It has never been easier to take a poke at the LTO.

For decades the Land Transportation Office has earned a perception for being such an inefficient agency. And the fact that they are a frontline type of service means the public has to interact with them for anything related to mobility.

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Need to claim your plates? Go to the LTO. Need to renew your registration? Go to the LTO. Need a license? Go to the LTO on your birthday. And despite the many measures taken to streamline their processes like banning fixers and enhancing computerization, you’ll still see fixers and motorists spending many hours trying to get it done.

There have been issues with big-ticket programs like motor vehicle inspection centers (to this day, still optional), the implementation of the child seat law (still not enforced), and the definitions set forth when it comes to defining distracted driving.

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It hasn’t all been bad. Let’s give credit where it’s due: they’ve made some big improvements in the last couple of years.

Expanding their offices with new extensions means they can decongest the main offices that are usually near the city or municipal halls. I renewed my license earlier this year at a brand new extension office in Cainta, and my experience was surprising. From start to finish, the whole process took me less than 30 minutes from the time I submitted all the requirements I had prepared to when I had my newly-minted license in my hand.

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Of course, not everyone will be able to experience the same depending on the volume of applicants that need to get something done. But if they can bring the whole process down to an hour or just a little over, that’s a win compared to what it was before. And mind you, we’re no longer walking out with receipts with a rubber stamp to serve as a temporary license; it’s the plastic card.

There’s also an improvement in validity. If you have no violation on your record, you’ll be eligible for the 10-year license. If you have a violation, you’ll get a 5-year license. The latter was the case for me, unfortunately.

Still, I’m not complaining. 5 is still far better than the 3 they issued before. What I’m annoyed about is the need to re-visit the LTO for follow-up medical checks during the validity period. The reason for that was that the medical centers voiced concern over the long period. In reality, they were probably more concerned that licensees need to visit them less. These are stakeholder vested interests.

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But where the LTO really improved was in the field of license plates. Yes, the mere mention of plates, LTO, and improvement may sound like a bad punchline, but it really has improved by leaps and bounds compared to what it was before.

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The LTO reactivated their old plate-making facility in East Avenue, but they did it with a system that’s pretty state of the art called the IDeROBOT for fully automated production. And it comes with back-ups: one automatic system as well as manual embossing machines. They now have the capacity to produce the necessary plates for new cars and new motorcycles, so much so that the time between the release of a vehicle at a dealer and the time that plates are delivered is getting to is being reduced. Hopefully, they can build it up to the point that when a car leaves a dealership, it’s with plates.

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It took me a while to get my plates because the dealer misplaced the package, but once I handled it, clearly it’s more durable than before. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had this properly tested, but I can’t deny it looks good when mounted up. The good thing is the addition of these security features. Before, there was a prevalent problem of fake and duplicated plates, but the LTO is working to get ahead of it with QR codes and digital signatures in the system. Hopefully, the LTO will keep it up by improving the quality of the plates and extra security features like RFID. Ensuring security is really a continuous process.

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There’s still a long way to go for the LTO though. They still need to address the backlog from the old (and spurious) contract; if they get the funding they need, that should be doable with the new facility. They still need to iron out the kinks of vehicle inspection and sort out the connectivity and database problems that are at the root of the vehicle registration renewal issues.

We have all been harsh on the LTO, and historically they have deserved it. The internal politics, the prevalence of fixers, the proposal of solutions that don’t work, or major changes that clearly benefit a certain party or company are just some issues to name a few.

But throw nothing but harshness at a person, a group, or an organization, and they just don’t find the drive to be better. So maybe we should give them the credit they deserve, and see if it helps drive them forward even more. They’re doing good with licenses and plates. Registration renewal needs polishing and they need to sort out the issues with vehicle inspection to get it going forward.

If the LTO does better, it will be us that will reap the benefits.