SLEX toll hike starts Wednesday

07/05/2010 - FOLLOWING a brief postponement, motorists plying in Southern Luzon areas will have to contend with toll increases scheduled to be implemented this week.

Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) spokesman Julius Corpuz told Sun.Star that starting July 7 the nearly 300-percent increase in toll rates at the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) will push through.

"There's no order issued as of Sunday, whether from TRB or the courts, to suspend the scheduled implementation at the Alabang to Calamba stretch of the SLEx," he said in an interview.

It can be remembered that toll operator South Luzon Tollway Corp. (SLTC) deferred the hike implementation last June 22 in respect to the incoming administration of President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.

The soon-to-be implemented rates are P77 for light vehicles such as cars and vans; P155 for buses; and P232 for heavy trucks and trailers, a far cry from the current P22, P43 and P65, respectively.

Earlier, SLTC spokesperson Alma Tuason said the Malaysian investors need to recoup their investments in the rehabilitated highway so that the government will not pay for the revenue lost by the investors.

Aside from the SLEx toll, motorists using the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (Star) will have to pay 10 percent higher than the prevailing rates due to the road improvement project under Star Infrastructure Development Corp. (SIDC).

The 42-kilometer Apolinario Mabini Superhighway (formerly Star) is a four-lane highway traversing the Southern Luzon provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon.

The highway will soon be connected to the 97-km SLEX through an eight-kilometer loop from Calamba, Laguna to Sto.Tomas, Batangas.

Policy review

Although aware of the policy review set out by Aquino, Corpuz said the TRB has yet to tackle the eight petitions lodged against them.

"The new board of the TRB chaired by Department of Transportation and Communications Secretary Jose de Jesus has yet to meet to finalize the date of public hearings previously scheduled on or before July 15," he said.

Latest report from the TRB showed that the groups opposed to the measure include Road Users' Protection Advocates, the South Luzon Bus Operators Association, party-list 1-United Transport Koalisyon, Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (Piston).

The Confederation of Truckers Association of the Philippines, the Christian Initiative for Transparency and Accountability, the Laguna Metropolitan Bus Operators Inc., the Provincial Council of Batangas, including some Laguna congressmen also joined the chorus.

With a minimum passage of 200,000 motorists daily, the new SLEX rates will soon jack up the daily revenue collected from P8.68 million to P22.26 million.

Lawmakers want no toll

On Sunday, several lawmakers wanted the deferment of the toll hike, seeking the intervention of the Supreme Court.

Albay Governor Joey Salceda has filed temporary restraining order to postpone the implementation, saying that the increase does not justify the improvements done on the highway.

"The increase will affect the motoring public especially the businessmen, the office employees and students who regularly ply the South Luzon expressway," said Cibac party-list Representative Joel Villanueva.

Villanueva said the toll hike would greatly affect the public as the cost of transportation would most likely increase.

The lawmaker also worried about increase in prices of agricultural products being transported from the provinces to public markets in Metro Manila.

"The government should not give additional burden to our already suffering people by making them pay for the improvements done on the SLEX which is not justified," he stressed.

Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares meanwhile said that the increase is a "highway robbery."

"The government should subsidize and not privatize its infrastructure development projects," Colmenares said.

Quezon City Representative Winston "Winnie" Castelo (second district) supported the two lawmakers view, saying that the public should not be burdened by the toll rates.

"Iyang sa SLEX isang malaking kotongan iyan," Castelo said (Sunstar)

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