The barriers on RFID

Published December 13, 2020, 11:55 PM

by Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal


Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal

In Luzon, there are two tollway operators.  Both use an RFID (radio-frequency identification) toll-collection system in their expressways.

Autosweep RFID is used at Skyway, SLEX, NAIAX, STAR Tollway, MCX, and TPLEX.

Easytrip RFID is used at NLEX, SCTEX, CAVITEX, and CALAX.

The DOTr had previously mandated a mandatory cashless system in all tollways on November 2, 2020.  As many had predicted, it was an ill-conceived deadline imposed on motorists and countless were unable to comply within the deadline set. The deadline was pushed to December 1, 2020.  Yet, again, as expected, not everyone was able to comply.  You could see extremely long lines of vehicles waiting for RFIDs to be installed for one RFID system before the deadline.  Then these same vehicles would have to line up AGAIN for the OTHER RFID to be installed.

The deadline set, even if it was extended, was, to many, should have been studied more thoroughly.  In fact, SMC, which operates the expressways using the Autosweep RFID had asked the DOTr to extend the deadline to February, 2021, because they themselves were monitoring the surge of applications being processed, and understood the situation.

However, on December 1, 2020, the DOTr-mandated mandatory RFID deadline came, and, as expected, it was chaos, especially in the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). Extremely long lines at the entrance of the tollways were seen.  Malfunctioning RFIDs in NLEX were reported.  The City of Valenzuela, headed by Mayor Rex Gatchalian, threatened to suspend the business permit of NLEX Corporation if nothing significant was done to address the complaints.  With no improvements made, the business permit was eventually suspended, and it was now illegal for the corporation to collect toll within the jurisdiction of the city.  All barriers were mandated to be raised.  That was the right move as you could see traffic flow almost immediately improve after.  Other LGUs later followed suit and demanded steps be taken to address the concerns of motorists using NLEX.  Even Senate President Sotto and House Speaker Velasco asked that steps be taken to address the problem.  Some officials asked that motorists can still use cash when passing the expressways, while others asked for a better system (Senator Sotto used as reference the toll system used in the Bay Area as example).

I’ve been using RFIDs on my vehicles when travelling, with Autosweep installed a considerable time before the start of the pandemic, and Easytrip RFID installed recently.  I have to say, I’ve never had any problem using the Autosweep RFID.  Every time I pass those expressways using that RFID, it’s smooth, works and I’ve never had a problem.

However, since I’ve started using the Easytrip RFID, it feels like when you approach the toll gates, you’re unsure if the RFID will work or you’ll have to pull out the card and have it scanned before you pass.  It’s an inconvenience which can and should be avoided because, if the RFID system works with the Autosweep, why can’t it work with the Easytrip?

In fact, when you read the news and check the posts on social media, most of the complains about RFIDs not working had to do with the Easytrip expressways, not the Autosweep expressways.

It begs us to ask the question, what is wrong with what the expressways using the Easytrip RFIDs doing which is causing so many problems for motorists?  What makes it worse is the employees of the NLEX Corporation who man the tolls, who have no role in the decisions made, bear the brunt of the complaints and ire of motorists.

I have also found that what differentiates the two systems is that, in the Autosweep RFID system, you can have multiple vehicles registered under one account (even for an individual). Meaning, each vehicle has a separate card and RFID, but are all linked to one account.  So, you share the “load” with all vehicles.  You load once for all the vehicles linked to the account.  This is very helpful because you don’t have to monitor the balance of each and every vehicle.  Every time you use it, no matter what vehicle, you know the running balance of your account. This gives you the peace of mind, knowing you have enough money in all your vehicles.

However, for the Easytrip RFID (at least for individuals), each vehicle is distinct and separate.  You have to load money into each and every vehicle RFID.  You cannot share with your vehicles.  You’d assume that since one toll operator can do it, the other can too, right?  But alas, such is not the case.  So, you’re now forced to check and monitor the balance of each and every vehicle.  It should be something which both operators must be able to implement.

Something should be done to address the growing number of complaints.  Implementing big programs must be well thought-out, stakeholders properly consulted and most importantly, realistic implementation plans must be in place, BEFORE announcing plans and deadlines.

Stay Safe.  Stay Healthy.  Wear a Mask.  Drive Safely.