Are we there yet?


Second of two parts
As I sauntered to the waiting area, I asked the people leaving Window 4 – where the licensee’s photo is taken, the official signature electronically rendered and the biometrics of all fingerprints recorded, the (official receipt) OR issued and the card given – how long it had taken. Mr. LR012 took four hours. Mr. LR024 took five. These guys had been there since the office opened in the morning. And it was already around 2:30 in the afternoon.

Doing the math (I was LR079), I figured that I could leave, grab a bite and come back before the Land Transportation Office (LTO) gates closed just before 5 p.m. And so I did. By the time I got back, Window 4 was dispensing with LR057. By 5 p.m., no new applicants were allowed entry and the LTO staff had buckled down to clear the backlog for as long as it took. As per the digital display board, the last license renewal accepted for processing was LR122. I looked around the chilly anteroom – thank God the management didn’t turn off the air-con and lights just because it was past closing hours – and I counted easily 20 other applicants waiting for their turn at Window 4.

I then asked another LTO gent this question: In case you couldn’t wait for your turn at Window 4 but had already paid at Window 8, could you get the OR and come back another day for the biometrics? He said sure, just go to Window 4 to claim your receipt but keep the additional data sheet as you will need it when you come back.

Your renewal application will now be bunched with the “backlog”, which in Angeles City means you come back only on a Saturday when they process such transactions at Window 4. You will also be bunched up with all other license renewals before September 2017 who will need to do the whole Window 4 bit – encoding of additional data, new photo, biometrics, signature, etc. The LTO gent said they were working on a system where the “backlogs” can come on a regular day and establish their own Window 4 queue. Anticipating my next question, he said that 40 percent of the day’s applicants had opted to get the OR and come back another time for the full Window 4 treatment.

I finally got my 2017-2022 plastic ID card at 5:30 p.m. or five and half hours after the medical exam. Those left behind were looking for their final turn at 2030. The LTO wasn’t going to close until it had issued plastic IDs to all those waiting inside. Comparing notes with friends in Metro Manila – most of whom had renewed in the malls with LTO offices – in and out, plastic IDs in hand, was within the half hour/1 hour standard of the previous 3-year license processing benchmark. Agencies with poor internet connections, like P. Tuason in Cubao, Quezon City, (not all LTO agencies have access to a fiber optic network) waited longer for transactions with the main LTO computer in East Avenue also in Quezon City, and posted licensee wait times of up to five hours.

To give the LTO its due, we established some simple benchmarks and breakdowns on the time elapsed for each transaction. At Window 2 – for the submission of the old plastic ID – it didn’t take more than 20 minutes for the window to be manned sporadically to accept and process batches of applicants. After another 20 minutes, one is called to Window 3 to verify identity. The next step is Window 8 for payment of the fee. That gap took about 40 minutes from Window 3. I suppose this is is when the LTO agencies check the main computer’s records for any outstanding and unpaid violations. Nothing, however, beat the long wait from Window 8 to ID card processing at Window 4: three and a half hours. Being unfamiliar with what transpires from payment to processing, I have no guesses for this long wait.

Main computer problem
At this point, barring poor internet connections, the problem will always be the main computer at LTO East Avenue. The upgrading of this main computer to process lots of data and be enabled to do more than just tracking violations, registrations, stolen cars and records, etc. has been a still-born process since the Ramos Administration.

The contract to upgrade the LTO system was then won by Stradcom. Unfortunately, Stradcom’s work was subject to fits and starts as losing bidders and oppositors challenged it in court. In the meantime, many of the initial upgrades were commissioned and working but remain unpaid. The harassment of Stradcom stymied effort to modernize the LTO and the conflicts reached the pinnacle during the early years of the Aquino regime when Stradcom was practically kicked out. Attempts to take over ended in wasted trials on incompatible systems and we are still dealing with an LTO with a mongrel system, overtaken by the speed by which computer technology advances. The agency, however, has to keep working through panaceas and patch-ups because the country cannot function without a working LTO. The only way to keep it working is to set up a parallel system so that LTO will not be without backup.

It’s still early familiarization days at LTO Angeles; the Saturdays are only to process backlogs. It is studying all options, including a dedicated window and separate queue for backlogs so they can be serviced ASAP all the working week. In time, the agencies will get used to the new system and when the backlog clears – which will require a long wait, it seems – we expect normalization until the next surge comes. Don’t want a repeat? Keep your first five-year license clean for the whole duration and your next renewal will give you a 10-year validity, if the LTO’s plans push through.

Tito F. HERMOSO is Autoindustriya’s INSIDE MAN

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