Rear View: 5 Things that could’ve been done differently before tollways went cashless

The past month has been a mess, to be honest
by Leandre Grecia | Oct 31, 2020
ILLUSTRATION: Echo Antonio

I regularly travel on expressways—mostly the South Luzon Expressway—and for years, I’ve lamented the fact that so many motorists still refuse to get RFID tags for their vehicles.

So, when the Department of Transportation (DOTr) finally mandated all tollway operators to implement completely cashless toll payments, you can guess that the announcement must have been music to my ears. I won’t even deny that.

The past month leading up to the policy’s original November 2 implementation, however, has been a complete mess. Issues have sprung up left and right, and this has ultimately forced authorities to postpone the deadline.

We understand there were lapses from all ends here. And while we’re no experts on the matter, as we look back on recent events, we realize there were things that probably could have been done differently, and which might (emphasis on this one) have made the situation better.

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1) Service providers could have sorted out the interoperability of RFIDs first.

There have been several discussions (and debates) about the interoperability of RFIDs long before this fiasco broke out. Having to identify between Autosweep and Easytrip, especially for those who rarely use the expressways, can be really confusing. In addition, there’s the hassle of having to maintain two separate accounts.

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We think it would have been better if tollway operators and service providers had sorted this out first, especially since authorities are saying that the complete interoperability between tollway RFIDs is already in the short-term pipeline, anyway. Easier said than done, but we’re sure it would have helped avoid all the chaos and confusion.

2) Installation sites could have been brought to more far-flung places.

Even before this whole fiasco, I’ve heard all sorts of excuses as to why people choose not to get their RFIDs—reasons ranging from “I don’t use the expressways that much” to something as absurd as “I want to keep a spotless windshield.” But when the DOTr made the announcement, all these excuses went down the drain.

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Why did many people still wait until the last minute to apply for RFIDs? Simple answer: Not everyone has the time. It’s not easy for those who live outside of the metro and far away from the expressways to just casually drive to an installation booth and get an RFID. Motorists from farther up north or down south would have to spend several hours just for this seemingly mundane task.

That’s why it would’ve probably helped if tollway operators and service providers had made it a point to really bring the installation services closer to the people. Even one- or two-day pop-up booths would have been fine, as long as multiple far-flung areas were covered. Had that been the case, we’re willing to bet RFID installation sites wouldn’t have been this packed weeks before the deadline.

3) Motorists could have been given more incentives for getting RFIDs.

Here’s an idea: Why not give people more incentives for getting RFIDs? Like toll-fee discounts, for example. And imagine if it were possible to pay for parking at select establishments using your Autosweep or Easytrip. It’s likely more motorists would have adopted the use of RFIDs earlier if these incentives had been in place long ago.

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4) Tollway operators could have ensured all RFID sensors at all toll plazas are in good working condition.

Amid all the hullabaloo, there’s one particular complaint we’ve been seeing a lot: The sensors at toll plazas keep malfunctioning. Fixing the problem before all motorists made the switch to cashless would have been much appreciated—we would’ve all been able to steer clear of all these long lines at RFID lanes right now.

5) Both tollway operators and motorists could have been given more prep time.

At the end of the day, everybody could have done away with all these problems had we been given a longer time frame to implement this cashless payment system. Clearly, three or four months isn’t enough.

Not only would things have gone smoother had we been given more time, authorities could’ve taken a more proactive approach toward all the points raised here, too. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.

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Admittedly, you could say all these thoughts come with the benefit of hindsight. But they’re things to consider in the future, to help both public and private sectors make better decisions the next time drastic changes like this one have to be made.

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ILLUSTRATION: Echo Antonio
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