In a bid to decrease time spent by vehicles at toll plazas on highways and reduce congestion, the Government of India launched an Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) programme last year across 25 toll plazas on the Mumbai-Delhi arm of Golden Quadrilateral. The ETC system, named ‘FASTag’, is an advanced programme for making payment electronically at highway toll plazas without stopping the vehicle. ETC programme is implemented by Indian Highways Management Company Limited (IHMCL) promoted by NHAI. TrafficInfraTech looks at the status and the challenges.
To enable electronic payments at toll plazas, a prepaid ‘Radio Frequency Identification Device’ (RFID) tag, the ‘FASTag’, is affixed on the windscreen of the vehicle. As the vehicle crosses the toll plazas, the information is passed to the motorist’s prepaid account created at the central clearing house setup by the Bank and the applicable toll amount is deducted and transferred to the concessionaire’s account electronically. ICICI Bank and Axis bank have been engaged for providing Central Clearing House (CCH) services and RFID based FASTags through their franchises/ agents and at sales counters/points near the toll plazas.
A vehicle with the ‘FASTag’ can use the dedicated lanes on either side of the toll plaza to avoid long queues in the cash lanes of the toll plazas. Presently ETC is operational on Mumbai – Delhi corridor of NH8. Eleven are between Mumbai and Ahmedabad and fourteen are between Ahmedabad to Delhi.
The status of implementation of the ETC system
Presently, there are around 300 toll plazas operational on national highways under NHAI. Out of these, at 130 plazas, installation of ETC systems have been completed and at 40 locations installation is under progress. Twenty five toll plazas on the Delhi-Mumbai stretch are enabled for ETC.The entire belt/stretch is covered, that means if you start from Mumbai to Delhi, you will be able to cruise through without stopping anywhere.
The next phase will be the Mumbai – Chennai belt, which is likely to be completed by April. To make FASTag –an ETC brand operational, the user has to buy the tags from POSs (point of sales) stations operated by ICICI Bank or Axis bank. ICICI bank is planning to set up its POS at the branches closer to NH 8 (Delhi-Mumbai) toll plazas. Parallely, awareness camps at different locations are being planned focusing mainly on fleetoperators, commercial truck-owners and taxi operators.
The ETC will be rolled over to all toll plazas in a phased manner. Till date, around 1800 tags have been issued by ICICI bank. As it is a new concept, it will take time to achieve sizable no. of tags for ETC. Therefore, full-fledged marketing through advertisements in both print and electronic media are being planned for making people aware of this nation-wide interoperable programme.
Changes in RFID tolling procedures
There are two aspects – Technical and Administrative/operational. From the operational point of view, the tolling practices are very different in developed countries from the one practiced in India but technology-wise there are no major deviations except in the US and Europe where free flow tolling is used. Freeflow tolling means, the vehicle need not slow down or stop at the toll plazas. Whereas in India, we still have the toll plaza concept where the vehicle has to slow down & follow the dedicated lane and above all there is a barrier. Only when the reader authenticates the vehicle with a valid tag, the vehicle will be allowed to pass through. It is a very controlled environment and very difficult for any vehicle to escape or not pay at the toll. Whereas in the US and Europe, they have gantry based sensors and readers, where the vehicles approach at the normal highway speed of 100km/hr.
There is a wide gap between the percentage of people opting for ETC and those opting for spot cash. To begin with, the ETC user percentage could be very low but may be by five years’ time, the percentage of ETC and cash users may reverse. India can think about introduction of free flow ETC only when the ETC users reach at least 70-80%. Also, with dedication of one lane for ETC, the user can get the benefits of non-stop travel/passage.