The government is moving ahead with a plan to remove toll plazas across India’s national highways and instead rely on automatic number plate reader cameras, which will read vehicle number plates and automatically deduct toll from the linked bank accounts of vehicle owners. A pilot of this scheme is underway and legal amendments to facilitate this transition are also being moved, Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari said.
“In 2019, we made a rule that cars will come with company-fitted number plates. So, the vehicles that have come in the last four years have different number plates. Now, the plan is to remove toll plazas and put cameras, which will read these number plates and toll will be deducted from the account directly. We are also doing a pilot of this scheme. However, there is one problem — there is no provision under the law to penalise the vehicle owner who skips the toll plaza and does not pay. We need to bring that provision under the law. We may bring in a provision for cars which do not have these number plates to get them installed within a certain period of time. We will need to bring in a Bill for this,” Gadkari told The Indian Express.
Currently, about 97 per cent of the total toll collection of nearly Rs 40,000 crore happens though FASTags — the remaining 3 per cent pay higher than normal toll rates for not using FASTags. With FASTags, it takes about 47 seconds per vehicle to cross a toll plaza and there’s a marked throughput enhancement — more than 260 vehicles can be processed per hour via electronic toll collection lane as compared to 112 vehicles per hour via manual toll collection lane, according to government data.
While the use of FASTags has eased traffic at toll plazas across the country, congestion is still reported as there are toll gates that need to be crossed after authentication. Some of the issues with the FASTags, which were made mandatory from February 16, 2021, include: users with low balance entering the fee plaza lane, which eventually results in longer processing time; internet connectivity issues at remote fee plazas due to which the status of low-balance FASTag is not updated to active FASTag in time by the plaza servers; wear-and-tear of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) reader and tag; and improper affixation of FASTags by users.
With the use of the number plate reader cameras, also known as Automatic Number Plate Reader (ANPR) cameras, the congestion at toll plazas is likely to reduce further, but much would depend on the implementation of the system. An industry insider, who did not want to be identified, said more than one technology will be required to ensure the system is foolproof and there are no leakages. “The ANPR camera is accustomed to reading nine numbers of the number plate and, if there is anything beyond that – like something written on the number plates that we typically come across in most vehicles in the country — the camera will not read it,” he said.
He added that tests have shown that the camera misses about 10 per cent of the number plates because they had text beyond nine words and numbers. He said such systems can be implemented on new projects along with FASTag and GPS toll. “In a country like India, we would need more than one system to ensure minimal revenue loss,” he said.