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SLEx toll fees could be raised in April next year

December 18, 2009 10:05am
Toll fees at the South Luzon Expressway (SLEx) may be raised substantially by April next year once the private concessionnaire responsible for repairing and expanding the 27-kilometer tollway wraps up its work.

For now, however, Metro Toll Expressway System, Inc. (MATES), the operations and management firm tapped by the Malaysian-led SLEx joint venture to run the tollway, has to contend with a state-led firm’s refusal to hand over control.

Isaac S. David, South Luzon Tollway Corp. (SLTC) and MATES president, told reporters yesterday that the increase in toll fees would be in April when the project is completed.

The P8.5-billion repair and expansion from Alabang to Calamba in Laguna, including the widening of the Alabang Viaduct that goes over a busy thoroughfare in Muntinlupa, is practically finished except for toll plazas.

State-led Philippine National Construction Corp. (PNCC), the original SLEx concession owner which is the partner of Malaysia’s MTD Capital Bhd in SLTC and MATES, wants a one-month delay in the handover, claiming it needed to comply with rules in retrenching workers. Mr. David claims PNCC has been blocking the construction of toll plazas while at the same time complaining that the SLEx construction has been delayed.

Regulators transferred the authority to operate SLEx to MATES last Nov. 27 but PNCC has brought the matter to court, securing a three-day stay order.

"When we are named as the operators of SLEx there is no increase in toll fees even if we are allowed already to collect revenues at 95% completion. By April there would be an increase similar to the rates of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx)," Mr. David said.

The Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) said MATES must first apply for an increase after the project is completed.

"[MATES and SLTC] haven’t applied yet. SLTC and MATES may only be entitled to an increase in tolls once they have finished the Alabang Viaduct and up to Calamba complete with toll facilities," TRB spokesperson Julius G. Corpuz said.

Toll fees at the SLEx in the stretch from Alabang to Calamba cost P22 for light vehicles, P43 for buses and P65 for heavy trucks. Toll fees at the NLEx, which is operated by a different concession, cost P174 for cars, P435 for buses and P522 for heavy trucks, from Balintawak in Quezon City to Sta. Ines, Pampanga.

Under a 30-year Supplemental Toll Operation Agreement approved by Malacañang in 2006, in which PNCC agreed to lend its franchise to the SLTC joint venture, SLTC must take over after completing the tollway rehabilitation. The three-day stay order issued Monday led to a status quo.

While the order has expired, all parties agreed to put off any action until a court hearing on Monday.

"We agreed that there would not be any actions until the next hearing on Monday and we will not do any actions but to talk with PNCC. However, we cannot say the same for the government because they could enforce the immediate handover order," said Mr. David.

He added that talks between the two have been amicable.

Ma. Theresa T. Defensor, PNCC president, said the temporary restraining order was beneficial for everyone because "it has forced the hand of everyone to talk about a proper handover because our issue is the illegal and forceful takeover."

PNCC’s congressional franchise expired two years ago, forcing the TRB to hand out temporary certificates to all tollway operators. By law, PNCC should hand over all tollways to the government at no cost. Disputes over the legality of the certificates have yet to be resolved by the courts. -- Emilia Narni J. David, BusinessWorld
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