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Transport groups: SLEX toll hike will drive up prices of goods

Several transport groups expressed fears that they will be forced to pass the additional burden onto ordinary Filipino consumers, if the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) toll fees are allowed to triple as planned. The SLEX toll fee hikes will set into motion a “domino effect" on the prices of transportation, and of goods that are transported through the principal land route connecting Metro Manila and southern Luzon, the groups said in separate interviews aired over GMA News’ “24 Oras" on Friday.
George San Mateo, secretary general of militant transport group Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston) said that drivers who traverse the SLEX at least "14 times a day" will have to pay an additional P400 in daily toll fees. For its part, the Alliance of Truck Owners and Organizations (ACTOO) said that the toll hike is a blow to the economy, since truck drivers will have to pay P2,000 in fees, or four times the P500 that they currently pay, and that they will surely pass on the costs to consumers. Truckers will pass on the toll hike by increasing the price of haulage. Traders of the goods being transported, on the other hand, will pass this on by increasing consumer prices of their goods, according to ACTOO chairman Ricky Papa. “Kukunin namin iyon sa presyo ng hauling. Kukunin naman ng may-ari ng kargamento yung dagdag na cost sa end consumer." (We will absorb this [additional expense] by [increasing] the price of hauling. The cargo owners will in turn pass this additional cost to the end consumer.) A Southern Luzon bus operators association says it will petition for an increase in fares of “P0.30 per kilometer from the present P1.30 per kilometer" to “around P1.60 effective rate." Increased prices of goods and transportation, in turn, will lower the purchasing power of salaried employees. Hikes to take effect late Oct or early Nov On Thursday, the Supreme Court had lifted its restraining order preventing the SLEX, the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), and the Skyway from implementing their toll fee hikes. Increases were supposed to have been implemented last June 30, the last day of the previous Arroyo administration, but the SC issued temporary restraining orders last August. (See: SC allows NLEX, SLEX, Skyway to impose toll hike) In a 75-page decision written by Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, the tribunal declared as constitutional the Supplemental Toll Operation Agreement covering the Luzon Tollway Project of SLEX and the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) resolutions allowing toll rate increases. The lifting of the TRO, however, does not include the planned toll hikes for three other key Luzon tollways: the Manila-Cavite Toll Expressway (MCTEX), the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR), and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX). The hikes — which will triple existing fees — may take effect late this month or early in November. If the increases take place, Class 1 fees, currently at P22 will be increased to P77, Class 2 fees will rise from P43 to P155, and Class 3 fees will hike from P65 to P232. The South Luzon Tollways Corp. (SLTC), which has a 30-year concession to operate SLEX that expires in 2036, was only allowed to collect toll last April, after it completed the first two phases of its rehabilitation of the road. SLTC reported earlier that it spent P12 billion for these two phases, which covers the rehabilitation of the Alabang viaduct and the widening of the highway and claimed that the delays on fee hikes were costing it millions of pesos a day. Transport groups to protest toll hikes Transport groups, however, say the improvement of the SLEX should not be passed on to the public by way of increased toll fees — especially since, unlike NLEX, they consider SLEX as the only way out of and into the metropolis from the south. A check with Luzon road maps and government agencies’ websites will show, however, that there are alternative land routes connecting Metro Manila with Southern Luzon provinces but these do not handle as much volume of daily traffic as the SLEX. Even as PISTON’s Mateo warned that the toll fee hikes will “punch holes into the wallets" of drivers and commuters alike, he noted that the hike was only part of the bigger picture — the privatization and commercialization of public services. "Lalong pinapasahol ang privatization ng mga public utilities. Ibig sabihin, ginagawang negosyo at profit-oriented." (Privatization of public utilities is being intensified. This means these are converted into profit-oriented businesses.) Transport groups said they will appeal the proposed toll hike with the toll regulatory board, while the more militant ones threatened to stage a massive protest. Truckers are asking why the SLEX toll will be hiked, when there was no refund for the times when construction of the highway caused losses for truckers and haulers. “Ngayong inayos nila, sinabi nila tataasan. Eh kung tanungin namin sila, paano naman yung panahon na hindi naman maayos ang expressway? Na sinisingil din naman kami just the same? Wala ba tayong pwedeng bawiin?" (Now that they’ve fixed [the tollway], they say they’ll increase fees. What if we ask them in turn, how about the times when the expressway was in poor condition? They took toll fees just the same. Don’t we get any refund?)—DM/JV, GMANews.TV