Are we there yet?



First of two parts
After a long wait, we must twiddle our thumbs some more even as the Land Transportation Office (LTO) has rolled out a new system for license renewals. What used to be a predictable transaction time of half an hour to an hour has become, in some cases, a five-hour ordeal. There was positive news, true, but mostly from agencies in the malls with good internet connections.

It remains a puzzle why, for most of the GMA years, the renewal process for three-year licenses was always easy. The LTO catered well even with the requirement of drug tests. Naturally, the LTO could not require an executive check-up – the expense and time alone would make the exam a magnet for corruption and fakery. A quick but targeted urinalysis was all that was required. Over and done in three minutes, and it was good enough to ferret drug users who hadn’t been clean for the past 30 days.

A government agency catering to better customer service? The LTO may have been a pioneer as ever since the Marcos times, the agency – then known as the Bureau of Land Transportation – was supposed to set up Motor Vehicle Inspection Service centers all across the country. Its mission was to check not only for vehicle roadworthiness but also emissions.

Funded by foreign institutions, the effort started but then petered out for all of 40 years. When an emissions standard law was mandated, the agency then encouraged emission testers to set up shop near LTO offices, offering quickie emissions testing for all kinds of internal combustion engines.

There was a cost, however, for the ease in renewing licenses. The Commission on Audit (COA) – every bureaucracy’s party pooper and kill-joy – makes no bones about its remit, which is to check that every government contract and transaction is the least disadvantageous to the people’s money and above board, that all bidders are qualified, and that a level playing field exists.

No bidding for plastic license cards
The COA discovered that for decades, the LTO never conducted a bidding for the supply of plastic license cards. It stuck to the same supplier, Amalgamated Motors (former Land Rover and Leyland bus distributors), just renewing the supply contract every year. The COA declared the agency in violation and this is when things started getting messed up.

The LTO called for a new bidding, a winner was selected but it wasn’t as simple as merely supplying plastic blanks. The ID card-making machines were not compatible and hence, license holders started getting cards that looked more fake than the “genuine” fakes and lasted just a little bit longer than the paper official receipt.

Result: A huge backlog. Add to that the explosion of motorcycle sales, meaning more and more new license applicants. The LTO started groping around for quick fixes but none were found and mountain of unissued cards piled higher.

By the close of the PNoy administration’s term, the LTO had announced the impending roll out of five-year licenses, which was to coincide with a new contract for cards and machines. Parallel to this, the government – while pushing for a National ID system -wanted to enhance the “value” of government-issued IDs and since drivers’ licenses is one of them, the LTO was to gather more data from each licensee.

With such a data mine, the LTO thought it fortuitous to even extend the renewal of the five-year license to 10 years if the holder was violation free for the firs five years. Stretching the validity would hopefully decongest its offices and electronic data processing portals.

With the burden of this history in mind, we found ourselves one humid noon last month at the Angeles City LTO, renewing my last three-year license. The customer service desk had happily dispensed with any official form filing, or so it seemed. As always, the nearby accredited doctors were the first stop. The medical tests themselves had leveled up; all computerized with the color blindness, vision and hearing checks done by desktop and large flat screen. The medical certificate is good for 15 days. (Note to self: If I have broken hours in a day, get the med certificate one and return to LTO anytime within the 15-day validity. Make sure to apply at least two weeks before your birthdate.)

Back to friendly LTO man who attached an official form, my old plastic ID and my queue number LR079. At 1300 hours I was the 79th license renewal applicant. The LTO uses a queuing system similar to banks – you get a number with an alpha-numeric code (in my case LR for license renewal). Other transactions had alpha codes like SS, SP, RR, etc. possibly student permits, transfer address or whatever. Then there was this application form of boxes that had to be filled up with info, definitely more than that required for the former three-year license.

So I now popped the friendly LTO gent a question: “How long will it take me?” He pointed to the air-conditioned anteroom where the airport style bench seats were full; it was standing room only. The gent said it’s been a long time since they had such crowding; it was the LTO Angeles’s first week with the new five-year license card system. The lines, needless to say, were long.

To be continued

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