THE INSIDE MAN

Senator Sotto's Toll Free Holidays

Senator Sotto's Toll Free Holidays image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: Brent Co, Sotto image via Plagtracker | posted January 07, 2015 13:09

Comedians as legislators with outrageous ideas for laws

Senate as comedy 

Leave it to our peripatetic legislators to tickle our funny bone [TVJ-Iskul-bukul-gang style] with outrageous ideas for laws, usually in knee jerk reaction to public wailing. If its not some highly imaginative and inventive story of the VeeP owning a Kew Gardens maze copy, it could be some extremely convoluted diversion of C-5 from its intended junction with R-1 [Cavitex].

26 December 2014

The trigger was the monster traffic jams that hit NLEx, SCTEx and TPLEx last 26 December, dooming LP bigwigs Senate president Franklin Drilon and DOTC Secretary Jun Abaya to 11-hours. Manila-Baguio journey times that would have been OK in the 1930s. Particularly annoying were the several kilometers long queues at the several toll plazas along the way.

Senator Tito Sotto via Plagtracker

Wanbol University

Scoring brownie (pogi) points for Wanbol University and TVJ-Iskul Bukul fans, Senator Vicente Sotto, III demanded that tollways desist from charging tolls on holidays so as not to cause traffic jams. An idea like this, whether or not it strikes one as a typical traditional politico's grandstanding and electioneering, would, on the surface, be greeted as a brilliant, pro-consumer proposition by the millions of Wanbol U fans, if not graduates.

Wrong cause and effect

But sorry to disappoint the Senator, because the really long traffic jams were not on the tollways but on the 'free' national highways. If the tollways did go on a toll holiday, traffic queues would have just moved up sooner and longer on the connecting national road system.

Do the math

Let's do the numbers, worthy of Wanbol U. The traffic queue tailback to the Bued bridge at Rosario, La Union that fateful day on the 26th of December, 2014, stalled at Binalonan, some 17kms. long at its peak. At its peak, TPLEx Carmen toll plaza was doing 7 to 8 km long queues. TPLEx Tarlac Central toll plaza, was about the same.  SCTEx Mabalacat was a little less than 2kms. long, while NLEx Dau queues stretched as much as 3.0 kms. Now if those toll plazas stopped collecting tolls, the free passage of vehicles will pile up at the tailback in Binalonan. When this happens, the traffic jam will increase by another 12kms, essentially inflicting the Baguio bound with a 30km queue all the way to Villasis, Pangasinan. We know the honorable senator loves cars, enjoys driving  and like everyone else, doesn't like traffic, but if he was for relieving heavy traffic, advocating, toll free holidays won't help.

Free BMW's on holidays?

Furthermore; at 24 public holidays a year, multiply by 3 to add the outbound traffic in the eve, and inbound traffic after the holiday, that's almost 90 days or a quarter of the year, free of toll. Any business man will tell you, a quarter of zero sales is no small beer, even if one were San Miguel, today's patron saint of toll expressways. Nor can any other business afford giving away its product or sales 24 public holidays a year. Can you imagine, free adspace on popular noontime TV shows, cars, electricity or candy from terrestrial TV networks, BMW dealers, MERALCO or Kandy Korners every public holiday? Much as we may well be the beneficiary of such generosity, how long can legitimate business, besides public office, afford a month's loss without looking for some other means or ways to make up the loss? Its easy to claim that free holiday tolling is no big deal for the bottom line, but the Senator's guess is as good as yours and mine as we both don't own or operate a tollway. We are sure of this because the Senator doesn't report it in his SALN.

Pass the buck to the government

Let's now look at the socio-economic side;  if motorists won't pay toll 90 days in the year, the private company toll operator – remember, they spent private money in lieu of government's public money building them expressways – won't recover their costs. Leading to unemployment, ballooning debt, default, possible bank failure and the collapse of a sizable portion of the economy. 

Other people's money

We would love to be in such a powerful position to spend and give away money that isn't ours – surely an area of expertise we, the many of the public would enjoy, and which legislators seem to be damned good at – for we can can count on the government to take up the slack with DAP, PDAF or any kind of pork barrel that the legislators – spotting a good deal when they see one – are only ready to approve a quid-pro-quo with the backscratching Executive branch. Never mind if Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima has difficulty having more children because he stresses out on how to find the money to pay for all the Executive and Legislative's freebies, largess and handouts. As it is, the TRB, has been sleeping on four years worth of contract-obligated toll fee adjustments that should have funded expressway expansions. For sure the Senator's research staff will expose this too.

No such thing as toll free

Just because one doesn't see the Germans in Germany, Austrians in Austria and Swiss in Switzerland roll down their windows to pay toll at toll plazas unlike the French in France, the Italians in Italy, the Greeks in Greece, the Spaniards in Spain, etc., etc. or, for that matter, the Chinese in China, or the Chinese in Hong Kong, or the Japanese in Japan... it doesn't mean that the Germanic expressways are 'free'. Come to think of it, the Federal Interstate freeway system in the USA is not as free as it appears. 

Compensatory collection 

Fact is, the Autobahns of Germany, Austria and Switzerland may not have toll plazas but the public pay for those highways through road taxes, fuel taxes and mandatory add-on vehicle registration fees. If one is not a native or drives a car that is not registered in country, an annual motorway tax has to be paid to use of the country's expressway network. High taxes is what funds building and maintaining the US's Freeway system so it really isn't free after all.

Toll free holidays and cheap tolls

Perhaps the Senator was absent at Wanbol when the teacher taught that the Economist John Maynard Keynes said that there is no such thing as a free lunch? Point is, like delayed toll fee increases, toll free holidays have a cost that has to be recovered or else, tollways will end up like they were before in the 1980s when the cheap tolls and the temporary abolition of tolls on the North and South Diversion Road resulted in its rapid deterioration and a spike in fatal accidents. This same phenomenon also afflicts the MRT-3, where delayed fare adjustments over a span of 15 years resulted in the mess that it is in today.

Ultimately a government headache 

If such a toll free holiday is ever imposed, the government will be forced to pony up payments to all those private companies that will lose money. And if it does this, government will scramble to find the money to pay for it by the only way it legally can: jacking up road, fuel and motor vehicle taxes.

Alternatives

Mr. Senator, there are other ways to avoid the long holiday toll plaza queues. There are alternate routes. You can investigate why MNTC's proposal to integrate NLEx-SCTEx toll collection in 2009, thereby reducing the number of toll plazas, languished in the Palace in tray since 2011. Or encourage tollways to be exclusive to electronic toll payment systems only like Singapore. Or at least have E-PASS and Easy Trip and all forms of electronic toll collection and exclusive toll plazas for them mandatory in all expressways. And many more if your staff care to read about it in other articles on diversions and alternatives posted or printed in this media. Calling for toll free passage during the holidays is just not one of them.