New Delhi: Highway users would in a couple of years be able to pay tolls electronically, through a prepaid mechanism to be set up by the road transport ministry.
The government has accepted a report by a committee headed by Nandan Nilekani, chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, which recommends that vehicles be installed with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.
Vehicles with these tags, each with unique identification numbers, would be tracked as they pass toll barriers. The tolls would be debited electronically from the user’s prepaid account.
Highways minister Kamal Nath said he would request the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, a trade body, to ensure that all new vehicles come with RFID tags.
Nath said the technology would also help check revenue leakage at toll barriers. The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) loses an estimated Rs300 crore a year due to toll evasion.
The new proposal, expected to be implemented by May 2012, involves setting up a national toll clearing house, which would administer the prepaid cards.
Individual toll plazas would send information on vehicles that cross the plaza to the clearing house every evening which would be validated and sent back.
Only two private national highway operators—in Bangalore and New Delhi—provide electronic toll payment facilities. Some 8,000km of highways, out of a network of 70,000km, are currently tolled through 147 toll plazas. Of these, 100 are operated by NHAI.
The government’s policy of financing highway development by awarding stretches to private developers means more and more of the national network is likely to be tolled.
Electronic toll collection lanes in highways process 2.5 times more vehicles on average when compared with lanes where customers pay in cash, said NHAI board member V.L. Patankar.
The tags will be in the form of a sticker pasted on the windshield of vehicles and would cost about Rs100 each, said a committee member. RFID readers installed at toll plazas would cost Rs2 lakh.
“That’s the ideal way of doing it because it will reduce the hassle of having the right amount of money. It will also substantially reduce leakages,” said Amrit Pandurangi, who heads the transport and infrastructure practice for consulting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
While there may be initial glitches, in the long run, the benefits would outweigh the costs, he added. Once the tags are installed, they could be used for a number of other applications such as payment for parking, he said.