Mumbai: Come 1 December, all new vehicles have to be fitted with FASTags. With this, the government wants to ensure smooth and quick passage of vehicles through a cashless mode of payment. Currently the process is neither smooth nor quick for vehicles that have already opted for it. So much so that Suresh Khosla, a large fleet owner of over 600 vehicles has had to hire a separate team as staff to monitor its usage for his trucks to avoid non-implementation of FASTags rule that leads to increase in overhead costs.
“I thought the process would be smooth but my drivers complain about the faulty system which sometimes leads to the toll being deducted twice from the account and they have to argue with the toll booth operators or the money is not deducted at all. My overheads have increased as I have hired staff to track the accounts and the amount debited,” he says.
How it works
FASTag uses Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) technology that is affixed on the vehicle’s windscreen after the tag account is active. As a concept, it is supposed to be a simple to use, reloadable tag that enables automatic deduction of toll charges and let vehicles pass through toll booths without stopping for cash transactions.
FASTag is linked to a prepaid account from which the applicable toll amount is deducted. As the vehicle reaches the toll plaza, a unique identification number that is embedded on the tag is read by the RFID reader. The deducted amount is conveyed in an SMS alerts on the registered mobile number of the driver. It sounds pretty simple but the experience of people with FASTags is anything but what it is purported to be.
Problems faced by FASTag users
“I use my car for frequent travels to Pune,” says Urvaksh Bharucha, a Mumbai-based businessman. “Primarily, there are no designated lanes for FASTag vehicles and any and every vehicle gets on to all lanes. Worse, when I am in a queue, I find that when it is my turn, I have to pay twice simply because most times the machine is faulty,” he said, adding after it happened on a couple of occasions, he started paying toll through cash.
There are many challenges to the implementation of FASTags payments. Primarily, it is the limited awareness in people about usage of highways.
“Highway users are largely indisciplined and we need to create an awareness about FASTags,” says a truck operator, who operates two trucks and finds the lack of designated lanes for FASTag vehicles a huge challenge. “If I have to wait in a lane with vehicles paying cash, I am wasting time. I would then rather pay cash and wait than feel terrible for having to wait in spite of the FASTag,” he says.
Most people Firstpost spoke with lauded the government’s intention and the concept per se but are challenged by the faulty implementation. Bal Malkit Singh, All India Motor Transport Congress, said that though the government is making the usage of FASTags mandatory, implementation of the system has led to much frustration with users who are now opting to pay cash, thus defeating its purpose. “Even ICICI who was given the contract could not manage it,” he points out.
In the weeks after the announcement of demonetisation, the adoption and usage of FASTags was quick and the implementation smooth, recall users of FASTags. But that was a temporary phenomenon with many presently talking about the difficulties and money spent on account of faulty mechanisms at toll booths. At times, says Rakshit Singh, an entrepreneur narrating his experience, the amount deducted against FASTag is not for his car but for the car ahead in the queue. “I am told there should be 3-4 car length space to avoid money being deducted for another vehicle but where do we have that kind of space on our roads with vehicles choc-a-bloc on highways and no designated lanes for FASTag vehicles,” he says.
Singh of All India Motor Congress says that he has had members complaining to him of faulty systems that do not work and worse, at times do not reflect the balance on the account. This leads to arguments with the driver and the toll operator often blocking traffic, he says. In a bid to avoid this, “the All India Motor Transport Congress has approached the government with a suggestion to have a separate lane for FASTag users,” he said.
E-toll payments on highways could lead to faster movement and could be a huge boon to vehicles. Only if it was effective though. “The primary issue is the lack of awareness in people about highway usage,” reiterates Kaushik Madhavan, Director, Automotive and Transportation business unit, Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, Frost & Sullivan. He suggests the government take up a pilot project and identify few high-density toll plazas and make them all FASTag-enabled so that drivers can use whichever lanes they want to use.
Another issue is the inordinate time taken to get refunds on payments made. In 2016-17, the government had permitted National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to refund 10 percent as cash back incentive on toll payments. This amount is credited to the FASTag account at the beginning of the next month. In 2017-18, the cash back was reduced to 7.5 percent.
“Earlier, I would give Rs 20,000 toll in cash for a trip of 6-7 days from Mumbai-Delhi,” said Suresh Khosla, general secretary, Federation of Bombay Motor Transport Operators. He felt that with FASTags it would become easier but except for the initial months when the plan was launched, the experience has been agonising. “I don’t think this process is working and as an operator who has time-bound deliveries, I cannot afford to waste time on faulty systems at toll plazas for I have to pay penalty for delayed deliveries,” he said.
Union Cabinet Minister Nitin Gadkari said recently: “Within the next two months, 3,500 lanes at all toll plazas in the country will have FASTag detectors. All the new vehicles which will come on streets after December this year, will have to have FASTag.” Gadkari assured that the experience would be smooth, adding: “Lot of hours are wasted, waiting at toll plazas. People feel harassed because of lack of change. Toll plaza attendants are known to give toffees. All these things will be history once this happens. We will place the cameras on a road. These cameras will capture the image of your car. They will capture the entry and exit points. Then, your account will be automatically billed accordingly. Within two months, this process will be complete,” he said. Perhaps, systems would run smoothly by then.