Glitches in the E-Pass System?

Are you getting what you’re actually paying for when you use your E-Pass?

A concerned Paranaqueno two weeks ago called on our attention regarding some discrepancies in the charging of the E-Pass that had been happening for almost 10 years now. Yes, since 2002.

And he does not think a lot of people know that the E-Pass had been doing some “dagdag-bawas” (only bawas actually) for many years now. He did not accuse the PNCC (the company in-charge of supervising over SLEX then) of doing this intentionally but what he did not like was that they did not inform their customers about the certain glitch.

In a letter to then E-Pass Customer Service Head Jose Antonio Jimenez, the villager called their attention about several over-charging on his E-Pass for a number of months.

Here is a snippet of his letter:

I am the holder of an E-pass tag.  Sometime in early September 2002, I loaded the amount of Five Hundred Pesos (P500.00) in my E-pass tag.  As I usually do whenever I reload my E-pass tag, I inquired about my current balance and was informed that the same was Seven Hundred Twenty Seven Pesos and Fifty Centavos (P727.50).  I noticed that my balance contained a denomination of Fifty Centavos (P.50), which puzzled me since my usual route in using my E-pass tag would only be from Bicutan to either Nichols or C-5, and back to Bicutan, or using the Skyway between Bicutan and Makati.  All toll charges for these exits are in full Peso denominations and none of them contain Centavo denominations.  Thus, I requested for a breakdown of my charges from you.

After going through the E-pass Statement of Account you provided me, I discovered that, on 21 August 2002, I had been charged the amount of Forty Nine Pesos and Fifty Centavos (P49.50) allegedly for using the tollway from Calamba, the farthest entry point, to Nichols.  Since I did not travel to or from Calamba on the date in question, or on any other day, for that matter, I immediately called your Customer Assistance number to report the overcharging in the amount of Twenty Nine Pesos and Fifty Centavos (P29.50).  I spoke to a male agent whose name I cannot recall.  Upon explaining the mistake and requesting for a refund of the overcharged amount, the said male agent apologized and sheepishly informed me that the reason for the apparent error in deduction was that, in case of a “misreading” at the point of entry into the tollway using the E-pass tag, the toll charge would automatically be from the farthest point, in this case, Calamba.  The said male agent informed me that he would report my “contested” charge to your auditing department and asked me to call back after one (1) week.  This procedure surprised me since, it seemed, by submitting the matter to the auditing department, the auditing department would exercise some sort of discretion and perhaps deny my request for a refund.  In any event, I called back exactly one (1) week later and spoke to a certain Leslie, who informed me that the overcharged amount had been credited to my account, thereby returning my balance to a full Peso denomination, without any Centavo denomination.

This happened again on several occasions prompting the villager to again call on the attention of Jimenez–a number of times.

He never got any response from the E-Pass Customer Service. Talk about great customer service. The only response he got was an article in a leading national daily explaining the technical errors.

In the said article, the E-Pass Customer Service said that extra charges “is (sic) being monitored and are automatically being adjusted for as long as the disputes are valid and as not to add inconvenience to everyone.”

“This argumentation is fallacious.  While you may be “monitoring” my account and those of the other E-pass users, it is hard to believe that you are automatically adjusting all the amounts since you stated that you only adjust the accounts when “the disputes are valid,” meaning an E-pass user must first validly dispute any overcharging before you automatically adjust.  Not all E-pass users can “validly dispute” any overcharging precisely because not all E-pass users are aware that there is overcharging occurring almost everyday,” argued the villager.

There were also rumors that the construction of SM Bicutan contributed to some of the technical glitches but these reports were unconfirmed.

Anyway, Alabang Bulletin contacted the Skyway authorities through their website and informed them about the complaints regarding the E-Pass “glitches.”

Ed Nepomuceno, Head Operations of Skyway O&M Corporation, was kind and quick enough (Thank you again, sir) to reply to the complaints.

We will print his response verbatim so everyone can understand and refer to all the matters included in his explanation.

A. Background/Pertinent Events

  1. South Luzon Tollway Company and Manila Toll Expressway Systems, Inc. (MATES) take over of the SLEX (Alabang to Calamba) operation and maintenance from PNCC  on May 2, 2010.

The electronic toll collection system (ETC) used at both the Skyway System (the Magallanes-Filinvest section and the Buendia-Bicutan elevated section) and SLEX started to experience intermittent network communication link failure, particularly at the SLEX end.   This means that the some toll lanes are not in sync with other lanes in other plazas and could not transmit data (E-Pass and manual transactions) to the HQ system on a timely basis.  MATES has not been able to implement ETC maintenance promptly due to lack of proper transition from PNCC to MATES,  and ETC spare parts.  MATES is apparently experiencing some birth pains as far as technical know-how and troubleshooting are concerned.

2. Typhoon “Basyang” on July 14, 2010,  compounded the problem with most of the antenna masts toppled down..

Communication lines between toll lanes, plazas and the HQ went down, including pole masts and radios, thereby spreading the e E-Pass glitch from Calamba to Sucat.  As a result,  the E-Pass balances are not updated because the transmittal of E-Pass transaction data does not happen in real time.  The affected toll lanes/plazas (particularly between Susana Heights and Calamba) cannot read the E-Pass tags (and even if they are read,  they cannot transmit the date to other lanes/plaza/HQ.  Thus, E-Pass motorists are sometimes charged from default plazas, or charged twice.

B.  Action taken

  • Restoration of communication links continuously being undertaken.  Pole masts are being erected and radios are being mounted.
  • For the Skyway System,  communication lines were up two (2) after “Basyang.”  As of last Friday,  August 6,  isolated cases of E-Pass glitches are noted between SLEX’s Cabuyao and Southwoods plazas.
  • While some network lines are still down,  manual transfer and updating of transactions are done manually.  Data updating will experience delay  because manual process is painstaking and slow.
  • To correct balance discrepancies, manual review of transactions and resolution of errors are also resorted to.  Possible glitches like double charging are checked by reviewing travel and toll charges patterns.  If glitch is validated,  the affected E-Pass account gets a credit back.
  • Until the entire ETC system is up,  E-Pass motorists are advised to be cautious of the lane traffic lights.  If they get a RED light at entry,  they should get a card, pay manually at the regular lane where the teller will have to override the E-Pass system to avoid double charging.

Again, we thank Mr. Nepomuceno for his prompt reply. It’s very brave of him to admit that their systems are experiencing some “glitches.”

The intention of the villager as well as of Alabang Bulletin is to inform E-Pass owners about the certain technical glitches/errors/lapses. We enjoin everyone to be vigilant or just suffer losing credits on their E-Pass.

We are all free to request for your statement of account/history of your E-Pass. You may call the E-Pass Hotline at 776-7676 should you have any questions and complaints.

With regard to the overcharges that have probably accumulated from discrepancies in the system for the last several years, only the previous authorities in-charge can answer where they went (if there were any).

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  1. Jeff says:

    Best solution is for the Epass system to display upon entry/exit the balance remaining + amount deducted for the Epass tag. Currently they only display the amount deducted, which I think is redundant since we already know how much the toll fees are.