupang to Barangay Putatan.
The adjoining lane of a stretch of the East Service Road was also closed and was made one way going to Sucat.
Senators Grace Poe and Sherwin Gatchalian echoed the concerns of motorists and those taking public transportation, many of whom complained about the failure of SMC Tollways to inform the public of the road closures.
In the House of Representatives, Laguna Rep. Sol Aragones has filed a resolution calling for a suspension or reduction of the toll for six months.
P7.6B in unadjusted toll
Ang, however, has rejected calls for SMC Tollways to slash the toll or suspend its collection on the grounds that the TRB still owed his company about P7.6 billion in unadjusted toll rates as of September.
“If I were to suspend it, let’s say tomorrow, will it improve the traffic [on SLEx]? It will not change anything, right?” the businessman said in a radio interview on Oct. 15.
But in an interview with the Inquirer the next day, Ang apologized for the inconvenience caused by the building of a
4-kilometer elevated roadway that will run parallel to both sides of SLEx to allow motorists to bypass the traffic-prone Alabang viaduct and interchange.
Ang promised that by Dec. 1, SMC Tollways would restore the use of three lanes of the at-grade level of SLEx after the Alabang viaduct.
Junia said Ang might have been “misinformed” about the P7.6 billion in unadjusted toll rates as it was “impossible” for a state regulator like the TRB to be indebted to a private entity it was regulating.
“The TRB does not owe SMC a single centavo on the toll road. As far as I know, the TRB is not in the business of borrowing money so it owes nobody nothing. Its business is regulating operations of toll roads,” the TRB official said.
Junia said Ang’s public statements would not stop the TRB from imposing penalties on SMC Tollways.
“The discount is not a penalty, but is actually a result of the people’s clamor for value for the money they spend. They pay for the value, which they say they are not getting,” he said.
At least 370,000 vehicles use the SLEx every day, while more than 196,000 take Skyway, according to TRB data.
Junia said he himself had been inconvenienced by the Skyway extension project as his usual 90-minute drive from his house in San Pedro, Laguna province, to his office in Makati City was doubled.
“The use of toll road is a business deal between the operator and the consumers, the latter paying for the value of convenience, safety and cost savings,” he said.
The consumers or motorists are shortchanged, according to Junia, if this value is not delivered.
“When this happens, it is the duty of the government to step in and correct the situation,” he said.
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