R. Dinakaran [email protected]

R. Dinakaran , heads the Internet edition of The Hindu Business Line and writes on technology and social media.

R Dinakaran

'FASTag'ging through toll plazas

R. Dinakaran | Updated on January 08, 2018 Published on October 27, 2017
Paytm transferring money to FASTag account from Paytm wallet and then to NHAI

Saved at least 30 minutes to an hour in the 12 toll plazas to and from Bengaluru

If you have crossed a toll plaza, you would have cursed every time you had to wait for your turn, especially when you had to wait in a long queue. After the long wait, as your turn comes, you are forced to frantically hunt for small change when the toll plaza attendant says, "no change". This could mean either he has no change or he is asking you if you have the change. As you want to get away from the chaos, you either give the change or let him keep it, if it is a small amount.

FASTag promised to change all this. But will it work, especially in Government (NHAI) controlled toll plazas? How equipped are they to handle electronic (RFID) processing of FASTag stickers?

When I received my FASTag from Paytm, I read the instructions on "how to fix the tag" at least three times so that I didn't mess up the process. I was supposed to stick it just behind the rearview mirror (in the centre) in the windshield.

I gingerly unwrapped the tag and proceeded to stick it, when I suddenly realised there was a sun screen film on the top of the windscreen. Will the tag be visible if I stick it behind the sunscreen film? At that point, it didn't strike me that it was a RFID tag and was under the impression that a camera would scan the tag as I entered the toll plaza. So I decided to stick it just below the sunscreen film.

I came to the front of the vehicle to savour my accomplishment. I realised I had missed the centre. It was slightly to the left. Also, as I had stuck it below the sunscreen, it looked almost like it was in the centre of the windscreen. But there was no going back. I was not going to remove it and stick it again.

Then came the wait for driving the car through a toll plaza that had the FASTag facility. After what seemed to be an eternal wait, I decided to go to Mahabalipuram. When I came to the first toll plaza, there was no FASTag lane. I realised later that it was a state highway. I passed two toll plazas, but both were on state highways and therefore, did not belong to NHAI. (FASTag works only at NHAI toll plazas)

When it looked like I was never going to use FASTag at all, came a sudden opportunity - a trip to Bengaluru. I checked the Paytm balance. It was more than enough.

As the first toll plaza at Chennasamudram came into view, I started becoming apprehensive. Will there be a separate lane? Will other vehicles block the FASTag lane? Will the camera or RFID reader work? Will the attendants be aware of FASTag?

The first indication that the toll plaza had FASTag facility was a sign that showed the FASTag lane. I gingerly entered the lane, I was expecting the barrier to open automatically. It didn't. I lowered the window and asked the attendant whether FASTag won't work. He helpfully informed me that the barrier was already open. I turned and realised it was. I thanked him and drove past the barrier.

The second toll plaza was at Pallikonda. This was the best - while going and coming back. There was an attendent blocking the FASTag lane with a barrier - so that non-FASTag vehicles didn't enter the lane. As I slowed down, he removed the barrier and let me in. As I approached the toll booth, the barrier opened - and I was thrilled to breeze past without stopping. I turned back and saw two cars that had overtaken me long ago still waiting in the normal toll queue.

The experience was similar in other toll plazas along the route. There would be a truck or a car in the FASTag lane, unlike in other lanes where there would be a long queue of vehicles. But everywhere, I had to just slow down near the toll booth and the barrier would open.

As I entered Bengaluru, (it was at either Attibelle or Electronics City), I saw the usual sight of an attendant blocking the lane with a barrier. As I approached the lane, he began to move the barrier, when all of a sudden a car from the next lane sensed an opportunity to beat others and tried to jut in. The attendant had to literally go and stand before the car and block it from entering the lane. I was allowed to get in. This irked the other driver. The attendant pointed out to the FASTtag in my car. I felt like a VIP. (Also, at most toll plazas, the FASTag lane is the same for VIPs and ambulances).

The only hitch came during the return trip at Chennasamudram. The barrier did not open. The girl at the counter waved at held her hand out for the money. I said "I have FASTtag". She looked at the windshield, punched something at the computer and the barrier opened. May be she was seeing the first FASTag vehicle and was not mentally prepared.

I must have totally saved at least 30 minutes to an hour in the 12 toll plazas to and from Bengaluru. There were no cash transactions no toll slips cluttering the dashboard.

The best part was the way Paytm seamlessly transferred the money to my FASTag account from my wallet and then to NHAI every time I passed the toll plazas. I also had an electronic record of my trip through the toll plazas through SMSes and in the Paytm app.

Published on October 27, 2017
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor