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South Luzon Expressway

TRB readies fines on Skyway operator

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The Toll Regulatory Board is studying the imposition of fines on the operator of South Luzon Expressway and Skyway for the heavy traffic caused by its construction projects.

Raymundo L. Junia, who represents the private sector on the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB), said the agency might impose fines on the operator for its failure to mitigate the daily traffic jam on the northbound portion of the expressway.

Junia said the five-member TRB was also looking into reducing toll on SLEx. Also on the board are Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia.

“We are just waiting for the officials of SLEx and Skyway to make an offer. If they don’t, we will do the necessary action,” Junia said.

The usual snail-paced flow of vehicles along the metro-bound portion of SLEx has become worse after the outermost lane of Skyway at-grade level just after the Alabang viaduct in Muntinlupa City was closed starting on the evening of Sept. 24.

One lane of the adjacent East service road was also closed.

The closure was due to the construction of the P10-billion Skyway extension project from Barangay Cupang (starting at Kilometer 22) to Barangay Putatan—both in Muntinlupa.

On Sept. 26, traffic backed up from the Alabang viaduct to the Eton exit in Santa Rosa City, Laguna province—a distance of 24 km—fraying nerves and causing people to report for work or classes late, or worse to miss appointments or flights.

The “carmageddon” has prompted Senators Grace Poe and Sherwin Gatchalian to suggest the lowering of toll during the construction period of the Skyway extension.

Gatchalian even moved for a toll holiday to help ease the burden of affected motorists and those taking public transportation.

Junia said it was Tugade, TRB cochair, who directed the regulator to look into the possibility of reducing toll on SLEx even before the two senators made the proposal.

Rolling back toll on SLEx has a precedent.

In March 2008, the TRB ordered SLEx to reduce the toll from Alabang to Calamba City, Laguna, by 10 percent.

The reduction was imposed as the government’s “way of giving some relief” amid the inconvenience caused by the development and repairs of the 30-km stretch of the road.

Welcome move

People taking public transportation and motorists welcomed the twin moves of the TRB.

Ma. Cristina Pardalis, a government employee, said imposing penalties on SMC Tollways and bringing down toll would benefit people like her who have been adversely affected by the gridlock on SLEx.

She said she had to board the bus from her home in Calamba City at 5 a.m., or an hour earlier than before, to make it to her office in Pasay City before 8 a.m.

“Exacting fines would force the toll operator to improve its services and provide what it had promised to commuters and motorists,” said Pardalis, a mother of three.

Christopher Reano, a resident of Bay town in Laguna, also supported the TRB position, saying requiring the toll operator to pay fines would prompt it to deal with the concerns of motorists.

“I think the TRB should review not only the performance of (SMC Tollways), but its compliance with the provisions in its franchise or contract with the government,” said Reano, who drives daily from his home to his office in San Juan City.

For Dante Tagalog, a sales supervisor from Tunasan in Muntinlupa who regularly takes SLEx from his home to Makati City, said a fine could prompt the operator to solve the traffic mess as soon as possible.

He coughs up P136 for a faster and hassle-free one-way drive from his home to Makati in his sedan.

But recently, the expensive toll did not match the comfortable service SLEx ought to give him and more than 370,000 other motorists using the expressway.

“Ideally, it takes me less than an hour to travel the more than 20-kilometer distance, but ever since they closed a lane of SLEx last month, it takes more than an hour to drive for a mere 5 km just from Susana Heights to Alabang,” Tagalog said.

He said SLEx was the “least of evils,” since there were no alternative roads.

“Traffic on Baybayin and service roads [in Muntinlupa] are always heavy. Aguinaldo Highway is unpredictable. Daang Hari has gotten congested because that’s what others are using to escape the bottleneck.”

Excuse

He, however, doubts that compelling SMC Tollways to cut the toll would improve its service.

“The discount may help me in my expenses, especially food and milk for my children,” said Tagalog, a father of three. “But I am afraid that [SMC Tollways] can use that discount as an excuse to let the gridlock persist.”

The Inquirer tried to reach Manny Bonoan, president of SMC Tollways, for comment, but he had yet to respond as of press time.

Reviewing penalties

Junia said the TRB was reviewing the penalties that it would levy on SMC Tollways.

The move, according to him, is part of the board’s efforts to “standardize” toll road operations in the country, currently dominated by the SMC conglomerate and Metro Pacific Tollways Corp.

“It (imposing fines) is already on the plate. We are looking in that direction,” Junia told the Inquirer over the phone.

“While it may take a while, we are now trying to standardize the performance of the toll operators in terms of managing traffic. This would trigger better services for the public,” he added.

Junia said the TRB had pushed for the 6-kilometer additional elevated highway to decongest traffic in the northbound lane of the Alabang viaduct, which normally reaches the San Pedro and Southwoods exits of SLEx in Laguna during rush hours.

The project started in August and is expected to be finished by December 2020.

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