Truck owners find e-payment at tolls a hurdle
Truck operators facing immense issues in making e-payment at tolls. At many tolls the frameworks don’t work making it a gigantic cost for them.
Fleet operators, who on average handle between 20 and 100 trucks, said that they cannot keep Rs 50,000- Rs 1 lakh idle in their accounts for every truck and also provide cash to the vehicle crew, budgeting for e-payment systems not working.
The All India Transport Welfare’s Association (AITWA) said it had made many representations to the government on e-payment at tolls. “Their systems are designed so that the vehicle cannot take more than five minutes to cross the 200-metre approach road to the toll. Practically, there are always long queues at the tolls, so at times there is a double debit because the vehicle takes more than half an hour or one hour,” said K K Nareda, member, AITWA.
NETC or the National Electronic Toll Collection has been seeing a few initial hiccups, but by and large the system is up and running, said NPCI officials.
“We are doing about seven million transactions every month with a value of Rs 225 crore – it is around 15-16% of the total toll collected on NHAI toll plazas. We have issued around 5 lakh FASTags, of which a majority are for commercial vehicles,” said Dilip Abse, COO, NPCI.
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) roughly makes about Rs 1,400 crore-Rs 2,000 crore in revenue every month from toll collection.
AITWA has also been pressing the government to not charge at tolls, where the road is pitted with potholes and in terrible disrepair.
“As per government rules, toll cannot be collected if the road is not usable. However, they collect tolls on roads that are in bad condition. At many tolls, they have no compliance certificate and are charging,” said Nareda.
With a large number of tolls, displaying e-payment signs, but not actually processing e-payments; many vehicle owners have chosen not to get NPCI’s FASTags. Anil K Gupta, vice-president of AITWA and owner of Ankur Road Lines, said, “I have not bought FASTags for any of my vehicles as there isn’t any on the ground visibility that it helps. We still rely entirely on cash.”
The NPCI said its scheme to collect toll fee electronically sees about one-eighth of trucks plying on national highways just coursing through tolls (as the NETC system automatically deducts toll fee from the pre-paid card on the vehicles).
“We are doing about seven million transactions every month with a value Rs 225 crore – it is around 15 to 16% of the total toll collected at NHAI toll plazas. Around five lakh tags issued majority of which are for commercial vehicles,” said Abse.
Such collections are again a problem, say fleet operators. “Many of these toll operators have systems that work and are newly launched. And yet they prefer to collect toll by cash as they do not want digital tracking of their income via e-payments. They would like to beat the possible tax incurred,” said Nareda, whose company handles 900-1,000 truck loadings in a month.
For fleet operators keeping a large amounts of money; i.e., Rs 1-2 crore in bank accounts for possible debit by FASTags is not feasible. Given their need for rotating cash for their everyday business needs, they cannot set aside large sums of money that might possibly lie idle.
“At many places, e-payment is not possible. So there is no rationale in keeping aside so much money when there is no network or infrastruture,” said Vinod Rao, another truck owner.
But NPCI says it is beefing up its infrastructure and increasing the number of tolls at which e-payments are possible. Currently FASTags are accepted at around 320 toll collection plazas on national highways. This number is expected to increase to 395 toll collection plazas by the end of the year.
A majority of electronic toll payments are still by commercial vehicle users and not retail customers, said the NPCI, attributing the slump to non-implementation by the state government. “The states have to make a push for it; before banks can start issuing the same for car owners,” said Asbe.
More than a dozen banks, including State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, Karur Vysya Bank, are currently issuing FASTags for customers on e-tolls. NPCI said it is working on increasing the number of member banks.