MEHOL K. SADAIN
Residents of Metro Manila have witnessed the daily queues of vehicles on roads leading to toll gates and other selected areas from the time the tollways authorities said they will be implementing an RFID system of toll fee collection in all tollgates along the South and North Luzon Expressways, and other interlinked expressways. One of the proffered justifications for the use of RFID was cashless tollgate transactions will prevent the spread of covid19. If you are a vehicle owner and you frequent these expressways, chances are you may have also been in one of these horrendous queues.
The RFID, which stands for “radio frequency identification”, is supposed to be a technological innovation that will modernize toll collection along the expressways by making it “cashless”. It utilizes radio waves in collecting and entering data into a computer system with little or no human intervention. It consists of an RFID tag which stores user information, an RFID reader which retrieves this information when needed, and an antenna. It is already being used in other countries, and it appears efficient and nifty until you are at the end of those horrendous queues to have the tags attached to your vehicle.
To be fair, there are areas where they say, the procurement of these RFID tags is fast. Like SCTEX Clark, says one friend, where it took him only five minutes to get the tag. It just goes to show that it could have been managed well even here in Metro Manila, where there are hundreds of thousands of cars compared to just a few hundreds in the Clark area. It could have been managed better given a well-thought system of registration aimed at avoiding thousands of vehicles lining up in a registration area.
Apparently, the tollways authorities and their experts, in typical bureaucratic manner dismissed the matter as just a process of registration, and therefore, easy to manage. We see this happen in many mass activities involving bureaucratic offices in the country — from paying your tax to paying your utility bills, from registering for assistance benefits to receiving these benefits, from securing government documents to securing something like the RFID tags. We never learn and we do not seem to have a regard for the comfort of others. A friend who now works in a foreign company in a foreign land tells me, we have low regards for third persons’ rights and welfare.
In the case or the RFID, instead of providing a workable and systematic schedule for the procurement of tags, the lords of the tollways imposed a deadline and threatened those who do not have RFIDs with fines and apprehension. Fines for what? Apprehension for what? Is it now a crime not to have RFID tags on your car windshields or headlights? What about those who seldom use the expressways? Don’t they have the option of not having RFID tags? The deadline and the threat, which were withdrawn later, worsened the situation because car owners flocked to the registration centers like there was no tomorrow.
Mayor Rex Gatchalian of Valenzuela City is correct in imposing a toll collection moratorium until the toll operator resolves the traffic problem that it has been causing in the expressway and adjacent roadways of his city. He is also correct in castigating the toll operators for making it appear that they, along with the motoring public, are both victims here. The good mayor said that the toll operators are not the victims and have never been the victims; they are instead the victimizers or the culprits, along with the Department of Transportation and the Toll Regulatory Board, which neglected their duty to secure the welfare of car-owners and motorists.
Instead of being a solution to our covid19 problems, the irresponsible and cavalier attitude of these toll operators and authorities have exacerbated our health and financial difficulties. The time-consuming process of securing the RFID tags have stressed people and delayed their productive activities. It is just like our traffic problem in the metropolis: we get harassed motorists and riders, who do not get to their work on time, and therefore result in wasted work hours.
If other countries can implement a glitch free RFID system, or minimize its problems, so can we. But we need time and a visionary plan that seriously considers the welfare of the clientele. We need officials and experts who do not only know the technology and the system, but also empathize with their clients and the public, and feel their difficulties even before these actually happen. To put it bluntly, for the RFID implementors to avoid being “potential victimizers”, they should put themselves in the shoes of their “potential victims”, so “potential problems” will not materialize. MKS