IRKED over how “incompetent” people ran the “flawed” radio-frequency identification (RFID) system, President Duterte on Wednesday night threatened to fire and replace officials of the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) with soldiers if more problems are encountered with the implementation of the toll cashless transaction scheme.
The President, in his weekly ‘Talk to the People,’ said: “One more fiasco, alis na kayo lahat (you are all out).”
Duterte said government regulators and private toll operators should have first conducted dry runs before imposing the shift to the RFID system from cash transactions to determine glitches or problems that might arise.
Doing so, he said, would have allowed all parties to first address the drawbacks and pave the way for a smoother implementation of the new payment/collection system.
The President likewise expressed dismay that regulators only issued the RFID stickers and put it on vehicles on the day that motorists passed through the tollways, which he pointed out caused heavy traffic in all toll gates.
Duterte directed all RFID system players to meet with Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade and come up with measures to address the problem or he would replace them.
“You members of the regulatory board in toll, you report to Tugade tomorrow and discuss what you can do or else I will suggest to Tugade to get… you try the military so that one person will be involved in the planning,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said officials of the TRB and the regulatory board should just resign and not wait to be fired if they cannot do their jobs properly.
Roque said the remarks of the President against TRB officials over the RFID issue should serve as a warning for everyone.
“That’s a warning to everyone. Kung hindi niyo kayang gawin ang trabaho niyo, magresign na kayo (If you cannot do your jobs, just quit),” he said.
Tugade said the DOTr has accelerated the adoption of a cashless toll payment system after 270 employees at the tollgates contracted COVID-19.
He said the use of the RFID system was aimed not only at improving the flow of traffic in the tollways, but to minimize the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
He said he is also set to order the removal of boom barriers at the toll plazas to enable the fast entry and movement of emergency vehicles.
Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian had suspended the business permit of NLEX Corporation following the alleged faulty RFID payment system that resulted in a traffic build up in his city.
The President said he understood Gatchalian’s decision adding he himself would be angry if such a system caused traffic problem in his city.
Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade yesterday apologized for the inconvenience caused by the faulty RFID system.
“I apologize for the inconvenience especially to those who travel along NLEX. Rest assured that we are continuously looking at ways to improve its state. We are monitoring the Toll Regulatory Board and the toll operators because we need to have a lasting solution so that traffic flow can be fluid,” Tugade said during the Senate committee on public services hearing on the RFID mess.
Tugade said the main reason for the traffic pile up at NLEX toll plazas was due to the wrong placement of stickering and reloading stations which were located at the toll plazas and that the RFID readers have low wattage which affected their ability to properly read RFID stickers, among others.
For this, he said the DOTr issued specific instructions to toll operators, including the conversion of emergency signages to cash signages, transfer of the RFID stickering and reloading stations away from the toll plazas to prevent traffic build-up, designation of clear labels for RFID and cash lanes, emergency vehicles such as ambulances and those marked law enforcement agency vehicles must be allowed to pass through any lane, study the removal of barriers, and increase wattage specification of RFID readers.
For the TRB, Tugade said the following should be done: conduct a monthly audit of toll operations to be done by the TRB at least once a year, deploy toll marshals to assists motorists, and intensify enforcement of regulations along the tollways.
Tugade said he also ordered the toll operators from north to south expressways to have interoperability on their RFID systems for easy transactions since at present, the south and north expressways have different RFID stickers. He said the interoperability of the systems will happen “middle of the year.”
Abraham Sales, TRB executive director, said toll operators have been constantly reminded to fix the glitches in the RFID system even as he admitted that penalties have not yet been imposed on any of these toll operators for the glitches.
“We have not imposed penalties on them since 2017 because they are constantly fixing the problems. What is happening here is that their (reading) equipment and RFID stickers also get old that’s why we encounter different problems,” said Sales, whose resignation as TRB head was earlier asked by senators due to the RFID mess.
Sen. Grace Poe, public services committee chairperson, said Tugade’s apology was accepted even as she wondered what the DOTr has done since problems have been haunting the RFID systems since 2017.
Poe asked the NLEX operator what’s taking them so long to act on the problems which were reported since 2017.
Luigi Bautista, NLEX president, said they are continuously implementing improvements to their system which include the procurement of the advance reading system which can read the RFID stickers from a distance of 10 meters from the barrier, upgraded the readers’ resiliency systems, and migrated the their old EasyTrip system to the new RFID system.
Bautista said NLEX has been using two different sources of RFID stickers –one from 3M which is made in the US and the other is from the Star Company of Malaysia, which was also the source of the scanners. He said they used different sources of RFID stickers so they can meet the demand of supplying RFID stickers to motor vehicles.
He said there is no problem with having different sources of RFID stickers.
Rodrigo Franco, Metro Pacific Tollways president, said the government should have given them a little more time before fully implementing the RFID system for its smooth implementation.
“Sa group namin (To our group) a little more time is beneficial, but we took cognizance of the DOTR order purposely to help stop COVID transmission,” Franco said.
Poe reminded the toll operators to further improve their systems.
“The backlash in this implementation of the electronic toll collection system reminded those in public service about the importance of careful planning and thorough preparation. It also exposed the tendency of some government agencies to yield to what seems like trial-and-error when it comes to implementing new policies,” Poe said.
The DOTr issued an order on August for the full implementation of a cashless system of payment in expressways through the RFID system as a way to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
Tugade rescheduled the full implementation to November but was later moved to December as toll operators were apparently not yet fully prepared for its implementation.