MANILA, Philippines – The Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) has given the South Luzon Tollway Corporation (SLTC) the green light to implement by next year the 297 percent toll hike for the use of the rehabilitated South Luzon Expressway (SLEx) from Alabang in Muntinlupa to Sto. Tomas in Batangas.
The SLTC’s application for the new toll rate was approved without much publicity last Thursday and the implementation of the adjusted rate of P3.02 per kilometer from the current rate of P0.76 will be effective on January 1, according to TRB spokesperson Julius Corpuz.
As such, toll rates for the use of the 36-kilometer expressway from Alabang to Sto. Tomas will be P106 for Class 1 vehicles like cars, jeepneys, pickups and vans; P232 for Class 2 vehicles like light trucks, tourist/school buses and Class 1 vehicles that are 7 feet and above tall; P318 for Class 3 vehicles like heavy and multi-axled trucks and trailers.
The use of the SLEx from Calamba in Laguna to Sto. Tomas in Batangas is still toll free until January 1 and in view of the Christmas and New Year season, the SLTC will implement a toll holiday from 10 p.m. of December 24 to 6 a.m. of December 25 and from 10 p.m. of December 31 to 6 a.m. of January 1.
But to help the public gradually accept the adjusted toll rates, the SLTC would voluntarily grant motorists discounts for the first three months of 2011.
SLTC president Isaac David said it is “out of goodwill” and their sense of corporate social responsibility that they will grant motorists P0.35 per kilometer discount from January 1 to 31, P0.30 from February 1 to 28, and P0.13 from March 1 to 31.
In effect, SLTC will charge the rate of P2.68 per kilometer in January, P2.72 in February, and P2.89 in March. Motorists are expected to save at least P12 if they will be using SLEx from Alabang to Sto. Tomas on January due to the discounts.
“Our initiative to offer discounts will cost us at least P75 million but since it was made voluntarily, we will shoulder the cost,” David said.
But despite the development, David said the SLTC still has to discuss with TRB the means to recover its foregone gross revenues reaching P1.1 billion since the delayed implementation of the new toll rates in July. Based on SLTC’s toll operations agreement with the Philippine government, it is allowed to apply for toll hike every two years.
But despite the delay, David described as timely the TRB’s decision in view of the new calendar year, adding that “it has inspired them to pursue other infrastructure projects” under the public-private partnership (PPP).
“This is a clear indication on the political will of the Philippine government and the success of the PPP,” David added.
Consequently, the TRB’s recent decision has prompted the South Luzon Bus Operators Association (SOLUBOA) to petition for a fare hike as soon as the SLEx toll hike is implemented.
SOLUBOA president Homer Mercado said they will likely ask the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) for a fare hike ranging from P0.30- to P0.50- rate per kilometer from a few days after January 1.
When reached for comment, Elvira Medina of the National Council for Commuter Protection said they are studying legal remedies available to oppose the SLEx toll hike.
As this developed, motorists using the SLEx may not be the only ones to be burdened by the looming toll hike next year as the TRB admitted it is finalizing its study and decision on the application to adjust toll rates for the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx).
Corpuz disclosed that the operator of NLEx, Citra Metro Manila Tollway Corporation (CMMTC), and operator of SCTEx, Manila North Tollways Corporation (MNTC), have also applied for toll rate adjustment for January 1.
As per their application, CMMTC is seeking for 11 percent toll rate increase from its present rate of P2.13 per kilometer while the MNTC is requesting for 43 percent increase from its current rate of P2 per kilometer.
Corpuz said the toll hike petitions for NLEx and SCTEx are “still being studied by the TRB” but the decision on their applications will be out anytime soon.”
When asked to comment about the public’s opposition to the simultaneous toll hike in SLEx, NLEx, and SCTEx, Corpuz asked the understanding of the motorists.
“The TRB asks for the understanding of our motorists. The board is just doing its job of assessing the toll hike petitions being submitted to it for review. If it won’t act on them, it will be accused of being remiss in its duties,” he said.
Corpuz also belied allegations that the TRB is favoring investors’ interest over the public’s in granting the toll hike petitions.
“Based on their agreement with the government, toll operators are allowed to increase toll rates every two years not only for them to be assured of their return of investments but also for them to adjust the rates in view of the inflation rate,” Corpuz added.