THE INSIDE MAN

Transport, highways and byways at the 2013 SONA

Transport, highways and byways at the 2013 SONA image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: | posted July 24, 2013 10:53

Onward to the next SONA

Another self deserving pat on the back, or so the latest SONA and surveys say.

Fare rise, fast track

At last the government has finally admitted that Metro train fares have to rise as all of the ordinary folks cannot continue to subsidize all the other ordinary folks who take the train. To continue this regime of cheap fares was to guarantee the further deterioration of rail service and safety. All this needs is to have the DoTC, the implementing agency, to get on the fast track and to get off their single track mind of endless delays and postponement of rail maintenance and expansion.

Toll fee hike now

At last, we now find commercial logic/business sense for a government enterprise.

So it is evident that government knows how it feels to bleed, profusely, when fares are far too cheap. So now, what about expressway tolls? Skyway, SLEx, STAR and SCTEx have had toll hike petitions in the 'dead-ma' in-tray for over 2 years.

Private business

So what if tolls are charged by private concessionaires? These companies were invited to invest in and operate expressways that government was not able to afford. Does anyone remember the bad old days when government ran the toll expressways? Dirt cheap tolls, yielded dirt cheap highways where high accident rates treated highway fatalities, dirt cheap.

PPP again

This is one sure fire way to discourage bidders in future PPP infrastructure, unfortunately remaking the meaning of PPP as Postponing Philippine Progress. There's more. Remember the company that charged dirt cheap tolls for dirt cheap highways? That's PNCC which used to be the government owned toll road monopoly. Time was when if you want to build a toll road in Luzon, you have to go to bed with PNCC.

Crony crash and burn

Historically, PNCC was built on the ashes of CDCP, which crashed and burned, due to its heavy debt burden financing infrastructure while government, among other things, refused to allow it to charge appropriate toll to recover interest and expenses, let alone capital investment. CDCP being owned and founded by alleged Marcos crony, Rudy Cuenca, is beside the point.

Villain, victim or pawn?

Now this is the same PNCC that Pnoy cited in his SONA. Pnoy criticized its monopoly of the Metro C6, NLEx and SLEx franchise granted by PD 1894 , which originated during the Marcos years, the same PD, that remained in force during Cory, Ramos, Erap until today.

Many faces of PNCC

But it is the same PNCC that is franchised to allow building the NLEx connector and Skyway stage 3 tollways. The same PNCC where Pnoy's appointed exec earns 4.5 times more than Pnoy buddy, DoF secretary Ces Purisima. The same PNCC that is the sticking point as to why Citra Metro Manila Skyway cannot even begin pile boring for Skyway Stage 3, supposedly the other half of PPP President Pnoy's legacy of building not one but two cross metro expressways.

Contract, shmontract

Back to raising train fares and failing to allow toll fee hikes. Well, as far as vote getting, raising toll fees is an election bummer. But conditions for raising fees are iron clad in the contract, a contract that government doesn't seem to want to honor.

Water under the bridge?

Its not at all dissimilar to the water rate hikes proposed by the MWSS's private concessionaires. Following this government's penchant for hand outs like the CCT [conditional cash transfer], it would appear that government's failure to honor contractual obligations imposes the cost of a disguised CCT on the private business, a business, no doubt funded by and accountable to ordinary toll paying folk. Then the logic that applies to raising train fares applies to toll fees; its only just and fair.

Does DoF know delays cost money?

The situation at the SCTEx is even more galling or befuddling to say the least. Toll fees at the SCTEx have to rise as the interest on the JIBC loan that funded building this scenic Japanese standard 94km expressway are now due. BCDA, the government agency that owes the loan has, for the past 3 years, an unexecuted contract with MNTC, operators of the NLEx. This contract allows MNTC to integrate operations of SCTEx with profitable NLEx so costs are shared and spread. MNTC will also takeover paying the interest of the JIBC loan. With such a sweetheart deal, sweetened a further 4 times over the past 3 years, it remains a puzzle why the DoF is still preventing Pnoy from signing this cost saving contract.

A new link

What else is new? At least the Nasugbu-Ternate highway link is now open. Regular weekenders and jet skiers to Hamilo Coast, Tali, Punta Fuego and Pico de Loro will no longer have to endure the traffic queues at Mendez township over at Tagaytay ridge. And us fans of Antonio Escalante's cooking in Neogan will no longer have to bear with beach bound traffic.

And, what else?

With the Daang Hari expressway inching forward and bidding for the CaLa Cavite Laguna expwy being prepared [though postponed again as DPWH is catching the PPP, DoF and DoTC disease of postponitis and delayitosis], San Miguel Infra's Vertex Tollways Development Corp. Will commence building Phase 1 of the NAIA expwy. Phase 1, by the way, is not the continuation of NAIA expwy stage 1, which begins at Skyway and ends at New World Resorts. Phase 1 starts as a ground level 2.2km long 4x4 dual carriageway at the gateway of bayside gambling central, Entertainment City. DMConsunji, builders of the skyway will only start building the NAIA 1, 2, 3, and 4 skyway portions of the NAIA expwy phase 2 by 2015 .

Edsa's toll free Skyway should start now

Which actually allows the DPWH to already build the proposed EDSA Malibay to Roxas toll free skyway. Fearing severe traffic stasis if NAIA expwy phase 2 is built simultaneously with EDSA skyway, DPWH postponed its roller coaster EDSA Pasay skyway. But since Vertex will start construction on the Entertainment city end first, we see no reason why pile boring and column erection can't begin on EDSA ground level since traffic around the 4 NAIA terminals will remain as is until Vertex finishes road right of way purchases for the on and off ramps.

Forgot the bigger fish?

Lastly, and curiously, the SONA did not touch on the TPLEx, which should, if the contractors work quadruple time, open as a 2x2 dual carriageway up to Gerona, Tarlac - instead of a single carriageway all the way up to Rosales by late this year. By virtue of not acting on the NLEx SCTEx integration, should we think that Pnoy is satisfied with not being able to use his “easy trip” electronic toll payment transponder in SCTEx? And that for a nocturnal dash to Beloved Luisita, he doesn't mind stopping to pay toll at Angeles toll barrier and taking a toll card at Mabalacat, instead of just entering a toll gate at Balintawak and exiting at Luisita?

Tag vs. sticker

Lastly, there's a possibility that SLTC, operators of the Alabang to Santo Tomas portion of SLEx, will adopt electronic toll payment by Turkish RFID sticker, similar to the RFID sticker that LTO proposed in 2010 . But stickers, unlike toll cards and RFID transponders or tags like E PASS and Easy trip, are transferable from car to car, a privilege/selling point that should be hyped, instead of accosted.

If the change to stickers is motivated by aping California's Caltrans shift to stickers then it is a step backward. RFID Stickers like toll cards transact 4 to 5 times slower than RFID tags. In Europe, the portable transponders are used to pay parking fees, gasoline and gas station groceries. You can't do all that with a sticker stuck on your windshield.

Waiting for the end

With another SONA over and done with, we learned about the Blumentritt flood catchment, a bridge in Tarlac and a couple of airports that were 22years in the making but did not hear a pip about the MRT 7, the NLEE [North Luzon East Expressway], the Plaridel bypass toll expressway to San Rafael, etc. etc. Oh well, there's always next year and hopefully, by 2016 it will all be over, this regime of waiting and delaying.