Monday, June 02, 2008

Skyway robbery

This is my column today.

The last time I found myself in the South Luzon Expressway was early February. It was sheer torture and I have since then gone out of my way to avoid going through the highway. Not only was traffic horrendous—moving like the proverbial snail taking its own sweet time. The roads also resembled an obstacle course designed for people with a death wish.

I am told that it is now almost impossible to make heads or tails of whatever it is that’s being done at the expressway. Friends who have no choice but to take it everyday have given up trying to understand the exact nature of the improvements being done as what used to be a highway had become a series of perilous trails that meander, split, or suddenly come to a dead end without warning. Surely improvements can be conducted with some care and consideration for the convenience of the motoring public. It’s really a wonder how easily we Filipinos take aggravations; it as if misery were our birthright.

The skyway offers very little comfort. Not only is it extremely expensive, it also covers only a fraction of the SLEX and tends to be jammed during rush hours. What is further aggravating is that the people who manage the skyway behave as if that elevated highway is private property and using it—even paying an exorbitant amount of money in the process—is a privilege that motorists should be grateful for.

A good friend of mine, Mr. Romeo de la Rosa, had an unpleasant experience at the skyway very recently. His story is something that is not isolated as I do know a couple of other friends who fell for the same trap as he did. I feel that his story deserves to be told. I am therefore lending this space to him and his story. What follows is Mr. de la Rosa’s personal account sent to me through e-mail.

“On May 10, 2008, traveling southbound, I thought I should take the skyway to save some travel time. It had been a long time since I traveled south, my usual travel direction being northbound. On that day, I was going to Tagaytay City to visit my kids who were in a youth camp. Only a few motorists take the skyway, deterred by the exorbitant toll fee, for a few minutes of traveling comfort. Distance for distance, the skyway may be the costliest tollway in the whole world!

The skyway appeared inviting, clear and nearly deserted, and the toll fee of P85.00 seemed worth the time saved. Although I was forewarned that traveling through the SLEX these days is a torturous trip, I realized soon that there was more to that warning than macadam roads and heavy traffic.

I entered the skyway at about 8:30 a.m. I was on the lane at the left and it was a bit late for me to realize that I was approaching the e-pass lane. I stopped a few meters from the toll booth but couldn’t move to the right lane because my vehicle’s front wheels were already within the concrete barrier. I could have backed off but a vehicle came right behind me.

A security guard in blue and white approached me and I asked to be assisted to move to the right lane by asking the vehicle behind me to back off a little. Instead of assisting me, the guard demanded my driver’s license. I was taken aback by the arbitrary manner he displayed. I initially refused because I doubted if he had the authority to take a motorist’s driver’s license or perform traffic duties. The other reason is that I do not believe that straying into the e-pass lane is among the traffic violations in this country.

But here was a scruffy fellow, still wet behind the ears and who couldn’t even properly carry the standard blue and white uniform, demanding to take my license. Against my better judgment, I handed it over to him because he would not let me out of the lane or let me pass through.

By the way, the e-pass lane, supposed to be unmanned, was actually manned by a bored teller who promptly collected from me the tollway ransom of P85.00. Later, I learned that many others have made the same mistake and experienced the same harassment from the hands of skyway security guards who conducted themselves as if the tollway is their personal fiefdom unmindful that their bread and butter come from motorists who still patronize it.

A motorist losing his bearing and straying in the e-pass lane in the skyway, as I did, is a mistake that seems induced to happen. The signage of the skyway e-pass lane is inadequate and hardly visible. Unlike in the North Expressway, where there are low and large notices before the e-pass toll booths, the signage in the south tollway was atop the roof, stark and grimy, as if it is normal for motorists to drive with eyes looking up the sky. As the NLEX management had demonstrated, signs should be eye level and clearly readable.

Aside from signage inadequacy, the manner my license was confiscated did not meet the requirements and conform with the proper procedures in enforcing traffic regulations: First, the security guard in blue and white is not deputized and not authorized to take my license, and, second, the person I presumed was deputized to do so did not perform his duty personally nor displayed a modicum of courtesy to inform the person being apprehended of his offense.

As soon as the security guard in blue and white who took my license handed it to the security guard in greenish gray uniform with PNCC patches on, the latter quickly and with obvious haughtiness, issued me a traffic violation receipt. The PNCC guard did not bother to leave his post by the tollbooth and, instead, sent the security guard in blue and white (as if the latter was his aide-de-camp) to hand over to me the traffic violation ticket. When I asked why I was issued a ticket, the security guard in blue and white retorted that I should have immediately pleaded with the company guard so that he could have spared me.

So that’s how I got it! You have to stoop before these people so that you may keep your driver’s license. Among my long list of tales of woes on road trips and travels, this one topped it all—and wrecked my weekend and what should have been a pleasant family day.

I am particularly indignant about the fact that this road, this white elephant of a tollway, that I, as a taxpayer and toll payer, is paying for seems to fall in the hands of people who do not have a sense of public service, basic discernment and skills on how they should conduct themselves and perform their job.

At the end of the day, the SLEX proved to be the most torturous tollway in this side of the world given its hazards of pockmarked road surfaces, diggings and repairs, wayward buses, traffic crooks and hooligans.”

Like I said, Mr. de la Rosa’s story is not uncommon. Let’s hope that someone from the PNCC is reading this and actually does something about those signages and about the appalling customer service behaviors of their guards.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I too have been victimized by the poor sinage and being a white guy they insisyed on confiscating my BMW and tried to take my license.
After a long and belittling conversation i decided just to succumb to their "on the spot fine" and paid the PNCC officer the 1,500.oopisos as demanded.
This appeased the situation and allowed me to carry on towards home in Magalannes.
Ps i too had to pay the bored toll way ticketer in the manned lane the 85.00 pisos on top of the PNCC's 1,500.00 pisos "on the spot fine".
My question to the PNCC and those in charge of: don't i get a receipt from your people upon payment of fines demanded by your official representatives?
How can I account on my returns for fines paid if i don't get receipts?
maybe the BIR should look into how much is actually taken by these "People" in charge of the roads and audit them accordingly.
Is that not done over here?
Anyways, I have much more to complain about, such as the hand painted signs with "Yellow Boys" hiding behind them.
Don't road signs need authorization first?
anyways that is just another "Pet Peeve"
Carry on the good work and this did allow me to voice my opinion. a little...
take care to all

Anonymous said...

On another little Snipit from the SLEX...
I have a very good friend that is recovering in Hospital now and was critical upon admitance due to the confusion caused on the SLEX by the management and the crazy time wasting construction company that got the contract.
They change the lanes every week/day and even those experienced drivers of this "B" road (As an "A" road has non of the crap that this road delivers daily) called the SLEX are surprised and confused to which lane is theirs and which has the crazy truck driver driving towards them?
for almost 5 years now they have been constructing or deconstructing and ruining the South Luzon Expressway to the point where the tricycle driver on the side road is cruizing along at twice the speed that you the SLEX payer does.
We pay for the extended hassle and confusion, damage to our vehicles and stress levels enough to kill.

I sugest the management of the SCTEX the new road between Clark and Tarlac be implemented as this new SCTEX is truly a driving pleasure.
No obsticales, no diversions, no pot holes big enough to bottom out a 4x4, or no rocks, gravel and general s#*T being kicked up on your vehicle.
Also every time so far (roughly 20x) i have experienced the kindest, friendliest and cheerfull people manning the booths.
Never have i had to wait at a booth more than 5 minutes (probably closer to two) or pay more than 2 pisos a kilometer.
All in all, Gloria's Greatest achievment in the roads and infrastructure to Luzon.
May the SCTEX win all awards for excellence.
That was my 2 cents worth again.