At a time when a fifth of national highway booth users still use cash to pay toll charges, a government move to mandate FASTags even for car users who don’t use national highways is raising eyebrows. Car users who rarely venture outside cities and use toll booths on highways have been instructed to fix FASTags — RFID stickers that are also called vehicle Aadhaars.
Transport experts and consumers have questioned the rationale of mandating a sticker that’s of little or no use for them, while many interpreted the “FASTag-must” rule implementable for NH users only. After midnight of Monday (that is Tuesday morning), all NH lanes will be converted to cashless-payment lanes, which means those who pay toll without FASTags and in cash have to pay double the fee.
Sources from the Road Ministry, which issued a notification mandating FASTags for all vehicles with at least four wheels and vehicles carrying goods and/or passengers in vehicles with at least four wheels, maintained that such vehicle owners have to pay a penalty even within cities.
“Private vehicle owners who do not need FASTags should not be asked to mandatorily install it,” SP Singh, Senior Fellow, Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT), told BusinessLine. Consumers are also raising the issue on social media.
Transporters in the lurch
Meanwhile, many commercial vehicles that have FASTags and face technical glitches at toll booths are dismayed. Transport fleet operators — whose FASTag-fitted vehicles are facing such challenges — feel that they should not be asked to pay double the toll charges (as penalty). Also, customers of commercial vehicles have started saying that they will not bear double the toll fee in case of technical snags. Simply put, such fleet operators are taking a hit for no fault of theirs.
“This implementation is harsh for vehicle owners. Already, FASTag companies are unable to cope and there are technical glitches. Also, the annual maintenance charges are high. Commercial vehicle owners who can show papers that they own a FASTag but are unable to pay at toll booths electronically due to snags should not be asked to pay double the money as penalty,” said Singh. While the move is good from the context of stopping toll revenue leakage on highways, implementing this in its current form appears tilted towards the FASTag suppliers, he said.
The Central Motor Vehicle rules mandate installing a FASTag on all vehicles with four wheels, and more.For violating a rule, the penalty is ₹300 for first offence and ₹500 for second offence.” That said, this is an enabling provision and implementation is up to the State governments. Many vehicle owners have started getting text messages from VAHAN database asking them to start installing FASTags.
Singh also added that customers of transport service providers have started putting contract clauses stating they will not bear double the toll charges, which leaves transporters in the lurch in case of technical snags. Ideally, the extreme left lane should be permitted to let people pay with their debit/credit cards or cash in case of technical snags, said Singh. So far, one lane in NHAI toll booths has been accepting cash payments. At present, 80 per cent of payments at NHAI toll booths are made electronically. About 800 toll booths on National and State highways are FASTag-enabled of which over 600 are under NHAI, said the official.