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Saturday , 29 January 2022

Smart Tolling for Indian highways

There is a need for collaboration between the NHAI, toll operators and concessionaires

Implementation of Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) system is one of the flagship and crucial programs of MoRTH and NHAI. The main objective of this program is to reduce the congestion at toll plazas and make the travel for a road user easier. Under this program VaaaN Infra was allocated 82 sites out of 100+ sites of public funded toll plazas for implementing ETC system.

Installation of equipment and integration with Central Clearing House (CCH) is almost complete on most of the allocated toll plazas, it is important to understand the challenges in implementing this system and mitigate all the risks timely so that the experience of the road user in using ETC becomes gratifying.

There are certain challenges in implementing the ETC program in its present form. But, the solutions available or every challenge which, if implemented, will lead to success of this program

tollLack of Space at Toll Plazas: Most of the toll plazas have only three lanes in one direction. According to current design of ETC system two lanes are occupied by Dedicated ETC lane and Ejection lane. The Dedicated lane is to be used by only ETC tagged vehicles and if any vehicle with Invalid tag enters the dedicated lane then the vehicle is forced to exit on left lane known as Ejection Lane. This reduces the majority of public funded toll plazas to a single lane toll plaza in each direction, leading to huge jams as presently the ETC tagged vehicles are negligible compared to cash paying vehicles. If the toll operators start using Ejection lane also for cash paying traffic, then it can lead to congestion or even accidents.

Solution: Urgent need to acquire land at toll plazas and increase the no. of lanes in both the direction so that the dedicated ETC lane and ejection lane can be effectively used.

Unregulated Traffic: At present the traffic at the toll plazas is highly unregulated and lot of cash paying vehicles tend to enter the dedicated ETC lanes. Though these can be exited through ejection lane easily but as most of the toll plazas use the ejection lane for cash paying vehicles. This leads to congestion at the exit point. As the operators allow the cash paying vehicles in ejection point, these vehicles also enter the dedicated ETC lane from the ejection point. This leads to disruption of ETC tagged traffic and a genuine ETC user may face problems.

Solution: A traffic management system/agency at all toll plazas along with penalty system should be implemented at least for the first two years of operation till the ETC users increase and people become habitual of using ETC lanes efficaciously.

Poor Infrastructure:  Most of the toll plaza buildings in public funded plazas are just porta cabins and not permanent buildings. The IT equipment used for the ETC system is very sensitive to temperature and humidity and needs proper air-conditioning, power earthing and dust free environment for optimal and effectual usage. A fast internet connection with adequate bandwidth is also required at every toll plaza to effectively connect it to the CCH.

Solution: The Authority needs to upgrade the toll plaza buildings to permanent buildings on war footing and also provide effective internet connectivity.

Some other suggestions to make this project successful are:

  • Speedy penetration of ETC tags especially for the commercial vehicles will lead to success of this program. Now, that National Payments Corporation of India (NCPI) is allowing multiple issuers and multiple acquirers, this competition among multiple issuers will lead to faster sale and penetration of ETC tags among vehicle users.
  • An incentive to ETC user will also lead to faster adoption and success of this program.
  • Ease of Recharge of the tag such as at road side kiosks, ATMs, banks, post offices apart from Internet will provide convenience to the users and increase the program popularity.
  • Tie up with other utilities like Petrol Pumps, Service stations, On-road service teams to use ETC vehicle tags for their payments for user convenience.

The main benefits of this program to the Road users are:

  • Halt free travel across National Highways of the nation which results in saving time, fuel and reduction of pollution
  • No haggling with the Toll Plaza operators which at present scenarios is an avoidable experience for any road user

Barinder Sethi
Chief Projects Officer VaaaN Infra

The main benefits to the concessionaire and toll operators are

  • More accountability and assurance of the revenue
  • Reduction in costs due to reduction in manpower and associated cost
  • Reduction in pilferage of revenue at toll plazas due to better accuracy in classification of vehicles

Overall the success of ETC program is in enormous benefit of the road user, the concessionaire, the nation and the society as a whole. It will require an efficacious symbiosis between the NHAI, toll operators and concessionaires, system integrators and finally discipline of the road users to make this project successful, productive and flourishing.

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