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“With the impending full implementation of cashless transactions in our tollways this November, and the low usage rate for electronic payments, currently at 30% with NLEX for example, it looks like the toll operators will expect a sudden surge of RFID applicants in the next few weeks.”

This was an opinion I brought forth in this same column last September 9. 

Forty-six days ago, we reminded people that come November 2, all our tollways will go cashless. In fact, this was a directive from the Department of Transportation that was released last August 15th. And as well meaning corporate citizens, both San Miguel Corporation (SMC) which manages SLEX, SKYWAY, NAIAX, STARTOLL and MCX in the south and TPLEX in the north; and Metro Pacific Tollways Corporation (MPTC) which runs NLEX, SCTEX, CAVITEX, CALAX and C5 LINK all publicly obliged to have their respective tollways fully adapt and implement cashless payments with their RFID systems. 

Predictably, however, barely a week away from the implementation of this groundbreaking directive, we are still scrambling  to line up at both companies’ RFID installation sites. Two months since the DOTr announced its cashless transaction plan and we are still leaving it to the last minute to conform. Why?

The benefits of cashless transactions at expressways have been well-documented. Here and abroad, various systems have been employed to remove the slowdown and traffic build up caused by cash payments at teller booths. Twenty years ago, we had our first taste of the convenience of Electronic Toll Collection or ETC, albeit at a cost. 

I must admit, over the years I have watched in agonizing envy as few motorists zipped by along empty ETC and RFID lanes while I languished with hundreds of other motorists who were willing to wait out the long lines and stressful lane jostling just to pay their toll. And like many other motorists, I never really seriously thought of getting an Easytrip, Easytag, Easydrive or whatever RFID sticker because of the belief that I will not be needing them as much. Also because it cost a couple of hundred pesos at first and it would be too much of a hassle to maintain the balance of various conflicting RFID accounts. But now, since it has been announced that RFID will be the way forward, that these stickers will be installed for free, and that there will be just two main service providers to deal with,  there is just no reason anymore not to get them for my car. 

The convenience alone that cashless payment brings to the table should be reason enough to jump ship, let alone being spared from being infected by COVID-19 from handling cash with tollbooth tellers. And yet here we are, queuing at the last minute in various RFID installation sites. Enduring kilometer-long lines waiting for their turn to get an RFID sticker. And we still complain why installation is taking so long? Why there are not enough installation sites or registration forms or RFID stickers? Seriously?

These RFID stickers have been dispensed for free even before the pandemic hit, and we still did not grab the opportunity to switch over. And yes, that included me. But since this June, when SMC announced its expressways would go cashless, and in August when MPTC announced the same, we are still leaving it to the eleventh-hour to visit RFID installation sites and have our cars registered. Is it these companies’ fault still that we are having a hard time getting RFID stickers now? Why are there still long lines of cars on the remaining cash lanes? Don’t we get it?

Both the MPTC’s Easytrip and SMC’s Autosweep have gone out of their way to accommodate various requests from malls, establishments, villages to reach out and do the installations at convenient locations. They have also taken the online shopping route to have people purchase these stickers and install them on their own. They have even opened the option for interoperability between the two different systems. While many have taken advantage of these goodwill gestures, there are still the holdouts out there who are complaining about the hassles of getting one, the long queues most especially.

But sirs and madams, those who are ranting now and posting how inconvenienced you are at these installation sites, you have no one else to blame but yourselves. 

On Friday October 23rd, SMC already announced it will extend the deadline for giving out free RFID stickers for its tollways to November 30th. So it will not fully go cashless by November 2. This despite the DOTr’s mandate to implement cashless transactions by next then. MPTC just did the same the next day. Again, just to accommodate the tens of thousands more who have yet to get their RFIDs.

Hopefully, this will finally get people going out and getting things done. Enough with the hope that this deadline will be further extended. Enough with the conspiracy theory that these corporations are out to get your money in advance even if you do not intend to take the expressways. Stop waiting for the installation to come to you. Go out and get one yourselves. 

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