No gain without pain
I had occasion to travel the lower level of South Luzon Expressway (SLEx) the other day, and I don’t think we should penalize San Miguel Corp. (SMC) with a P44 discount on tolls. I think we should give them a medal. I’ve never seen so much construction built over such a long area in such a short few weeks, with so little dislocation.
We complain at the government for not providing us with the infrastructure to smooth our lives. Are we now going to complain when they do something about it? Do that, and who is going to volunteer to build the new transport systems we ever so desperately need? No one, that’s who. Given the sorry state of our cities, it’s unavoidable that any new construction is going to result in some dislocation. There’s no way to avoid it.
Why should one person or company suffer considerable financial harm while others get financially rewarded? The Skyway extension is something that will benefit us all, so we should all share in the suffering a little to achieve it. If the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) insists that a P44 refund be applied, then once the extension is completed, a P44 surcharge over and above the toll rate should be applied to all motorists until SMC recoups its loss.
This is justified for the same reason the TRB wants to justify a reduction — the extra time and cost of the delay is TRB’s justification. Well, the shorter time and less cost when travel time is reduced equally justifies a higher cost.
I wish to dispute the claim that it’s a fallacy that lowering the toll will erode investors’ confidence. As someone who has been intimately involved in dealing with foreign investors for the past 40 years or so and worked for several of them, I can assure you it will. Add that to the P7 billion foregone revenues in toll increases SMC has requested in the past, and the many more billions other investors in public services here have suffered for similar payment delays. Anyone can doubt, but investors are discouraged from entering such an uncertain market. Or, if they’re not, they will increase their initial cost to cover that likely event. Then we will end up paying more.
As SMC president Ramon Ang said, the problem was the poor design in the first place, with lanes reduced to three from five at the Alabang viaduct. This had to be fixed. As an aside, read my column in January 2016 when I asked what idiot (a carefully chosen word) designed only one lane for the ramps to Alabang. That will come to haunt us next.
In less than 14 months from now, or by December 2020, the Skyway will extend all the way to Susana Heights/Muntinlupa-Cavite Expressway (MCX). According to Skyway O&M Corp. (SOMCO), the project, once completed, would raise the Skyway’s capacity by 4,500 vehicles per hour northbound, and 3,000 vehicles per hour southbound. The project should enable motorists to bypass traffic along the Alabang viaduct. Or would you rather that the traffic just gets worse and worse, as no one can risk doing anything about it?
There are other projects that are causing traffic disruptions at the moment but are expected to ease commute over the long run. Among these are the MRT 7 extending all the way to San Jose del Monte in Bulacan, and the extension of the LRT 1 all the way to Cavite. These projects should be operational over the next three to five years. In the meantime, there’s unavoidable traffic congestion.
What we’ve already done to the water concessionaires is bad enough—penalizing them with heavy fines for things they’re not responsible for. Or ordering them to take thoughtless actions that would put the city in chaos. Have you all forgotten the nonexistent water systems when they were government-run?
If we insist on penalizing everyone who’s trying to improve our future, then our future is in deep you-know-what.
This government’s “Build, Build, Build” program is a visionary, ambitious attempt to right the sins of the past and provide us with the roads, bridges, railways, subways, airports and seaports we needed a long time ago. We’re finally getting them now. I’ll suffer a little dislocation for that. So we and our kids will have an easier life in the future.
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