FASTags are rechargeable tags that are used in toll booths for the collection of tolls from vehicles using the national highways. This is a topic that is often seen in the news since the Central Government has made all vehicles to have FAStags mandatorily by January 2020. In this article, you can read all about FASTags for the UPSC exam.
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FASTAgs are basically stickers enabled with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology, that are stuck to the windowpanes of vehicles so that automatic deduction of toll can happen in toll booths, without having the vehicle to stop.
|What is Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID)?
Radio-Frequency Identification is the use of radio waves to read and capture information stored on a tag attached to an object. A tag can be read from up to several feet away and does not need to be within direct line-of-sight of the reader to be tracked.
- This is primarily meant to decrease the traffic at toll booths and also to enable more digital transactions in the country.
- It was rolled out in April 2016, and the Government made it mandatory from December 1, 2017 for all new cars and trucks to be fitted with a FASTag before they were sold.
- Indian Highways Management Company Limited (IHMCL) (a company incorporated by National Highways Authority of India) and National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI) are implementing this program.
- The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is trying to get all states on board so that FASTags can be applied all across India over both national and state highways. To encourage the use of FASTags, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) refunds 5% of the total monthly transactions.
- A FASTag is valid for 5 years and after purchasing, it can be recharged as when needed. It comes in seven different colours — violet, orange, yellow, green, pink, blue, black. Each colour is assigned to a particular category of vehicles.
- Currently, in national highways, cash is not being accepted at FASTag lanes, and any vehicle entering it will be charged twice the toll amount.
- These tags are linked to bank accounts and other payment modules and are prepaid. Once the amount is exhausted (or the customer reaches the minimum amount to be kept in the tag), they can be recharged.
- When a vehicle crosses a toll booth, the tag is detected by the sensor, and the amount is automatically deducted from the tag.
- The barrier then opens up for the vehicle to pass through.
- The user then gets a notification on his linked phone number about the deduction.
- This should significantly reduce waiting time at the highway toll plazas, which generally see a lot of congestion.
- This also reduces the need for the drivers to carry liquid cash.
- Customers living close to toll booths (within 10 km as per a government notification) can get a concession on the toll amount which can be paid by the FASTag.
Benefits of FASTags
FASTags offer many benefits for users and the government.
- Digital transaction making it easier and convenient – no need to carry cash.
- Decrease of congestion at the toll plazas.
- Enables non-stop movement at the highways leading to lower fuel usage.
- Online recharge is possible for FASTags.
- Reduced effort in managing the toll booths because of a hassle-free system.
- Environmental benefits because of reduced paper usage.
- Monthly passes for a specific toll booth is available for regular users.
- FASTags work all over the country and are not specific to the user’s place of residence or registration.
Problems with FASTags
Although FASTags offer many benefits, there are a few challenges being seen. Some of them are:
- There could be technical issues like the sensor not reading the tag properly. Technical glitches could also see a user being wrongly charged.
- They have not necessarily reduced the waiting time in the toll booths significantly because of some teething issues like people trying to pay by cash in the FASTag lanes, etc.
- FASTags can be bought directly from the NHAI or from banks. Those sold by NHAI are bank-neutral, that means they can be recharged from any bank. However, those sold by banks are not, which means they have to be recharged from the same bank.
The Way Forward
The expanding use of FASTags for the payment of toll on highways should be seen as an opportunity to formulate and articulate a clear strategy on road-pricing and public transport.
- Once the scheme works well with cars, two-wheelers and three-wheelers, too, should be brought within the ambit of city road pricing.
- Better rules in place: What states ought to do is regulate pricing less and focus more on improving things such as safety and security, including the setting up of call centres to help customers in distress. There also ought to be heavier punishments for drivers refusing to ply when it suits them.
- Allow private cars that are currently underused to be converted to part-time Ubers and Olas. This will expand the idea of shared mobility at a much lower cost to both customers and drivers—and boost jobs for drivers.
- The world’s first electronic toll plaza began operations in Norway in 1986.
- Japan was the first Asian Country to begin it in 2001 and China started in 2014.
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