Snatched from the abyss

Considering our having come from the abyss of ineptitude and muddle, the next six years of Motoring looks bright and hopeful. Not only will the LTO (Land Transportation Office) catch up with the license release backlog, it will soon implement 5 year intervals for renewals instead of three. LTO are also studying the possibility of waiving personal appearance at the LTO agency when renewing licenses of violation-free drivers. LTO will also speed up the release and manufacture of all those paid-for and missing license plates. The long term aim is to have license plates issued and installed when the new owner drives his new car purchase out of the dealer's lot. These two items alone, license and license plates, are tall orders as LTO will have to untangle the conflicting directives, convoluted contracts and COA (Commission on Audit) violations that led to the LTO's 6 year cock-up. Thankfully there is no witch hunt to work back to why LTO paid a Dutch company to make the plates in India only to abandon the plates at Customs culminating in a tussle whether to donate them or not while the supplier is stiffed with a huge unpaid bill. LTO will continue with improving its data base, another victim of the last 6 years' witch hunt and imbecilic amateurish tinkering of established bureaucratic procedures by dimwit lawyers. 

Interoperability now

The DoTr (Dept. of Transportation) fully supports efforts to allow interoperability of ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) for all tollways. The major tollway operators are already coordinating and conducting compatibility tests for RFID stickers. As CAVITEx ceases issuing E-TAP cards, it is now testing the use of the AF Payment's Beep cards, the familiar payment mode for some P2P busses and all the Metro's mass transit railways. As for the long delayed adjustment in toll fees and train fares, the TRB has not yet proceeded on implementing the BOT (Build operate transfer) contract stipulations.

Rail flood

No to lowest bidder

On the rail and road infrastructure front, the current administration is dumping the extortionate PPP (Public-Private Partnership) financial premium, which not only discouraged many interested bidders but also jacked up the cost of the project which translates to higher tolls and/or fares for the paying public. Besides that, it has also gotten rid of that distrustful and idiotic taboo against unsolicited proposals. As one of the objectives of presidential emergency powers to cure Metro Manila's monstrous traffic is not without its operational merits, PRRD (Pres. Rody R. Duterte) has spoken up against the disadvantages of lowest bid for government appropriated projects. He rightfully claims that the lowest bid is an invitation to cut corners. Despite strict government specifications that must be followed, PRRD prefers that the bidders outdo each other in surpassing the minimum specifications. There is a precedent to this as some EU (European Union) highway and railroad contracts are won not by the lowest bid/slowest recovery rate by toll fees, but by enhanced specifications, improving upon minimum project specs, sort of like a bonus over and above the minimum “floor” specs prescribed by government standards. Though difficult to monitor for fairness, the EU's success in following this objective is the yardstick to aim for. Emergency powers will also cut to the red tape that slows down private property expropriation for road expansion. The immediate beneficiaries of these emergency powers should be the traffic alleviating projects such as the Lawton-Capitolyo Pasig river bridge road, the approved C-5- CAVITEx link expressway which has access conflicts at Merville with Citra's proposed Merville-West Service Road interchange, Integrated Bus terminals to replace Cubao's numerous bus terminals, South EDSA Bus Rapid Transit, North-South commuter rail, Clark-NAIA airport railway, MMSS3 (Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3) land expropriation, etc.

Fuel taxes resume

Though the increase in fuel prices will most certainly impact daily wage earners and private PUV (Public Utility Vehicle) operators, today's era of low fuel prices is the time to reintroduce the excise tax ever since it was rescinded in 1997. This will help fill government treasuries and compensate for a decrease in tax collections as PRRD aims to cut income taxes for wage earners and would want to postpone any upward adjustment in VAT (Value Added Tax).

NEDA approves

Within a month of taking over, PRRD's NEDA has already approved the Plaridel bypass which, when finished by its DPWH (Dept. Public Works & Highways) contractor, will be bided out to a tollway operator. NEDA has also concluded the Swiss Challenge to Metro Pacific tollways NLEx metro link connector expressway built on top of the PNR RROW (Rail Right of Way), leading to the MMSS3 (Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3) by the Pasig River crossing.

Keep many MMDA programs

The constant inspirational speeches of PRRD to the Police forces have given the boots on the ground added confidence in confronting the usual abusive elements on the road. Over at the MMDA (Metro Manila Development Administration), the better programs from the previous admins like the “mayhuliba” website, no-contact apprehension, HPG (Highway Patrol Group) lead for EDSA traffic enforcement, UV Express EDSA ban, wider spread of tow away zones, counter-colorum PUV drive, moving bus terminals out of Cubao and speed monitoring continues, while enforcement of the law on speed limiters for PUVs has commenced.

Junk MMDA's bad ideas

What MMDA should do is to junk, with finality, all those previous ideas that didn't work and those experiments that aggravated traffic. The recent EDSA bollard blockade of Connecticut and Annapolis traffic access to Ortigas Center was tried by Chairman BF with pink fences in 2004 and it resulted in the same daily all day traffic standstill that reaches as far as Wilson-P. Guevara in San Juan and Ortigas-N. Domingo Gilmore in Quezon City, with an easing up of only 500m of EDSA (from Connecticut to Ortigas flyover) as its only irrelevant benefit. The status quo was better off even as all motorists inched along in a giant slow mo, multilane on/off merge ballet that at least, gave access to all destinations via EDSA.

Mining effects

Though not directly linked to daily motoring, the current administration's “war” on mining is leading to a sharp decrease in world nickel supply and hence a sharp increase in prices. With China as the world's biggest source of stainless steel and our nickel mines as the dominant supplier to China's steel plants, a long term decrease in nickel supply will impact production costs of the world's auto making industry.

Alternative energy re-mixed

Another long shot issue that has long term effects on the cost of motoring and transport is the different sources of energy used to power our economy. With current DENR (Dept. Environment Natural Resources) Sec. Lopez adamantly against coal for power plants, alternative energy sources like wind and solar panels are not yet up to scratch in reliability, storability, coverage and cost. To force the power generating sector to drop coal will trigger a drastic increase in power rates and will also cause a huge backlog in building on stream power plants using natural gas, or even geo-thermal. Moreover, with the near exhaustion of Malampaya's natural gas and the government's exorbitant royalty charges against the gas exploring and extracting companies, there has not been any search for other viable local supplies of natural gas. Are we ready to import LNG (liquified natural gas) from Russia or Qatar, the world's most efficient producer of LNG?

Toyots Prius

The NAPOCOR albatross

Even if all the tricycles turn to e-trikes, jeepneys turn into e-jeeps, buses turn into electric road trains and more hybrids are introduced for regular private transport models, the problem will still be the supply (reduced) and cost (even higher) of electric energy power generation. Everyone knows we have the highest power rates in the region but not everyone knows that this is caused by the huge debt to asset deficit of the defunct NAPOCOR (National Power Corp.), a financial loss the government has been trying to recover from power consumers, like us, through the power generators and distributors like MERALCO (Manila Electric Rail and Light Co.). So even if electricity is produced by the kind of clean power that Secy. Lopez insists that we should use for motoring, banning coal to reduce carbon emissions, as part of our commitment to the Paris accords will cascade difficult price and supply constraints in every Filipino's daily life.

What happened to LPG?

An analogy to the interconnected nature of prices and supply of various energy sources is what happened to LPG which was once touted to be the cheaper, cleaner though “thirstier” fuel for public transport. LPG comes from the same barrel of oil that produces bunker fuel oil to run older (dirtier) power plants, diesel for PUV's and gasoline for private cars. Since our refineries are configured to produce or “crack” fixed amounts of LPG, asphalt, gasoline, kerosene etc. for every barrel of oil, a spike in demand for LPG would cause its price to rise. LPG being the nation's cooking gas, is also sold with a government subsidy so its real price is not reflective of its actual utility as a motoring fuel. Hence the failure for LPG to acquire a bigger slice of daily motor vehicle fuel consumption.

Coal powered the The Industrial Revolution

Since coal and natural gas doesn't come from a barrel of oil, we should not let DENR priorities dictate the needs and energy mix that we use for road or rail transport as we still have a long way to go for the level of industrialization that PRRD prefers as our economic development has priority over carbon neutrality. Besides, the nation's energy mix is the realm of DoE (Dept of Energy), not DENR. This conundrum must be settled now while the price of a barrel of oil hovers at USD40.00, allowing government to recover some lost tax revenue and invest in the future energy sources mix that is a realistic balance of cost, availability, coverage and environmental sustainability. As much as many want transport to shift fuel from gasoline to electricity, its not yet a practical proposition.

Conspicuous consumption

The current campaign against tax evaders and oligarchs, not much different from previous administrations, does reduce the sales of conspicuous consumption items such as luxury cars. Albeit, the recent past has shown that there are more than enough legitimate tax paying luxury car shoppers out there to take up the slack.

Long delayed

On the minus side, there's still is no word on the adjustment of toll fees and train fares as provided in the BOT contract. This is a matter for the TRB (Toll Regulatory Board) and not the DoTr as reported in some sectors. Moreover, the TRB is chaired by the Secretary of the DPWH. Unless the contract terms are upheld, further investment in tollways is put on hold. Some tollway operators have already hauled the TRB to an international court.

Roadside parking

No garage, no car

The proposed “no garage, no car sale” law — another bureaucratic burden on the private citizen — will obviously require documented proof of off-street garage parking before the registration of a new motor vehicle. This should keep dealers busy in concocting legal documents attesting to such legitimate off-street private parking so that new car buyers aren't inconvenienced by the new bureaucratic hurdle.

The barely understood road tax

Many legislators of recent administrations have attacked the Road Tax (MVUC: motor vehicle users charge), a component of registration fees. Collected in accordance to RA 8794, these collections should go to four special accounts in the National Treasury: Special Road Support Fund (80%), Special Local Road Fund (5%), Special Vehicle Pollution Control Fund (7.5%) and Special Road Safety Fund (7.5 %). This is administered by the Road Board, composed, of the sitting secretaries of DPWH, DBM, DoTr, DoF, etc. The proof of its valuable contribution to safe motoring in these islands can be seen on all roads, new and old; reflective signs for school zones, pedestrian crossings, curves, hairpins, danger zones, guard rails, edge markings and chevron signs. The images from motoring press driving events is a testament to this. Rising vehicle sales have fattened this tax chest. For the past 3 years, legislators pushing for the abolition of the Road Board base their claim on CoA audit exceptions that point to the fund having been used to finance projects that are not related to the main purpose of the Fund. We say, abolishing the Road Board is not the solution as even the simple placement of a road sign is best approved by transport and highway technicians. International conferences and subscriptions that update our standards to the latest safe techniques are also a must so that the Board can judiciously do its job. A further refining specific targets of where the funds should go should be defined in the IRR (implementing rules regulations) so CoA can keep its peace.

 New cars

New car tax?

Also, a new tax on cars owned beyond the first car is being mulled. We only look at it as a wealth tax that has supposed but minimal congestion reducing effects. We expect this to meet public opprobrium as motorists are already forced to buy more than one car because of coding. Law drafters will also try to discourage motorists circumventing the measure by registering the 2nd car under other members of the same household or under a corporation, which will then punish corporations with fleets. Which results in a ridiculous escalation of the ensuing cat and mouse game between motorist and tax authorities on what is essentially a restriction on the right to purchase. We can only suppose that the government postulates that by reducing car sales or punishing extra sales will relieve traffic, an enormous if. The idea will also run counter to local manufacturing incentives and auto industry expansion to support the national economy. DoF (Department of Finance) should protest this as any reduction in car sales is a huge reduction in revenue. This restraint on trade, just like the way coding restricts freedom of movement, should be resisted. Nevertheless, the upward trend in new car sales continue unabated.