The government has announced that it will make FASTags or electronic toll collection system mandatory from December 1 but the ground reality with just 15 days in hand is very different.
There is an average waiting time of 12 minutes across 488 toll plazas operated by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) with congestion of up to 30-35 minutes at several of them.
The data has been generated using advanced remote sensing technology, heat maps and satellite data by a startup called BullEye Technologies and presents a grim situation of the ground reality. The software, called QueueEye, gives the real-time status of 488 out of 536 or 91 percent of toll plazas operated by NHAI.
As per QueueEye, the congestion is leading to indirect losses to the tune of Rs 27-28 crore per day with long queues causing average fuel burn of 12,81,097 litres per day, average daily loss of 20,00,000 man-hours and average daily carbon emission of over 3,000 tonne. The daily indirect loss is nearly half of NHAI’s daily collections which are around Rs 65 crore.
"It is an alarming situation for the economy and one can only imagine the kind of pollution that this congestion is causing. A daily indirect loss of Rs 27-28 crore translates into an annual loss of Rs 10,000 crore,” an industry expert said.
As per July data on the software, Uttar Pradesh’s Siwaya, Haryana’s Dahar and Kherki Daula are among the worst toll plazas in the country with average congestion at Siwaya in July up by 350 percent on the month at 22 minutes.
"We created this software to have a central monitoring system of all toll plazas. We have more than 500 toll plazas in the country and the length and breadth we have is a very wide one. We can get a lot of insights through which we can improve the efficiency and quality of toll plazas. You can also see the daily count and class of vehicles which have passed through the toll plazas and that helps all concessionaires, ministry and NHAI to have cross-validation of how much they are collecting,” co-founder Anand Shenoy told CNBC-TV18.
A FASTag is an electronic toll collection system whereby the toll fee will be instantly debited from the FASTag fixed on the windshield of a passenger. This is expected to enable smooth flow of traffic and reduce pollution. However, the ground reality is different at several of the toll plazas as the infrastructure is still getting ready.
"There have been occasions where vehicles need to go through the toll plaza multiple times for the device to read the FASTag of a car. It will take some time for the system to run smoothly. December 1 deadline will be challenging,” another industry expert said.
While new cars come with FASTag which can be activated, for old cars, FASTags are being made available through kiosks set up by tag-issuer banks and also through online platforms.
The ministry of road, transport and highways will declare all lanes as FASTag lanes by December 1 and will keep one land as a hybrid which will accept FASTag and other modes of payment.
The government has decided to deploy a Central Prabhari Officer in states to monitor the preparedness and ensure operation of 100 percent electronic tolling. The officers are required to take steps to fill the gaps and undertake three visits of minimum of three days at appointed places between November 17 and December 10.