Can’t zip through toll booths with a FASTag
Launched with fanfare five years ago, FASTag is still plagued by teething troubles.
A barricade greets vehicles approaching the dedicated FASTag lane at NHAI’s Madina toll plaza on the Hisar bypass. A guard beckons them closer to the metal barrier he is manning. He steps back and listens at a small speaker, then removes the hurdle and signals to drive on.
What did he hear? “Upar se bolte hain, ‘aan de, aan de’ (let it come, he is told).” A few metres away, the boom barrier is kept open. The scene recurs at the Mayar toll booth, 60 km away on national highway (NH) 9.
Highway operators have been forced to manually verify FASTag vehicles at toll plazas as other drivers — many of whom refuse to pay toll — often barge into the dedicated tag lanes and hold up traffic.
At the Gharaunda toll plaza on the Delhi-Ambala national highway, four cars sit in the FASTag lane while the driver in front argues with the toll booth operator. After a few minutes, he pays and the boom barrier opens. Then, the next driver gets into an argument.
While booth operators are empowered to levy twice the toll amount as penalty on drivers who enter the FASTag lane without a tag, they seldom do so. “People are ready to quarrel. Some of them carry guns. Why take a chance?” said the operator at Gharaunda.
Sticking a FASTag doesn’t guarantee a smooth tolling experience. At several of the large toll plazas with multiple booths, drivers often take time to spot the dedicated lane. If a FASTag vehicle enters a hybrid lane, where both tags and cash are allowed, the boom barrier might not open automatically.
For instance, at the Landhari toll plaza on NH 9, the boom barrier didn’t open in the hybrid lane as TOI approached it. “Uski marzi hai, kabhi khulta hai, kabhi nahin (It is up to the boom barrier, at times it opens, at times it does not). You should have taken the dedicated lane,” the booth attendant said and demanded cash, although NHAI rules allow a free ride in case FASTag doesn’t work at a plaza. Most drivers don’t know this rule or do not have the time to lodge a claim.
Launched with fanfare five years ago, FASTag is still plagued by teething troubles. Across the country, close to 50 lakh vehicles now sport the tag and the number is rising by 2 lakh every month as it is now mandatory for all new four wheelers and bigger vehicles.
FASTag was introduced to reduce cash use, increase transparency and speed up traffic at congested toll plazas. “It usually takes 5 seconds to make an electronic toll payment, compared to 40 seconds for cash,” said an official involved with FASTag since its launch in 2014. At Rs 100, the tag is cheap and can be topped up through a linked e-wallet or bank account. Yet, only 17% of drivers use tags to pay toll.
For NHAI, the challenge is stagnant toll collection. For the last two years, revenue via electronic toll collection has stayed around 29%. That’s because state governments have been slow to come on board. Currently, FASTag is accepted only on half-a-dozen state entities, including those in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, the Hyderabad Ring Road and Lucknow-Agra Expressway. GST Network is also on board. NHAI officials said soon it would be accepted on Yamuna Expressway and some of the tolled roads in Punjab.
FASTag is more popular among truckers with data showing 36% of new commercial vehicles use it in the first three months, but only around 22% of new cars use it in the first month, an internal analysis done last year showed.
Besides the limited FASTag network, difficulty in changing payment options also deters users. If you want to de-link your FASTag from, say, a mobile wallet, and link it with your bank account, you may be asked to buy a new tag. That’s because many of the 22 issuers are unwilling to allow portability even though the government has clearly mandated it.