Duterte, senators blast toll board for RFID fiasco
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to sack “incompetent” members of the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) following the cashless payment system fiasco that had caused the recent monstrous traffic jams on North Luzon Expressway (NLEx).
The toll regulators should have first conducted a trial run of the radio-frequency identification (RFID) system that was meant to facilitate the smooth traffic flow and electronic toll collection on NLEx, the President said during his weekly address to the nation on Wednesday night.
The system, however, failed to ease congestion on the expressway because of malfunctioning RFID sensors and the slow RFID stickering and reloading at toll plazas.
“We have a regulator. The problem is the regulators are another set of incompetent people. They should not have allowed the system right now to [be] put into use without a trial run, for about one week, so that they could see and anticipate what would be the problem[s],” Duterte said.
The TRB is chaired by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade. Its members are Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, National Economic and Development Authority Director General Karl Kendrick Chua and Raymundo Junia, the private sector representative. They are, however, represented by primary and secondary alternate members.
“I can’t accept your incompetence because we [in Malacañang] are the ones getting blamed, and not only that, you [brought] hardships on the people,” Duterte said.
Work of regulator
“I don’t think you really know what is a regulator. That’s the problem … You don’t know the length and breadth of what a regulator must do,” he added. “One more faux pas like that, another fiasco, I will fire all of you and I will put one in charge.”
He directed Tugade to “get someone from the military” to fix the problem with the RFID, a wireless system that enables data transfer from a tag, or signaling device stuck to a car, to a receiver owned by the toll operator, which uses it to collect payments from users of the turnpike.
Tugade said the Department of Transportation (DOTr) accelerated the adoption of the electronic toll collection after 270 employees at the tollgates contracted the coronavirus. “It was not only our desire to have a good flow of traffic in the tollways, it was our desire also to minimize the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
He, however, said that when glitches occur in the system, the operator should be answerable and not make the public suffer.
Tugade apologized to users of the tollways and to the local governments “for the inconvenience,” calling the faulty system a “birthing experience.”
“We will fix it, Mr. President,” he promised. But during a hearing on the RFID problem on Thursday, senators bombarded Tugade with criticisms.
Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the committee on public service who presided over the hearing, dismissed his explanations for the toll fiasco.
“We know that you are saying that the Toll Regulatory Board, the long and short of it, should have been more effective. But aren’t you the chairman of the Toll Regulatory Board?” she told Tugade.
Poe castigated the secretary for ordering a 100-percent cashless collection system at all toll roads in the country despite recurring problems since the start of their optional implementation in 2017.
She also scored the DOTr for the lack of a proper plan for the “interoperability” of the RFIDs across operators of expressways. The two main RFID systems are EasyTrip and AutoSweep.
NLEx, Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway, Manila-Cavite Expressway, and Cavite-Laguna Expressway use the Easytrip prepaid system, and is operated by Metro Pacific Tollways Corp.
On the other hand, South Luzon Expressway, Metro Manila Skyway, Ninoy Aquino International Airport Expressway, Southern Tagalog Arterial Road Tollway, Muntinlupa-Cavite Expressway, and Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway use the Autosweep system of San Miguel Tollways Corp.
Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate committee on good government, blasted DOTr officials for failing to anticipate the problems now hounding the RFID system.
“You have no business being a Toll Regulatory Board commissioner, or even a Cabinet officer for that matter, if you do not know how to run your department, or you don’t know how to run your agency, because the only thing that you should remember is that you should have the leadership to prevent such problems from occurring,” he said.
Such problems result from public officials forgetting about public convenience, Gordon said.
“If there was monitoring, even as early as 2017, the [DOTr] or for that matter, any department under whatever administration, should always monitor public convenience, public service. In this case, they failed,” he said.
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