Senate urges suspension of cashless toll collection scheme

North Luzon Expressway toll plaza. Photo from NLEX Corp,
  • The Senate wants the mandatory cashless toll collection program on expressways suspended following the massive gridlock it caused
  • Senate Resolution 596 suggested actions to improve implementation. Among these are to allow cash lanes for infrequent and first-time users of expressways, remove penalties for insufficient cash balances, and impose a deadline on interoperability before a deadline on cashless transaction
  • A Senate hearing on the cashless toll collection scheme is set for December 17

The Senate is urging the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to suspend the implementation of mandatory cashless toll collection on expressways until issues with the policy are addressed in order to ease the burden experienced by motorists.

Senate Resolution (SR) 596, signed by 14 senators and adopted on December 14, seeks a temporary halt to the implementation of DOTr Department Order (DO) No. 2020-012 and its related issuances “pending the resolution of the complaints against the cashless or contactless transaction system.”

It also seeks to amend the issuances to reflect the following actions to improve implementation:

  • Allow cash lanes for infrequent and first-time users of expressways
  • Remove penalties for insufficient cash balances as this should not be a traffic violation and may be remedied at the next reloading opportunity
  • Impose a deadline on interoperability before a deadline on cashless transaction
  • Create a policy on dormant accounts and the accumulated amounts that are expected to pile up through time
  • Resolve all other issues for a better cashless and contactless toll system

DO 2020-012, issued last August, ordered the cashless toll collection on expressways as part of DOTr’s toll collection interoperability project launched in 2017. The cashless toll collection was supposed to be implemented last November, but was moved to December 1 to give motorists more time to secure radio frequency identification (RFID) stickers, which the toll operators are using to enforce cashless toll collection.

READ: Mandatory cashless toll collection on Luzon expressways starts Dec 1

The program, however, started to cause heavy traffic at toll plazas even prior to December 1 with motorists scrambling to get their RFID stickers before the deadline. The ensuing heavy traffic at the toll plazas and the systemic issues faced by motorists prompted the city government of Valenzuela to suspend the business permit of NLEX Corp., which operates the toll plazas located in the city.

READ: Valenzuela suspends NLEX operator’s permit over ‘abysmal’ RFID system

Senator Grace Poe, in her sponsorship speech for SR 596, said DO 2020-012 “does not seem to take into account the preparedness of our toll expressway service providers to comply with such an order.”

Poe said cashless transactions on the expressways are ideal especially during this pandemic, but noted that “effective policies are not [born] out of good intentions alone.”

At the outset, Poe said, there were two major issues—the absence of an interoperable RFID system on all expressways and the sheer volume of vehicles that need to obtain RFID stickers within a short timeframe. She noted there are 12 million registered vehicles in the country. Of these, half are in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon, with three million of these without RFID stickers.

Other complaints against the system, which became the basis for SR 596, are the difficulty in obtaining RFID stickers; unreasonable cap set by toll operators on the number of vehicles they can accommodate per day for RFID installation; high minimum load requirement; malfunctioning RFID readers and scanners; delays in the reloading system of RFID accounts; unauthorized transactions; and other glitches that prohibit quick access.

Poe said that resulting problems from these inefficiencies were not merely confined to the area where the toll systems are located, but extended to nearby cities and municipalities. The holiday season would also exacerbate the problem, she said.

DOTr-attached agency Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) in a statement said that as of December 8, more than 3.7 million RFID stickers have been installed compared to 1.4 million when the program started. The number of motorists queuing daily for RFID installation has also declined from over 34,000 on December 1 to less than 28,000 on December 8, TRB executive director Abraham Sales said.

The Senate Committee on Public Order, which Poe chairs, will conduct a hearing on DO 2020-012 on December 17.