As always, the bone of public contention will always be about toll rate increases and adjustments. In the case of the Skyway, these grumblings come from motorists who routinely elect to avoid the elevated so as not to pay its higher tolls, as it would seem that with today's higher toll rates, the price difference between elevated and at-grade has narrowed. The 1-1/2 year delay in authorizing toll collection for the Skyway NAIA expressway link has virtually made travel on one third of the elevated Skyway toll free, further reducing the "premium" product nature that the elevated Skyway inadvertently acquired.
The high road vs. the low road
The integrated Skyway System, as completed, consists of the 16.3-km elevated section from Buendia to Alabang and a 13.5-km at-grade section from Magallanes to Alabang. You may ask now what happened to the 2.8-km at-grade section? That's the Buendia to Magallanes SLEx section that was rebuilt by Citra in 1997, but turned over to the DPWH for maintenance. For the past few years, Citra has hired SOMCo, to operate and maintain the Skyway System. Now that Stage 2 is completed, we now have virtually two new urban southbound expressways, one on top of the other that purges the Metro's CBDs and ring roads from all traffic transiting through the heart of the Metro.
High interest rate short term loans, high toll rates
Now that Stage 2 is finished, the Toll Regulatory Board has approved the ff: toll rates for the elevated Skyway: Php 65.00 Makati-Bicutan, which is Php 20.00 lower than before. Makati to Sucat is Php 106.00, while the Makati-Alabang express is Php 147. The repaved and rejuvenated Skyway at-grade now charges Php 44.00 from Makati/Magallanes/C-5 to Merville/Bicutan. Bicutan-Sucat is Php31.00 while Sucat-Alabang is also Php 31.00. Anyone who chooses to go to Alabang using the at-grade Skyway all the way will now pay Php 106.00. A motorist can elect to pay Php 31.00 more if an express direct exit to Alabang is paramount.
Really two new roads
Rather than complain that Php 31.00 is too small a premium to pay for acceptance into the "elite" circle of elevated users, we prefer to look at the glass as half full. This leads us to count on several new features of the rejuvenated at-grade Skyway. For one, the 3x3 to 2x2 lanes chicane at Bicutan will soon be history as the temporary ramps are taken down. With this constriction gone, the flow of traffic in Bicutan will be greatly improved. Next, besides a new type of asphaltic pavement and new guard rails, the at-grade Skyway will have more luminaires to minimize glaring hot spots and dark patches. New LED type lamps are being studied along with novel lighting techniques that would take away the tunnel effect in some areas and avoid distracting stray illuminations from the Service Roads. Major drainage rerouting was undertaken to account for drainage flow alterations brought about by the raising of the Service Road pavement.
The at-grade Skyway has other advantages over the elevated. Though one wouldn't want to be deliberate about it, but the one time when your electrical fails your lights and wipers on a rainy night, its far better to drive at the at-grade. We wouldn't be surprised if those perennially negligent at vehicle maintenance consider this too. At least, the new entry toll-plazas at Nichols and C-5 should ferret out these badly maintained vehicles.
More choices, lower price?
The at-grade Skyway was designed to allow exit hopping between Makati-Bicutan, Bicutan-Sucat and Sucat-Alabang. The elevated is designed to be an express path from Alabang, Sucat and Bicutan to feed into or out of Makati. On the elevated, one cannot exit or enter to the intermediate exits between Alabang-Makati. Nothing controversial here because whether rail or road, having an express route [no stops in between access points] and a "local" route [stops at every way station] is in keeping with Mass Transit convention.
Priced at parity, crazy?
In a media venue in early January this year, we proposed that toll rates for both at-grade and elevated, particularly for Class 2 trucks be at parity for end-to-end Skyway travel. This is to encourage trucks and buses to use the elevated Skyway to minimize the concentration of soot and stench emissions at the at-grade Skyway. It's not inconceivable that the same toll rate scheme apply to Class 01 vehicles too but again how much should the at-grade toll rise to neutralize the reduction in toll rates for the elevated will be a touchy issue.
Skyway tolls are high simply because of not one but two free service roads that exist at the expense of SLEx real estate. The only recourse in the 90s was to invite Citra to fund and build the elevated Skyway for us. The daily difference is telling. The Skyway flows while the free Service road is a parking lot most of the time.
Fuel savings when oil prices rise
There are studies that show that even without today's elevated oil prices, a traffic free expressway maximizes every liter of fuel burned to traverse it. And by being traffic free, time is also saved. A published 2006 study compared the fuel burned and the time it took to traverse Balintawak to Mabalacat via the North Road [MacArthur highway] versus a journey on the NLEx. Not only did the old route take 60% longer in time, it also consumed 50% more fuel at 2006 prices.
Happy toll free idling
Still, SOMCo, like Cesar, cannot please everyone all of the time. That's why to those who just cannot be pleased, the government has given them not one, but two toll free Service Roads. Happy Motoring.