A typical evening scene on the nation's expressway toll plazas: Parked at the weigh-bridge are giant 6 axle 22 wheeler juggernauts with chromed cab fascia, of Japanese origin, converted to left hand drive. Its bulk cargo, taut tarpaulin, crisscrossed by marine duty nylon hemp, orange clearance lamps all ablaze and International regulation reflective yellow and red placard saying 'LONG VEHICLE'. Notably, the truck has no plates. No doubt, confiscated previously for being overloaded.
Repeat offense, ad nauseum
Chances are, the truck is, again, way over the 13.5 ton per axle load limit as prescribed by law. In lieu of a professional driver's license, the driver possesses a TVR TOP [Traffic Violation Report - Temporary Operator's Permit], renewed, spuriously, ad nauseum, from a previous violation most likely, overloading too.
'To any point in Luzon'
Registration papers say Juan de la Cruz or Joseph Gomez. It can be any one, usually single proprietor. The driver casually boasts that short of impounding, they'll be passing here again tomorrow night and every night that they need to haul anything 'to any point in Luzon', as the hand painted door shingle says. Since he has no license to surrender, so another TVR TOP to supersede his current TOP, is in order, and will be very much appreciated so they can be on their way. Never mind if the driver has been behind the wheel, with no rest, for the past 12hrs.
Small mindedness, not smallness
Overloading persists because the cost of disincentives to the trucker/hauler- fines, road wear, vehicle wear, driver wear, downtime - far outweighs, forgive the pun, the incentives. This preponderance of a lot of small one truck, two truck freight haulers mirrors the public utility transport industry. Never mind if its slow and uncomfortable as long as we get there. The majority of trucking/freight haulage companies in the country started out as one-truck mom-and-pop backyard enterprises. Beholden to its grassroots background, these truckers/haulers function only within the confines of the hometown province or region even if they reach 'any point in Luzon'. Drivers and pages are paid, in economists' parlance, at 'market clearing rates' i.e. as much or as little as the employee is willing to accept just to get a job. Hours are long. Adopting big company ethos or best practices are not in the cards.
Only the bottom line
Cost cutting to keep margins fat is de rigeuer. Reconditioned trucks do with surplus parts. Garage space has the big blue sky for a roof while any public space will do. Preferably the worn shoulder of a national highway. Preferably cheek by jowl with vulcanizing shops and carinderia by day, beer garden at night. Lowest common denominator rules.
And the country's bulk transport of goods and services - agricultural, construction, transport equipment, minerals - is absolutely dependent on them. A comprehensive road and cellular telecommunication network that reaches the far corners of the country makes these truckers/haulers THE lifeblood for the economy, ever since our railways evaporated half a century ago.
Where are the big guys?
Which begs the question? If trucking/hauling is vital to our economy, where are the big time players? In the 60s one could still see truck fleets liveried Yellow Ball Freight Lines, Sea Land, Mountain Highway and Yabut. All gone now.
Now called logistics
Where are the integrated logistics conglomerates like Air 21, Johnny Air Cargo, DHL, FedEx, UPS, 2G0, LBC? They can't match the cheaper rates of the small time truckers as their costs are tied to conforming to international labor, ecological, ethical, safety and financial benchmarks. Corporate social responsibility is a 24/7 commitment, not an occasional donation to the town fiesta or local barangay basketball league.
Collecting fines is not the solution
So what happens now? Well all those NLEx and SLEx arrests and fines against erring truckers just fatten the LTO coffers without slaying the overloading beast. We repeat, overloading prematurely wears down and weakens all the DPWH's investment in roads and bridges. It makes a mockery of the LTO penalties such as TVR's and the confiscation of license plates. Owing to the importance of the trucking industry, the government's de facto leniency to overloading makes this rampant and destructive 'entitlement' all the more alarming. The LTO can do without the violation income for so long as the DPWH doesn't need to spend more to repair roads and bridges.
The solution lies in capturing all these violators before they enter the expressway since, as the adage goes, all roads lead to the Port of Manila. This was the concept behind the weigh-in-motion truck lanes at major toll plazas. And this should cover all laden trucks, not random spot checks. But do these weigh-in-motion gizmos work selectively? Or worse, are they working at all? The penalties, if applied, should be disincentive enough to habitual violators. Besides the violation and the confiscation of drivers license and truck license plates, the truck is ordered to get off the tollway and pummel the national road system just as well. But they have to get caught first.
For so long as overloading is systemically neglected it is incentivised. DPWH Sec. Singson cannot stop warning us enough.