Vijay C Roy in Chandigarh
In October 2015, the All India Motor Transport Congress, representing around 87 lakh truckers and around 40 lakh bus operators in the country, called for an indefinite strike in protest against the toll fee. The transporters said they were not against paying toll, but the time wasted to pass through the toll gates and the fuel burnt. Perturbed, the transporters suggested that the government should collect a road-user fee or toll from truckers through indirect taxes or ensure faster implementation of electronic toll collection through FASTags. Till October 2015, just 35 toll plazas were FASTag-enabled, spread across stretches such as Delhi-Mumbai, Delhi-Chandigarh and Bengaluru-Chennai highways, with the user base restricted to 2,200. The system based on radio frequency identification (RFID) technology was initially established as a pilot project back in 2014.
Acceding to their request, the government decided to have at least one dedicated lane in each toll plaza across the country for electronic toll collection, also called FASTag, to enable seamless transport. In phases, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) made a dedicated FASTag lane in all the plazas and also made it mandatory for new vehicles sold after November 2017 to have factory-fitted FASTags.
Starting December 15, all National Highways in India will collect toll payments through the technology called FASTag. In July this year, the highways ministry asked NHAI for conversion of all toll lanes at all National Highways to ‘FASTag lanes’ and make it mandatory. Later on, the NHAI announced that FASTag will be mandatory from December 1 and non-FASTag users will be charged double the toll. The date has now been extended to December 15.
Across the country, there are around 520 toll plazas. Of these, all the lanes of around 440 are FASTag-enabled (as on November 27). Senior officials in the NHAI claim that all the lanes of the remaining toll plazas will be FASTag-compliant before the deadline.
In Punjab and Haryana, there are 38 toll plazas with 444 lanes. On an average, around 23 per cent of the total toll volume comes through FASTag users. For example, on September 27, around 3.97 lakh vehicle owners preferred cash for paying toll tax and around 1.25 lakh preferred digital payment.
Economics of it
A study conducted by the Transport Corporation of India (TCI) and IIM-Kolkata in 2013 says that FASTtag is expected to simplify the toll booth bottlenecks that cost India as much as Rs 60,000 crore annually. That was the time when the toll was collected manually and there were limited lanes, so a lot of time was wasted waiting. Things have improved a lot since with expansion of lanes and other initiatives.
A survey done by a startup — BullEye Technologies India — says that up to Rs 12,000 crore every year could be saved in terms of fuel and man-hours with the switch to 100 per cent FASTag-based toll collection. It estimates that 35 per cent of the loss is on account of wasted fuel and 54-55 per cent on wasted man-hours. Carbon emissions make up the rest of the lost value.
Normally, Rs 8-10 lakh is required to convert a lane into FASTag. The cost incurred is on account of hardware and software and borne by the NHAI. The system brings transparency in toll collection, facilitates digital payment and also reduces commuting time.
“We have done a survey and found that within a minute, seven to eight vehicles fitted with FASTags pass through the lane designated for it, while in a manual lane it is three vehicles. So the number of vehicles passing through the FASTag lane is almost double,” says Manoj Saxena, DGM, NHAI, Regional Office (Punjab and Haryana).
The challenges ahead
The rolling out of mandatory FASTag, initially at 525 plazas may come with attendant challenges, particularly during the initial days, as many road-users might not be aware of the requirement and hybrid lane which can accept cash as well as FASTag payment. “We have asked the concessionaires or toll operators of the project to deploy up to four persons, preferably retired Army men, to manoeuvre the traffic smoothly. Secondly, all the operators have been trained to handle the situation efficiently,” says Vishal Gupta, CGM, Regional Office-Punjab and Haryana, NHAI.
“In addition, the NHAI has written to Chief Secretaries of the states and the project director has written to the respective deputy commissioners to avoid any untoward incidents,” he adds.
NHAI has also appointed nodal officers to ensure strict implementation of the new fee rules at every toll plaza.
BARRIERS to STAY, for now
Despite making the lanes FASTag-enabled, the barriers at toll plazas will stay. According to NHAI officials, the barriers at toll plazas will not be removed and the staff will be present to assist the commuters. “Normally, internationally, the vehicles fitted with toll tags pass through toll highways with sensors fitted on the top sealing of toll plazas and the payment gets deducted. Hence, there are no toll lanes, barriers, staff cabins,” says SP Singh, Senior Fellow and Coordinator, Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT).
He adds that in case the mandatory FASTag system does not provide such free passage, it may lose its basic objective as any vehicle stuck in the FASTag toll lane may create the mayhem of serpentine queues.
SALE OF FASTag
NHAI officials say that more than 72 lakh FASTags have been sold so far and daily sales have crossed one lakh for the past couple of days. With the deadline for the compulsory electronic clearing of tolls approaching, sales of FASTags have picked up pace. According to data provided by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), the total number of FASTag users touched 63.71 lakh in October this year as compared to 33.5 lakh in October 2018. In Punjab and Haryana, on an average, 7,000 FASTags are sold daily.
LONG TIME IN THE WORKS
2014: Pilot project commenced in Ahmedabad and Mumbai
November 4, 2014: Implemented in the Delhi-Mumbai arm
April 2016: FASTag rolled out on 247 toll plazas, constituting 70% of all toll plazas
November 2016: 347 fee plazas out of 366 across the country accept FASTag payments
October 2017: NHAI launched a FASTag lane in all 370 toll plazas
November 2017: FASTag became mandatory on all new vehicles from November 2017
July/October 2019: FASTag made mandatory on National Highways from December 1; date extended to Dec 15
72 lakh Vehicles have already been fitted with FASTag across the country
11 lakh FASTag transactions amounting to Rs 25-30 crore take place every day at present nationwide, about 40% of the total toll volume
Rs 12,000 crore Can be saved in terms of fuel and man-hours with the switch to 100% FASTag toll collection on NHs,
according to a survey by a startup, BullEye Technologies India
4-6 Seconds The average time taken for transaction at a FASTag-enabled lane and pass through it
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