Soon, zoom across toll counters on highways

Written by Timsy Jaipuria | Updated: Sep 8 2014, 06:56am hrs
India is soon going to have one of the worlds most extensive National highway network and to make travel across the network seamless, the ministry of road transport & highways has decided to induct the technology of electronic toll collect ion (ETC) system. The initiative that will enable a near non-stop travel for highway commuters, is already in advanced stages of completion, but what are the dynamics of it, is something which is still not known.

By definition, ETC system is a technology that allows electronic payment of highway tolls. ETC systems use vehicle-to-roadside communication technologies to perform an electronic monetary transaction between a vehicle passing through a toll plaza and the toll collection agency. When we look at the system in India, it includes a lot of parameters like the financing of the model, working and implementation, the technology and how soon it will kick start. However, before we understand that, let us look at what made us go for this system.

Why we need ETC

Given that the government embarked on an ambitious plan for building Indias highway network through various phases of the national highways development project (NHDP), which are being financed largely through user fees collected from the users of the improved highways, authorities started facing issues like pilferage, long queues at toll plazas, lack of transparency and governance.

Vinayak Chatterjee, chairman of Feedback Infra said, As the volume of traffic increases, the current method of manual toll collection, with or without using computer generated receipts, becomes inefficient, prone to leakage and difficult to sustain, which is why we need ETC. There have been violent protests against the toll system in some parts of the country, including Maharashtra. Once such a technology is adopted, such instances are bound to get reduced.

Apart from this, other major issues include the country not having a uniform rate throughout various sections of National Highways. There are various modes through which highways are constructed BOT (Toll), BOT (Annuity) and Public Funded Projects and each has different toll collecting agencies, which is an impediment for an uniform acceptable standard of service to the commuters. There are many complaints of overcharging and undercharging. There is congestion and crowding of vehicles at toll booths leading to wastage of time and fuel etc, said a senior road ministry official involved in the implementation of ETC.

What is ETC system

The three broad components of the ETC system are tag distribution, toll road user account registration and recharge and toll transaction. For managing all the functions, a virtual hub, called the Central ETC System (CES), primarily a web application (portal) with access to all stakeholders, will be created. Be it point of sale (POS) operator issuing a tag or tag user putting money in the account, be it managing toll plaza concessionaire account or serving the government through a monthly report, each stakeholder interacts with CES through web.

The core functions of the CES include management of accounts of concessionaires, users, POS, distributors, manufacturers, tag issuance, recharge management, interaction with toll plaza application, toll transaction processing & settlement and public interface functions.

Putting it to work

For implementing ETC system on pan-India basis, a new company known as Indian Highways Management Company has been formed. It is under the Companys Act 1956 with 25% equity participation from NHAI, while a clutch of concessionaires hold 50% and financial institutions have the remaining 25%. The objectives of Indian Highways Management Company are collection of toll through ETC and to manage the project strategically, commercially and to provide services of central ETC system which includes toll transaction clearing house operations, help-desk support and setting up of call centres for incident management, intelligent transport systems among others, the official added.

A key component for nationwide implementation of RFID-based ETC is interoperability, which requires integration and standardisation. The tag on the vehicle needs to be read by all the transceivers and at the same time, all the tags should be read by a particular transceiver. For a common man, the system involves a self-adhesive tag affixed on the windshield of vehicle getting read by transceivers installed at toll plazas.

Practical action

Some of the straight advantages of the ETC system implementation are efficient functioning at toll plazas, which has been a long pending demand of the public. Secondly, transport operators will be able to track fleet movement, which helps in faster transportation of goods and in a transparent manner as the drive will become non-stop without the driver bothering about toll rates. The tag being the same can be read by all the toll plazas on all the highways across the country. Plus we contribute towards a green India by saving paper as well as fuel.

From the government perspective some of the top most advantages that come with this technology are: transparency, seamless movement, consolidation of traffic data for project planning, sharing of exact toll data for revenue sharing as one.