To reduce congestion at toll plazas, the NHAI has now issued new guidelines to enable free passage of vehicles if the queue at any toll plaza lane exceeds 100 meters. Here is a history of the ‘Electronic Toll Collection’ in India and details of the new rule.
Recently, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) issued new guidelines with respect to the waiting time at toll plazas to help reduce traffic congestion and enable smooth movement of traffic. New rules regarding the development & design of upcoming toll plazas that will efficiently handle projected traffic over the next 10 years have also been included in these guidelines. In this story, we take a look at these rules in detail and the trajectory of electronic toll collection in India.
What is Electronic Toll Collection?
Electronic Toll Collection, often abbreviated as ETC, is a wireless technology that enables the electronic & seamless payment of toll charged to vehicles that use the highways, toll bridges, toll tunnels, etc. ETC systems make use of vehicle-to-toll plaza communication technologies for financial transactions between a vehicle that passes through a toll plaza and a toll collection agency, which circumvents the need for manual toll payment with cash or card. It enables a fast, efficient, and cashless payment option for the collection of toll fares. Vehicles are uniquely identified and classified through On-Board Unit (OBU) (also known as Tag) and the Roadside Unit (say Reader) when they pass through the toll gate.
India set up a committee to suggest the most suitable model
Many ETC technologies such as Vehicle Identification System using number plates, Global Navigational satellite System/Cellular Network) systems, and Radio Frequency Vehicle Identification (RFID) Technology, etc. were being implemented in different parts of the world when India decided to implement ETC. The Ministry of Road Transport & Highway (MoRTH) initiated the implementation of ETC technology for toll collection in India and constituted a committee under the chairmanship of Nandan Nilekani, representatives of NHAI, Ministry of Road Transport & Highways and professional experts from IIT Delhi and IIIT Delhi to examine all technologies available for Electronic Toll Collection and to recommend the most suitable one for implementation throughout India. This committee was set up during the second term of the UPA and it submitted the report in July 2010.
India adopted RFID technology
Radio Frequency Vehicle Identification (RFID) Technology was adopted for use on all National Highways in India following the models then used (in the early 2010s) in countries like the USA, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Dubai. Vehicles were to be identified and classified through a unique tag named ‘FASTag’. Thus, FASTag, penetration of which at NHAI Toll Plazas has reached 96% and stands at 99% at many toll plazas, was initiated in 2013.
Pilot project of ETC implementation was launched in 2012
The pilot project was launched in April 2012 on the Delhi – Parwano Section of NH-22 to study the implementation of ETC. The first interoperable ETC system was inaugurated in April 2013 on the Vadodara-Mumbai section of NH-8. Indian Highways Management Company Limited (IHMCL) with equity participation from NHAI (25%) Concessionaire (50%) and Financial Institutions (25%) was incorporated in December 2012 for implementation of ETC on National Highways in India. Since then, ETC on National Highways is rolled out phase-wise across the country.
NETC Program now covers 720+ Toll Plazas
From 15 February 2021, FASTag was made mandatory under the National Electronic Toll Collection (NETC) system developed by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) in all lanes across all toll plazas. Any vehicle not fitted with it will be charged double the toll at electronic toll plazas across the country. Currently, the National Electronic Toll Collection Program is live on 720+ toll plazas across the country. Since transactions through NETC take place directly through banks, it is expected to make the system more transparent and efficient, reducing cash handling. It would also help in reducing the waiting time at toll plazas.
Waiting time should not exceed 10 seconds and queue should not be more than 100 metres
As per the latest guidelines of NHAI, it is to be ensured that the waiting time per vehicle should not exceed 10 seconds even during peak hours at the toll plazas on the National Highways. Furthermore, seamless flow of traffic at the toll plazas is to be ensured by preventing vehicles from queuing up for more than 100 metres. If there is a queue of vehicles waiting for more than 100 metres, they should be allowed to pass without paying a toll until the queue comes within 100 meters from the toll booth. For this, a yellow line at a distance of 100 metres from the toll booth should be marked in each toll lane. The provision should be prominently displayed for the users.
According to NHAI, the measures are being introduced to inculcate a further sense of accountability in toll plaza operators. However, the mode of implementation of the new guidelines remains to be seen as there would be an automatic deduction of the toll amount when a vehicle passes through the toll lane.
Earlier, traffic congestion was to be solved through increasing number of toll lanes
Prior to this rule, there was much confusion regarding the free passage of vehicles through toll plazas. In 2015, and again in 2016, the Member (Finance) of NHAI had written to all regional offices of NHAI expressing concern at congestion at various toll plazas. In the letter, it was mentioned that not more than 6 vehicles per lane should be in the queue during peak hours; or the number of toll lanes/booths shall be such as to ensure the service time of not more than 10 seconds per vehicle at peak hour flow. The number of toll lanes was to be increased if the maximum waiting time of the users exceeds 3 minutes. This was part of various concession agreements. However, there was no explicit mention of free passage of vehicles in any of these documents as is being done now.
Amendments related to design & development of toll plazas have also been made
Now that collection of user fees through FASTags has been mandated at the toll plazas of all lanes, the specifications of toll plazas have also been proposed to be modified, keeping in view the ETC penetration in the country. From the middle of February 2021, the NHAI claims to have moved to 100% cashless tolling with FASTag penetration.
The construction of upcoming toll plazas is to be done as per traffic projections for the next 10 years. For this, the NHAI has made amendments to the Indian Road Congress Manual, which lays down standards and specifications for the construction of highways, bridges, locations and layouts for toll plazas and other facilities on roads. The amendments include changes to land acquisition, layout and design of toll plazas, dimensions of traffic islands, and provisions in toll booths for the toll collector and its construction.
Featured Image: Electronic Toll Collection in India