MANILA--Operators of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) on Thursday explained why there were technical glitches in its radio frequency identification (RFID) stickers, an issue that has led to the suspension of the concessionaire's permit to operate in Valenzuela City earlier this month.
NLEX has been issuing RFID stickers from different brands, North Luzon Expressway Corp (NLEX) President Luigi Bautista said in a Senate hearing, when asked to explain.
"Sa ngayon po ay iba-iba. [May] 3M galing sa US, mayroong STAR na galing ng Malaysia . . . 'Yung scanner po namin ay galing sa Malaysia," he said.
When asked why the RFID stickers came from different providers, Bautista said: "We are trying to meet the supply to meet the demand."
The Department of Transportation earlier required expressway operators to implement a 100-percent cashless transaction system by December to avoid the spread of COVID-19 at toll plazas.
The directive forced concessionnaires to rush the rollout of the cashless system, even if it was "not yet ready," Senate Committee on Public Services chair Grace Poe had said.
NLEX is also studying whether doubling the current wattage of its RFID scanners would fix complaints that toll stickers were "unreadable," Bautista said.
NLEX's RFID scanners currently work at 4 watts, and the company needs the approval of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) before it could increase that to 8, he added.
"Ongoing po 'yung [wattage] test na 'yun. By the end of this month po ay mayroon nang resulta," Bautista said.
"Kung maganda po ang resulta, we will implement it."
While the wattage hike has yet to be implemented, NLEX is deploying personnel with "handheld RFID sticker readers" to speed up cashless transactions in lanes where the scanner could not read a sticker, he said.
A deluge of RFID users also bogged down NLEX's online registration system, which delayed the registration and installation process of RFID stickers, Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. president Rodrigo Franco said.
"Some of the problems were due to . . . the heavy volume of transactions," he said.
Franco called the glitches in the registration process "birth pains," saying "improvements have been made to make the experience more pleasant."
"We've done some adjustments already. In-offload 'yung ibang database," he added.
"In other words, we freed up capacity so the accessibility of the website and the app is now a lot better."
Poe noted that NLEX might need to increase either its lanes or manpower at toll plazas.
NLEX has 715 workers for its 377 toll booths, but San Miguel Corp., which operates the South Luzon Expressway, employs at least 2,000 people for 369 toll lanes, Poe said, citing data from the 2 concessionaires.
Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, who was also present at the Senate hearing, said concessionaires must also mount RFID installation sites in more accessible open spaces for motorists.
"'Yung stickering and reloading should be done somewhere, sa mga gasolinahan, pero 'wag doon [sa toll plaza]... kasi kakain at kakain ng espasyo 'yan," he said.
(The installation of stickers and reloading should be done somewhere, like in gasoline stations, somewhere that is not in the toll plaza because it will just eat up space.)
Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian earlier suspended the business permit of NLEX's concessionaire after long queues at its toll booths in the city jammed traffic.
Senators have been urging toll operators to implement a system wherein vehicles no longer have to wait for barriers to be lifted before passing through.
"Hindi ho ako naniniwala na hindi kaya 'yan. 'Yang teknolohiya na 'yan ay ginagawa na sa ibang bansa. Hindi na 'yan bago at mayroong paraan," Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, Rex's brother, said.
(I do not believe it could not be done. That technology is already being implemented in other countries. It's not new and there are ways to do that.)
"Nagbabayad naman ho kami ng toll at hindi po mura ang binabayad namin . . . Gamitin na ho natin 'yung pinakabagong teknolohiya."
(We are paying toll fees that aren't cheap . . . Let's use the most advance technology.)
Poe backed Gatchalian's proposal, saying concessionaires should be required to adapt more modern toll systems to "motivate" them to "avoid losing money with their inferior [RFID] readers."
"Obviously, kung gusto nila kumita dapat maayos ang kanilang mga makina," she said.
(Obviously, if they want to earn, they must have good machines.)
"Hindi naman puwede na gagamitin nila 'yung mga lumang makina, palpak ang kanilang sistema, pero kikita pa din sila."
(We can't allow them to use outdated equipment, faulty systems, and yet continue earning.)