A vastly informative article in Firstpost (read it here) brings out vividly how FASTags work and do not work in India, the latter due to technical glitches and conceptual deficiencies. In the United States (US) that boasts of a countrywide network of motorable roads on some of which planes can land in an emergency thanks to their silken smoothness, turnpikes are a rage though a few states that taxes their residents heavily with the pincer of both county and state income tax see wisdom in allowing free passage on roads. Where tolls are charged, lanes are neatly divided into cash and FASTag lanes, with lights flashing from a distance so that you enter the lane you want to in terms of the preferred mode of payment.
There seems to be quite a few apparent shortcomings in our extant FASTag system which was lapped up during the harrowing days of demonetisation when cash became a scarce commodity and people woke up to the immense potential of digital payments in their humdrum lives. First, why should it be linked to a bank account in the manner of a debit card with the payment gateway being operated by ICICI Bank? There should be made available prepaid cards sold across counters in departmental stores and petrol stations like the orange card in Florida, USA. These cards work well thanks to their simplicity with the car registration number linked to the car making for simple and easy identification. A card linked to a bank account runs the risk of failing while whizzing past the toll gate if the bank server develops glitches or is crowded at the crucial moment. The driver unnecessarily invites chastisement and penalty for no fault of his in such situations especially if the nearby police patrol vehicle rounds him up in full public view.
Union transport minister Nitin Gadkiri, always ready to adopt international best practices on road, has hinted at cameras also being used as an alternative. In the US, tags on windscreens are not the only mode of unobtrusive electronic payment. Battery of overhead cameras capture your registration number on entry and also on exit and flash the relevant info to the state transport department which sends you a monthly bill. This can be tried on a pilot basis on select expressways in India before it is rolled out on a pan India basis. The advantage of a pilot project is one can learn from the mistakes and glitches in it. GST could not be so implemented because in matters of taxation there cannot be any selectivity.
One hopes cameras can be so programmed that even if one fails to capture, the others succeed thanks to their overhead vantage perch. Of course the program should also ensure that there is no duplicate billing.
One understands FASTags in India were entitled to 10 percent cashback in the exciting if harrowing days of demonetisation that was subsequently rolled back to 7.5 percent. Such incentives should continue in order to wean drivers away from cash that sometimes brings traffic to a screeching halt besides throwing up ‘change’ problems. A problem of getting change arises when people are not able to cough up coins and notes for the requisite amount. And for camera triggered payments too there must be an incentive for prompt payment digitally.
One wonders why new vehicles registered with effect from 1 December, 2017 must compulsorily have FASTags given the fact that such tags are not original equipments (OE). They are just an appendage to the windscreen that is capable of being fixed and removed at will unless the mandate to the car manufacturers is to make a groove on the windscreen to allow firm fixation of the tags that can neither be swept off by winds nor defy reading by scanners on the toll booth the vehicle whizzes past.
The point is FASTags or cameras should be secular and universal. In fact cameras are truly secular because they wink and make passes at every vehicle that passes them by irrespective of their age or pedigree.
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Updated Date: Nov 16, 2017 18:32:42 IST