Less than two years after the government introduced the radio frequency identification device (RFID)-based FASTag system for vehicles crossing toll gates on the country’s highway network, 26 lakh cars and trucks now use the windscreen-mounted tags to shorten their journey time.

According to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways officials, FASTag users can experience ‘near’ non-stop movement at 405 of the 479 toll plazas on various national highways.

This is how the device works – the tag with a quick response (QR) code and an identification number is affixed to the windscreen of a vehicle. The tag is linked to a user’s FASTag account with the bank of his or her choice.

When a vehicle approaches a toll plaza on a national highway, it can use dedicated FASTag lanes to avoid stopping to pay a toll tax. However, the technology being currently used in India still requires one to slow down to a speed of 10 km per hour as the toll plaza antennae has a range of only six metres.

Once the vehicle passes through a toll booth, the user receives an SMS alert regarding the charge debited to his or her account. To encourage the use of FASTags, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) refunds 5% of the total monthly transactions.

Lack of RFID lanes

But some users say that the promise of seamless travel is only in theory and the ground reality is very different.

“Many plazas don’t have a dedicated lane for RFID tags, which means that one still has to wait in a queue along with other vehicles which need to stop to make cash transaction,” said Naveen Kumar Gupta, secretary general, All India Motor Transport Congress.

“What we need is free flow of vehicles which will take our average of 300 kms per 12 hours to about 800 kms, resulting in an increase in return on investment for transporters as well as bringing down logistics cost. Also, at many places RFID readers don’t work because concessionaires are not keen to switch to the new technology. We need a system that will allow movement which is free of human interventions, lanes as well as boom barriers,” he said.

Biggest users

Trucks and taxis account for the biggest users of FASTags unlike personal car owners whose movement is most likely to be restricted to city limits.

Ministry sources acknowledge the challenges faced by the users and say that with advancement of technology they are hopeful that in coming years the country’s highways could see free flow multi-lane plazas allowing a vehicle to zip through at higher speeds similar to some foreign countries.

Officials are also enthused by the data on the use of FASTags. They say that the RFID card has seen an average uptake of two lakh vehicles per month and their use currently accounts for 12.5% or five lakh transactions of the total 40 lakh transactions recorded per day at all toll booths across the country.

The value of these transactions is higher, at 25% of the total toll collected — Rs. 15 crore out of Rs. 60 crore garnered per day —which points to a larger number of heavy vehicles availing the service as the toll paid by them amounts to seven to eight times that of cars.

While the device was rolled out in April 2016, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways made it mandatory from December 1, 2017 for all new cars and trucks to be fitted with a FASTag before they were sold. But, the use of these smart cards is not mandatory yet.

The Ministry has also proposed to make FASTag compulsory for all commercial vehicles seeking a national permit.

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