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Centre shouldn’t rush to make FASTags only mode of toll payment: Experts

Mamuni Das New Delhi | Updated on January 10, 2020 Published on January 10, 2020

Transition should be made in phases to ease pain of highway users, say experts

FASTags usage in the country may have taken off, but the Centre should not rush to make it the only mode of toll payments, say experts.

This is significant as, from January 15, the Centre plans to strictly implement the rule of allotting just one lane at toll plazas for accepting cash. Mandating FASTags as the only mode of toll payment should happen in a phased manner to ease the process for highway users, say experts.

“In the first phase, mandate the use of FASTags for bigger commercial vehicles (CVs) such as trucks, buses and multi-axle vehicles, and, in the second phase, personal vehicles and cars. This will enable the authorities to plan and manage FASTag supply, registration, rollout and enforcement effectively,” Ravi Chandra Palekar, the first CEO of IHMCL, and one of the first to have worked on this RFID-based National Electronic Toll Collection programme, told BusinessLine.

Indian Highways Management Company Ltd (IHMC) has been promoted by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and banks to roll out the FASTag programme.

Steady rise in use

There has been a steady increase in the share of FASTag users. However, highway users are still expressing their unhappiness — particularly on social media — about the various glitches in the system. These include not getting round-trip benefits and money getting debited electronically despite paying cash.

Toll charges for trucks can range from 3.5 to 6 times that of cars. “The main aim of the FASTag rollout was seamless transport and time-saving, while ensuring users pay charges for road use,” said SP Singh, Senior Fellow, Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training. “This is not happening given the present system of speed breakers, toll booths and barriers. There are still glitches. There is double penalty in some toll booths, while penalty is not there in some. Service providers should also be penalised for bad service.”

“CV drivers spend (most of) their lives on highways. The approach towards them while ensuring mandatory rollout should be more humane,” said Singh. Over 85 per cent of the CVs are trucks, he said, adding: “Mandating (FASTags) for trucks first (before moving to other vehicles) will lower the load on servers.”

Fewer banks

Palekar also felt that limiting the number of banks involved in FASTag issuance (to three or four) will provide better value and present a better business proposition. “For many banks, this is not a core or high-margin segment. So, chances are that they will ignore the road users or consumers. Also, many consumer complaints are not addressed in an effective manner,” he said, adding that there is a need to review and upgrade the technology every two or three years.

To make the system more robust, the Centre should introduce the concept of “active” and “inactive” FASTags, said Palekar, adding that almost half the FASTags that were sold were not being used. These are termed ‘blacklisted FASTags’.

Out of the one crore FASTags issued (about two weeks ago), 40-50 per cent were blacklisted, said Palekar.

However, every midnight, the entire data (on all the issued FASTags) are transferred and updated from the central database of the National Payments Corporation of India to all the 500-plus toll plazas across national highways, said Palekar. This needlessly weighs down the servers.

Additionally, since FASTags are financial instruments, there is a need to review and upgrade the technology/ architecture for real-time transaction processing to benefit road users and toll operators, he further said.

Published on January 10, 2020
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