Update On The Northern Luzon Toll Roads

Update to the Update:

Recently my wife and I headed up to Pangasinan province to fetch her sister home for the holidays.  Finally the new SCTEX northern segment was completed in it’s current form.  Not nearly as impressive as the segment that goes west to Subic, that’s for sure.

Again I am completely unimpressed by the lack of coordination between the toll systems … every time someone decides to collect a peso they put up yet another toll gate and hire 24/7 staff to do so rather than use the facilities that are already in place an making money.

But at least the new segment of road dumps you off in the middle of rice fields far from the mess of Tarlac City, one of the big chokepoints on the road north.

Now, if we could just get the mayor of Urdaneta to stop digging, refilling and digging anain the same trenches across the same few blocks of the most congested city in the Philippines we would actually be able to make decent tme.  Life is slow here in the Philippines but then again, that is one of the attractions

A few times lately I have written about the NLEX (Northern Luzon Expressway) and the SCTEX (Subic, Clark, Tarlac Expressway), which recently ope4ned its segment from Clark to Subic Bay.  (The remaining segment, Clark to Tarlac is slated for opening next month … I have to go north early next month so I’ll be anxiously awaiting developments in this area, more as it happens).

Other foreigners I’ve talked to and more than a few Filipino friends are sometimes slightly mystified and often a little irritated by the mechanics of using these roads.  The toll systems, in particularly are not the same and not always intuitive.  Here’s a little rundown on what you would go through if you travel from Metro manila to Subic, about the farthest you can currently travel.

nlex_flat_1 You enter the NLEX at the Balintawak toll plaza, just north of EDSA.  The lower 20 kilometers or so (first 5 exits) of the tollway are on a “flat rate” system … that means you’ll pay 38 pesos to go anywhere in this segment of the tollway.  There are electronic toll tags and special lanes available, but as of yet I haven’t explored getting one, because there doesn’t seem to be any time advantage … the lines at the electronic toll card (EC) gates are as long or longer than at the conventional gates.  What I do to save time is always make up little packets of 38 pesos, usually coins wrapped in a 20 peso note and keep them in a little compartment on my dash … then I can use the dedicated “Exact Toll” lanes or any other lane that is open and get through pretty fast.

When I am going home from Manila this is all the toll transactions I need to worry about, since the exit for my house is within the “flat rate” area, there is no toll gate and I just exit direct from the expressway ramp onto city streets.

bocaue_toll At the town of Bocaue (bow-cow-a) the longer, metered or variable rate segment of the expressway begins.  There is a different toll for each of the remaining exits, based upon the distance you travel.  If you are already within the “flat ate” segment this is all transparent to you, the road sweeps around the Bocuae toll barrier and you just drive until you reach the exit you want … all cars without a special ticket indicating they entered farther along the road than Bocaue will pay the same toll, no matter which place within the “flat rate” segment they entered.

Maximum toll is at Dau (dow-uu) the last exit and the place you want to go to enter the SCTEX to continue your trip to Subic.  Total fee, end to end of the NLEX is PhP 180 pesos.  If you enter from the “Flat rate” area, you’ll owe PhP 142 … 180 minus the 38 pesos you have already paid.  If you entered at some point within the measured toll area, you will have been given a ticket upon entry, the “toll teller” at Dau will figure you required toll based on your entry point.

typical_rest_area This road is built pretty much to any international standard,  The lanes are wide, well marked, there are a number of full service rest stops along the way … gas, repairs, rest rooms and numerous restaurants … and all exits are well marked.  Each ext sign carries the name of the next two exits for pre-planning purposes, and each exit has a 2km, 1 km and 500 meter announcement sign so you can get into the exit lane without hassle.

I highly recommend you that the last rest stop (just after the San Fernando city exit, because there are no rest areas at all along the SCTEX.

Once you leave the NLEX Dau toll barrier you’ll dau_toll immediately see signs for the SCTEX which branches off in just 2 kilometers.  You exit to the right and the ramp sweeps you up and over the NLEX and into the entrance toll barrier for the SCTEX.  You use the same entrance whether going toward Subic or toward Tarlac, so at the toll barrier you’ll be given an electronic smart card indicating your entry point.  There are no toll barriers or different segments along the way of this road, just follow the signs for Subic and 55 kilometers later you will arrive at the final toll barrier in the tiny town of Tipo, situated on the main entry road into the Subic base proper.

The scenery along the SCTEX is worth the drive even if you aren’t interested in Subic.  Well worth a trip now, before it gets cluttered with the inevitable ugly billboards.

sctex_scenery_1 Your toll will be PhP 112 pesos, the smiling toll teller will make quite a show out of sliding your entry card into a reader and waiting for the computer to calculate your toll which will show up on an electronic tote board.  This expressway was built via joint venture with the Japanese and Philippines government.  Mostly this doesn’t show, but the toll system does.  I lived in japan for years and I’m familiar with their love of gadgetry for gadgetry’s’ sake, you may be amused at the show.

As soon as you leave the Tipo toll gate you enter on to a road built by the US navy as a commercial entry point for Subic.  Years ago it was sold to well_made_road the NLEX folks who at one time planned to make their own tollway to Subic.  they never did, but they still control this little piece of road, so guess what?

Yep, one more toll booth … you’ll be asked for 19 more pesos to travel down the hill onto Subic itself.  I just pay and smile, I gave up figuring out the purpose of having multiple tolls along the same route long ago … I just live here, I don’t run the place.

After you pay your last toll you’ll drive a few more kilometers and be presented with yet another barrier blocking your path.  What?  Not another toll?  No, this is the entry control point for the SBMA itself.  The guards will look the car over and give you a little piece of paper known as a one-day pass.  Keep it in the car, because you’ll have to surrender it when you leave.

That’s it, enjoy your stay on Subic.  When you return, everything is the same in reverse sense and order except on the NLEX you’ll just get an entry ticket at the Dau toll plaza and when you reach Bocaue, on the south-bound side, you will pay the whole toll due .. 180 pesos.

There are some very nice sights along the way, though, so don’t let all this toll trivia spoil your day … about 2 hours, end to end, even if you observe the speed limits … mostly 100 km per hour (62.4 mph) the whole way.  Enjoy.

The Philippine Star has a write-up on the SCTEX here, goes into some detail on the basis for the tolls and future plans


  1. Rufo Colayco says

    I have a very different experience using the electronic pass system of the NLEx, which I’ve done for a couple of years now. There are virtually NO WAITING LINES at the electronic pass lanes. NEVER, and as I’ve stated, I’ve used a pass for a couple of years now. I’ve regularly driven to Clark at least twice a month.

    The lanes I refer to are the left-most lanes at both the Edsa as well as Dau ends.

    I’ve sometimes thought of recommending to MNTC that to motivate motorists to acquire and use e-passes, that they offer a discount of say, 10-15 percent on the rate. Considering that MNTC in effect enjoys a float on the advance payments (that’s what any stored value card system is, whether for cell phones, commuter rail, or in this case, highway tolls), the discount would not really cost them. On the other hand, I believe it might ultimately promote increased usage because of the convenience.

    At peak periods, the time saved can be very substantial indeed. Driving back from Clark one evening following a long weekend, my son lined up at the cash lanes while I went right through the e-pass lane. He called when he had payed and was on his way to Edsa. In the meantime, I had reached the Ortigas flyover to Makati.

  2. says

    Hi Rufo, thank you for stopping by and for your useful comment. I know now why I make sure never to be returning to manila on a Sunday evening … I certainly stand corrected on the time savings then … I better learn more about the EC program … one of the reasons I love living here is, I never get tired of learning.

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