AS the state gears up for the ambitious RFID-based FASTag across all toll plazas on national highways, Rajiv Singh, Chief General Manager and regional officer of NHAI for Mumbai, speaks to The Indian Express about the challenges in the way of its smooth implementation.
Why is FASTag important and how will it help people?
In the present situation, motorists give cash at toll plazas, are returned the change and given a receipt, which is a longer process. On important routes, there are long queues at toll plazas because of this as RFID-enabled vehicles on highways is a mere 22-25 per cent. With FASTag there will be no exchange of cash and vehicles will pass smoothly. Once the remaining 75 per cent of vehicles switch to FASTag it will eliminate queues at tolls and also bring in transparency. Fuel wastage and congestion will reduce. In all developed countries toll plazas have Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) system. We have the full support of operators who have to deploy at least two people per lane. The long queues also cause irritation, which on occasion results in altercation. To promote FASTag, the government has decided to sell it free of cost until December 31.
What are the challenges in the smooth implementation of FASTag across national highways?
Starting November 1, on a trial basis, all lanes of toll plazas have been changed to FASTag except one which has been kept as hybrid. Based on the trials, mindset of people and their subsequent behaviour is our biggest challenge. All non-FASTag enabled vehicles were stopped at toll plazas and within 30 minutes the queues went as long as 500 metres. Our marshals then reached out to the motorists and urged them to switch to FASTag but those who opted for it were very few in numbers. The second challenge is, when there is a demand in bulk for FASTag as the December 1 deadline approaches, there will be issues in the software during its activation as it is done through internet and at times takes longer. Once the scheme will kick in completely, with FASTag demands very high, software issues will be a bigger problem.
What has been the response to the trials?
The decision to have trials for a month, November 1-30, is not only in Maharashtra but throughout India. For the trials, all lanes are made FASTag except one, which accepts cash. What we have observed is that on highways which see heavy vehicular flow, within 30 minutes, the queues go up to 500 metres. At plazas with less dense traffic, it goes up to 300 metres. When there is a lot of traffic, we allow all vehicles to pass even through FASTag lanes but once traffic normalises, we begin stopping vehicles again…. When a vehicle is stopped at tolls one after the other then the driver ends up wasting over an hour at each toll. After going through this hassle they usually end up buying FASTag, which is the very purpose of having trials. We are seeing an increasing number of FASTag sales through such trials but of course they are not as much as they should have been.
From December 1, all toll plazas will accept only FASTag-enabled vehicles except one lane, which will be kept hybrid. What are the technicalities involved?
The hybrid lane will also be FASTag-enabled but will accept all modes of payment, including cash. But if a FASTag-enabled vehicle enters the hybrid lane, it will take longer to cross. At the dedicated lanes, the scanner will automatically scan the tag and the boomer will go up allowing vehicles to pass. There will not be any human intervention in the process.
Do you feel there is adequate awareness among motorists on FASTag and the deadline of December 1?
In the last three weeks, there has been publicity on a large scale through various mediums such as print, electronic and even radio. There are posters and banners put up at toll plazas. We have also deployed marshals at plazas to spread awareness.
With just one lane hybrid, will that not create chaos at the toll plazas with one lane having huge traffic while the others empty?
We have written to all state governments to ensure there is no law and order problem. In case there is a situation, we have asked them to help us with manpower and support. They will give us protection if needed.
But if the situation worsens will non-FASTag vehicles be allowed through FASTag lanes without the ‘double’ fine?
It will vary from situation to situation depending on which a spontaneous call will have to be taken there. We cannot predict it now. We are presuming that by November 30, a lot of vehicles will buy these tags.
The Point of Sales for FASTag are yet to be set up in RTOs whereas it was only from November 1 that you rigorously began a campaign to reach out to vehicle owners to get FASTag…
All new vehicles are being equipped with FASTag by the manufacturers themselves. Commercial vehicles are being equipped with FASTag at RTOs. There is no immediate requirement of Point of Sales at RTOs for now. The other main points of sale are our toll plazas. We have had a meeting with Indian Highway Management Company Limited, which is the authorised agency of NHAI for sale of tags. They are setting up sale points at JNPT, AMPC-Vashi, Kalamboli and Bhiwandi.
What happens to vehicles with existing RFID tags?
All vehicles plying on national highways will have to buy FASTag through either IHMCL or banks authorised by NHAI. If a tag is non FASTag, they will be phased out eventually.
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