OVER the past few years, I have been silently suffering from the failure of government to integrate the toll payment systems of the SCTEX and NLEX. Like many others from my area who frequently enter the SCTEX, then migrate into the Mabalacat end of the toll road for the NLEX. For every interconnection, the puzzlement over why the Easy Trip, while perfectly OK for the NLEX does not work at the SCTEX (cash basis), despite the single toll operator, pushes an aging, diabetic motorist like myself to pull—in extreme frustration —what can be pulled from my fast-dwindling hair.
This is the “Tuwid na Daan” remember. A mundane act such as a toll road migration, should be a breeze. Seamless migration into interconnected toll roads is part and parcel of “Tuwid na Daan” governance and a symbolic one too, given the literal phrasing of the governing philosophy…Good governance is about serving the people.
But I am perfectly aware of my status in life. I am a small man without a megaphone and I have no right to complain. Still, when I migrate from the SCTEX to the NLEX, to paraphrase the Bard, I often beweep my hapless state. What is at the root of this unnecessary, senseless delay? I also often pray that somebody big in society would get trapped in the toll payment gridlock and raise a holler.
Answered prayer. The Big Man sa Senado, Senate President Franklin M. Drilon himself, got trapped in the chaotic, gridlocked toll payment system on Dec. 26 on his way to Baguio City. As expected from a man who carries a big stick and a bigger megaphone at that, he raised a holler. A thundering one, to be more precise. A fuming Drilon asked the question we suffering motorists have wanted to ask for years: Why is there no single and integrated toll payment system? How can toll road payment be the source of so much public anguish?
His was a triple whammy and in this order: NLEX, SCTEX, TPLEX. It took Mr. Drilon and his family 11 hours to reach Baguio from San Juan, MM, mainly due to the chaos in the toll road payments. In the peak of his pique, Mr. Drilon said he would ask the Senate to look into the chaos and gridlocks of the toll payment system.
No need, Mr. Senate President. A Senate inquiry into the not-so-complex problem of why there is no seamless migration from one toll road to another (that would come via an integrated payment system) will just be a huge waste of important Senate time. There are two integration programs, the first one proposed in 2009 yet by the MNTC was supposed to cover the seamless payment systems at both the NLEX and SCTEX. The second, a reworded, re-crafted version to suit changing times, was formalized by the MNTC in April 2014.
What Mr. Drilon needs to do is ask the Office of the President (OP), which is reportedly reviewing the proposal for integration, to just implement it. It is a straightforward, technical plan, more in the area of basic, soft-core IT and civil engineering than a regulatory concern. In the ideal world, such programs intended to deliver great public relief and convenience should not be stuck in the filing cabinets of some apparatchiks.
Why the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) sat on it for five years as if it were an issue as grave as the West Philippine Sea dispute, we do not know. The OP’s dilly-dallying on the integration proposal, amid the daily sufferings of motorists, is also beyond explanation. What party is really to blame for the daily but silent suffering of toll road users?
But the cat is out of the bag. After Mr. Drilon’s harrowing encounter with the gridlocked toll payment system, it is now a public issue and Mr. Drilon can expedite the formulation of an urgent solution. But not through those emotionally-charged Senate hearings that accomplish very little. Or accomplish nothing at all. All he has to do is make a few calls and push some needed buttons.
Ok, what about the newest toll road, the TPLEX?
The integration plan anticipated the full operations of the TPLEX. Under the updated integrated plan, a fee card or an Easy Trip gadget guarantees passage through all three, with the point of exit as the point of payment for the fee card-holding motorist. This is just basic IT work, no brain-wracking connectivity and programming involved. A third year computer science student at any reputable school can do the connectivity work in a jiffy.
The civil engineering modification work required by the integration plan can be done by any Class C or Class B contractor.
The seamless payment system and the integration program can be done next month or the following month. We need to say this again. What Mr. Drilon has to do is wield his big stick and make things happen. And his senators will be happy with that. They need all the time in the world to investigate the real and imagined transgressions of non-LP figures such as Mr. Binay.