As India ushers in a Fastag regime, where passengers are expected to use a RFID based sticker on cars to avoid paying highway toll fee in cash, teething troubles in technology in the countrywide implementation have soured the experience for many road-users during the first few days of transition.
Highway users complained of money getting debited twice from Fastags accounts despite crossing a toll plaza only once. Some toll plaza machines were reported to be erroneously reading the balance forcing people to shell out cash despite having enough balance in wallets linked to tags. Some others complained about their RFID-based Fastags not getting delivered long after they had placed the orders.
With effect from December 15, the Road Ministry implemented a rule to promote electronic payment for using national highways. As per the rule, road-users with cash or without Fastags who get into dedicated Fastag lanes have to pay double the toll amount as a penalty.
Surajit Jenamani, a national highway user at Panikholi Toll Plaza in Chandikhol-Bhadrak stretch, had to pay cash, despite having enough balance in his Fastag on December 13. The toll gate read his tag as “blacklisted”, which apparently meant he did not have enough balance. As a result, he paid ₹130 by cash for a two-way ride. But, when he returned, the toll amount was deducted from his wallet, he claimed in his tweet. Jenamani wondered why toll charges are not getting debited immediately.
Another highway user, Anmol, also vented similar woes on Twitter. While using Ghaziabad-Aligarh Expressway toll plaza, he paid ₹225 for a return trip. When he returned through the same toll booth, he got a message from PayTM that another ₹150 was deducted as toll payment.
Yet another user complained that the auto payment system charged the toll amount twice from his account.
Following a sharp surge in Fastags users, hapless toll booth staff also struggled to deal with angry consumers resulting in long queues.
Kranthi Kumar G, a toll operation official from one of the State Highway stretches of Andhra Pradesh, listed problematic Fastag readers as a challenge. Toll booth operators were also hassled by having to divert vehicles of cash toll payers to a different lane and feared bearing the brunt of angry road users.
National Highways Authority of India, IHMCL and officials of 22 banks are working overtime to ensure the smooth transition to increasing highway capacity by prioritising users who pay toll fees electronically using Fastag on National Highways.
The traffic police also had to work overtime to make the transition smoother. In some locations like Kherki Dhaula toll plaza, the Gurugram Traffic police blamed Fastags for the traffic jams at toll plazas on December 16.
The NHAI and Highway Ministry are aware of the problems. Anticipating shortage of Fastags, which are basically RFID-based stickers to be attached on the windscreen of vehicles that use highways, the Highway Ministry also provided a little flexibility from December 15.
It allowed regional office heads of National Highways to open up to 25 per cent lanes for cash-based toll payment — which means more than one lane for wider highways. Facing long queues, some regional heads of national highways opened up more than one toll lane for cash payment without penalty during the peak traffic.