By Macon Ramos-Araneta
Senators on Tuesday called on government regulators to suspend the provisional increase in toll rates at the North Luzon Expressway due to worsening traffic conditions and the burden of inflation borne by Filipinos.
“In behalf of the hundreds of thousands of motorists plying the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), I appeal for some consideration and reprieve on the proposed increased toll rates,” said Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III.
Given that people were grappling with the effects of inflation, he said a toll increase would exacerbate their economic hardships.
Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public services, said the TRB must explain in detail the reason for the drastic hike in toll rates.
She also questioned the reasonableness of the increase.
“Is the expressway really providing express service? Is the convenience provided equal to what is being charged?” she asked.
The Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) recently approved a provisional increase at NLEX in which Class 1 vehicles (car, jeepney, van or pickup) will have to pay an additional P7, Class 2 (bus and light truck), P17, and Class 3 (heavy and trailer truck) P19 on the expressway’s open system which covers Balintawak in Caloocan, Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City and Marilao in Bulacan.
In the NLEX closed system, starting in Marilao to Sta. Ines in Mabalacat City, motorists will pay an additional P26 for Class 1, P65 for Class 2, and P11 for Class 3.
The new rates take effect on June 15.
“Any increase at this point would be unjustifiable and unfair to the motorists who have to deal with sometimes EDSA-like traffic on the expressway, specifically from Balintawak to Meycauayan,” Pimentel said.
“Before they ask for an increase, they should first fix the traffic at NLEX,” Pimentel said, pointing to the perennial traffic buildup on the major expressway.
Pimentel noted that based on the data of NLEX, there are at least 280,000 vehicles plying through NLEX on a daily basis.
“It has come to our attention that traffic congestion on NLEX has become a recurring problem that causes delays and inconvenience for motorists,” Pimentel said.
He called on the TRB to prioritize the interests of the public and ensure that the toll rates remain fair and reasonable.
“To approve a provisional increase in light of these serious traffic concerns and the worsening inflation in the country is a disservice to the Filipino people,” Pimentel said.
“It is time that the government provides some relief to our motorists,” he added.
Poe said the government should not be charging high rates if customer satisfaction is low or performance benchmarks are not met.
While toll adjustments are within the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) contract, Poe said the TRB has the duty to ensure that the interests of the commuting public are also protected.
“We pay tolls for a faster journey — that is exactly why it is called an expressway. We should approve toll fees at the same speeds that the expressway affords its users,” Poe said.
Earlier, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno blamed “inaction” of previous administrations for the piled-up toll increases at the North Luzon Expressway.
“The NLEX rate increase is for staggered implementation—not a one-time implementation. It is staggered over several years,” Diokno said in a statement.
“The increase piled up because of the inaction of previous administrations. The Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration had to act on petitions from 2010,” Diokno said.
Diokno said the petitions were carefully studied and analyzed and approved objectively and fairly.
“[The] government needs to perform its contractual obligations under the STOAs [supplemental toll operation agreements]. We’re promoting PPPs [public-private partnerships]. And the government will have no credibility as a partner if it does not comply with its contractual obligations under past PPP contracts,” Diokno said.
NLEX Corp., which manages the highway, said an additional P7 would be collected in the open system, while P0.36 per kilometer would be collected in the closed system. The Toll Regulatory Board approved the adjustments.
NLEX Corp. said the new rates were part of the authorized periodic adjustments due 2012, 2014, 2018 and 2020.
This year’s adjustment is the fourth and last tranche of the 2012 and 2014 adjustments.
NLEX Corp. said it would continue to honor the discount given to public utility jeepneys under the NLEX Pass-ada and Tsuper Card programs.
NLEX Corp. is a subsidiary of Metro Pacific Investment Corp.-led Metro Pacific Tollways Corp.
MPIC in March expressed interest in acquiring the government’s 3.46-percent stake in NLEX Corp., the operator of NLEX and Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway.