Senate to probe toll regulator's function in Thursday hearing on RFID mess

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 14 2020 10:25 AM | Updated as of Dec 14 2020 12:45 PM

Gatchalian calls suspension of mandatory RFID system, replacement of TRB chief

Senate to probe toll regulator's function in Thursday hearing on RFID mess 1
Vehicles pass through the Balintawak tollway along the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) in Caloocan City on October 22, 2020, more than a week before tollways go fully cashless on November 2. The DOTR requires tollways to go fully cashless to curb the spread of COVID-19. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News​

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Senate will investigate how the Toll Regulatory Board has been functioning, as complaints about the cashless system along the North Luzon Expressway mount, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said Monday.

The chamber's Committee on Public Services is set to hold a hearing on Thursday on the toll operations and RFID transactions on expressways.

"The first question to ask is, where is TRB in all of these things happening? If TRB has been functioning properly, doing its mandate, then this whole incident can be avoided," Gatchalian told ANC's Headstart.

"TRB has the mandate to supervise as well as to regulate and to assure the public that the best possible service that the toll operators can deliver should be experienced by our motorists," he said.

The senator's brother, Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, suspended the business permit of NLEX Corp. after severe traffic buildup supposedly caused by the faulty implementation of its RFID payment system. The toll operator is not able to collect fees because of this.

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In the Senate hearing, lawmakers will also look into the concession agreements signed between the government and toll operators, as these deals stipulate what must be delivered to the public, the elder Gatchalian said.

Should public interest warrant it, the government can take over or revoke the privilege granted to these operators, he said.

"The government owns the highway, the concessionaire or the operators were given the privilege to expand, operate, and maintain but they have certain minimum requirements in order for the public to experience better infrastructure," he said.

Gatchalian also said calls to defund the TRB must have been made out of sheer frustration, but a regulator is definitely necessary at the moment. Instead, he wants the agency's executive director to be replaced.

"We need a regulator—whether it’s TRB or another government agency. We need a regulator to supervise and to regulate that monopoly," he said.

"If you ask me, it’s better to just get a qualified executive director because I’m sorry to say this, the executive director is not doing his job. This could be avoided if he has been on his toes, monitoring, and making sure the operators performing up to the standard," he added.

Engr. Abraham P. Sales is TRB's executive director, according to its website. Transportation Sec. Arthur Tugade is the board chairman and Usec. Ruben Reinoso is the alternate chairman.

The board includes representatives from the Department of Finance, Department of Public Works and Highways, National Economic Development Authority, and the private sector.

SUSPEND MANDATORY CASHLESS SYSTEM

Gatchalian wants the mandatory cashless toll collection system suspended until the RFID readers in the NLEX are all working for sure. He said while the intention to go contactless is good especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was "not well-planned."

"I’m calling for a suspension until they fix the RFID readers. The crux of the problem here is the RFID readers are not working, the technology they are using in the North is not functioning," he said.

"If it’s not functioning, then don’t let our motorists feel the brunt of that inconvenience. Let our motorists pass through the highways with complete convenience by suspending the mandatory RFID, you cannot mandate our motorists to use cashless if the RFID readers are not working," he added.

NLEX operator on Saturday said cash lanes would be reopened to ease road congestion during the holidays. 

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