A discussion on FASTag and the Tolling Technologies at the TrafficInfraTech Expo had the delegates from infrastructure companies, consultants and system integrators actively participating. The panellists were Neeraj Sanghi, CEO, Highway Concessions One Private Limited (who also moderated the session); Muraleemohan M, Head Operations – Roads, L&T IDPL; Sandeep Pawar, MD & CEO, Kent Intelligent Transportation Systems (I) Pvt Ltd; A R Vishwanathan, Director, Infrovate Consulting and Solutions Private Limited and Denny Thomas, Product Lead- National Electronic Toll Collection (NETC), National Payments Corporation of India
Neeraj Sanghi: Highway Concessions One is operating seven projects, of which five are tolling projects and rest are annuities. In the last two years, share of ETC on our roads as a part of our revenue has increased significantly. The benefits of ETC are multi-fold as it reduces waiting time, improves the operational efficiency and saves fuel.
FASTag, a scheme for nationwide non-cash mobility was started in April 2013, when the first ETC system was put up on Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway with the help of ICICI bank as a closed loop implementation. Due to the limitations of the closed loop program, NHAI roped in NPCI to create an open loop system with multiple FASTag Issuer Banks, which went live in December 2016. Today FASTag is implemented over 430+ Toll Plazas across the country. There were initial challenges in implementation of FASTag such as multiple tags in same vehicle, faulty/ poor quality tags, connectivity issues between plaza and acquirer bank and of course, problems of reconciliation with Banks. These issues arise because blacklist is not updated every 10 minutes due to problems of connectivity.
It is agreed that ETC based technologies are a necessary way forward to handle congestion and enhancing digital payment modes. The Toll Plazas payment through ETC mode has come to almost 25% of total collection. However, reconciliation between various stakeholders was also recognised as a key difficulty for concessionaires.
– Neeraj Sanghi
While concessionaires welcome the initiative of NHAI to convert all lanes into hybrid ETC lane, they do identify several risk factors arising out of supplementary agreement. The cost reimbursed under change of scope will be insufficient to allow installation of a good quality system. SLAs force the concessionaire to take risk of other parties such as Internet provider, tag supplier etc. Also preventive maintenance may not be possible within permissible downtime.
So, the vision for the future tolling in India shall be based on cooperation between all stakeholders induced by policy changes, implementation and enforcement.
How has the FASTag programme evolved overtime in terms of technologies deployed, solving transactional problems faced by users, banks and concessionaire? What are the key requirements to meet the vision of plaza free tolling?
Denny Thomas: NPCI launched FASTag programme in December 2016 and has been successfully running after a few initial hiccups. The program has not been in the limelight but has grown significantly from 30,000 daily transactions in December 18 to 7 lakhs daily transactions now. Unfortunately not much of the information has come out in public domain and hence a lot of confusion with regards to the program performance.
As per a study conducted by IIM Calcutta along with TCI, the average wait time of the commuter in a toll plaza is approximately 10 minutes. Because of the delay or the 10-minute wait, the loss to the economy is Rs 432bn which is a huge amount wasted. And because of the idle time, there is an additional Rs 960bn loss in terms of fuel wastage. India cannot continue to live with such losses, and the only way to stop it at the toll plaza is to adopt electronic toll collection.
Due to these losses every year, the Transport Associations make representations to the authorities for a toll-free road network. Due to the legal implications of the existing Concessionaire Agreements and the growth of Public-Private Partnerships in the infrastructure sector, such demands cannot be implemented. So, Toll Plazas are here to stay, and we must come out with a solution which will ensure that there are no stoppages at the toll plaza.
Whenever you are creating an ecosystem the only success factor is collaboration. Prior to NPCI coming in, there was no collaboration happening. That was the challenge. We focussed on the operational part rather than technology and that is where we started seeing the success.
– Denny Thomas
So, if we look at from a technology perspective, there are various ETC technologies existing apart from RFID. We have the smart-card based solution where you need to have an onboard unit wherein the reader will read from the onboard unit and you just pass through. There is license Number plate recognition , GPS based or proximitybased solutions which are coming in right now. The whole point is that if you look at from an implementation perspective, technology is not a challenge; it is always the operational issues that pose the challenge. Before addressing the technology, we have to understand the operational challenges pertaining to the toll plaza operator, the user and the authority and address them.
We went live on December 3, 2016, the day when tolling was started again after demonetisation. The NETC transaction just doubled within a month as there was still shortage of cash. None of the players in the ecosystem, be it the concessionaire, be it the acquiring bank, be it the issuer banks, were ready to cope up with these kinds of challenges. To give some references, there were only one lakh tags prior to Dec 2016 across the country and in the month of December alone we sold one lakh tags and that is the kind of volume one had to go through.
The government and NHAI is now doing trials on a GPS based solution — pay as you use. The technology is costly, so there is a lot of infrastructure expenses that will go in to upgrade the Toll Plazas . There is a one-year pilot that has been kind of planned. Customer would be paying as per the distance they would be covering on the national highway. The only question being asked now is if the barrier would go? How will you differentiate a GPS enabled vehicle with a FASTag vehicle or a cash vehicle? These challenges needs to be addressed and everyone in the ecosystem will have to come out with the right solutions.