Opinion

Fastag, on slow lane

S Murlidharan | Updated on October 07, 2020 Published on October 07, 2020

It’s an anticlimactic denouement now

When fastag was launched, towards the end of 2019, road users thought they are going to have an uninterrupted run on highways and expressways thus saving time and fuel. But alas that is not to be. While there are exclusive fastag lanes on toll plazas, entering which without a functional or an adequately funded fastag account entails a penalty of 100 per cent of the toll, one has to bring the vehicle to a standstill to allow the person manning the toll booth to allow the scanner to read the fastag sticker affixed on the windscreen and deduct toll charges.

This is an anticlimactic denouement for the vehicle owners. An electronic toll collection regime posits vehicles affixed with fastag speeding past the toll plazas, with powerful overhead or lateral scanners deducting toll in a jiffy without bringing the vehicle to halt. Those who dare to take the system for a ride, in such a trusting regime, are penalised heavily at the next poll plaza the driver encounters. Indeed, non-stop run on expressways is the USP of electronic toll collection, with digitization of toll payments only being an incidental benefit though strangely in our country that is touted as the major advantage.

The fault lies in rolling out of the fastag regime without adequate preparations on the infrastructural front. It is just not enough to have electronic toll collection software. It is equally important to buttress it with a powerful hardware which, among other things, presupposes exclusive wide enough lanes for fastag affixed vehicles to zip past and powerful scanners that are neither myopic nor slow. It seems the government had been in a tearing hurry to roll out without adequate preparedness as indeed has been the case with its major laudable initiatives be it demonetisation of ₹500 and ₹1,000 currency notes on the night of November 8, 2016 or the GST rollout on July 1, 2017. Any major system has to be preceded by rigorous dry runs to spot and rectify glitches.

But in the case of fastag, the government seems to have been carried away by its desire to be with the Joneses because what else explains undermining of the very goal of fastag — nonstop run on expressways? Yes the time taken for waving on of fastag-affixed vehicles is less than that for cash collected and then being waved on but then this a cold comfort.

The government also promised incentives for fastag users by way of discount on toll charges vis-à-vis those paying cash. Far from being rewarded, fastag users are tolled at par with the cash payers. It is a small mercy that in a belated move as recently as on August 25, the government reserved the same day (return within 24 hours) discount only for fastag users and that too automatically thanks to the power of computer programming that can factor in the time of the to and fro entries as well. Earlier, this discount was exclusively available for cash payers alone because only they could communicate with the toll staff for this purpose in a cryptic language — single or double — with the latter begetting the same day rebate.

The Government should do two things immediately. Offer handsome discount on toll charges for fastag users and not condemn them to paying what the cash payers do. Second, beef up its e-toll collection infrastructure to allow zipping past of the vehicles affixed with fastag.

The writer is a Chennai-based chartered accountant

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Published on October 07, 2020
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