More loopholes were uncovered in the implementation of cashless transactions in toll ways, according to Senator Win Gatchalian, which prompted Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade to accede to the overall impression of failure of leadership and failure of enforcement of regulatory officials manning the expressways.
Senators were told during the recent hearing on radio-frequency identification (RFID) that the mandatory cashless toll collection proceeded even sans any clear-cut policy and sanctions against erring toll operators, plan on the site for installation and reloading lanes, and without ensuring first whether there are still glitches in the system.
Tugade subscribed to ineptness in overseeing the accountability of toll operators due to the absence of any specific sanctions or penalties and key performance indicators.
“Sinong leadership tinutukoy nyo? You said leadership, whose leadership?” Gatchalian, Vice Chairman of the Senate Public Services Committee, asked during the hearing to which Tugade candidly replied with “Yung head po ng TRB (Toll Regulatory Board), yung executive director among others.”
Tugade sits as the chairman of the board in the TRB, the executive director of which is Abraham Sales.
Sales told the committee that the matter on the glitches in the RFID system was only discussed in a consultation meeting after the DOTr issued Department Order (DO) No. 2020-012 – the policy mandating cashless transactions in all toll roads in the country beginning December 1, 2020. He admitted that those glitches are still currently being addressed by toll operators.
Gatchalian and committee chairperson Sen. Grace Poe highlighted the lack of existing schedule of penalties in the concession agreement of the TRB with NLEX Corporation, operator of the 101-kilometer North Luzon expressway (NLEx), the gateway of Metro Manila to Central and Northern Luzon, as well as in the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of DOTR’s department order.
Three years since the memorandum of agreement (MOA) for toll interoperability and electronic toll collection was inked by the government and toll concessionaires, the basis for the issuance of DO 2020-012, senators noted the lack of any existing sanctions and performance standards which could hold toll operators liable on issues such as the radio frequency identification (RFID) mess.
“Bakit tayo umabot sa ganito? Kung may regulator na itinalaga, pinapasweldo, may opisina at may kapangyarihan sa kanyang charter, bakit umabot sa ganito? Inabgrabyado natin ang mga motorista. Sec. Tugade should crack the whip. The MOA is useless, it’s a mere toilet paper,” Gatchalian said.
“Kaya tayo nandito. May problema po tayo dahil we cannot measure the performance of NLEX Corp. and kayo mismo, who is the regulator, should be measuring them. Again, kaya tayo pinaiikutan nitong mga concessionaire ay dahil alam nila na hindi sila binabantayan,” Gatchalian further lamented.
During the hearing, senators learned that the TRB board convened to address the problem only last December 9.