Despite the government extending the deadline for vehicles to be FASTag-enabled to January 15, only around 50% of motorists using toll plazas in and around Bengaluru have affixed the tags.
National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) officials estimate that vehicles using the technology which allows for electronic collection of toll has increased from around 16% in the first week of December to close to 50% to date.
Long wait at cash-only booths are still the norm, while movement of vehicles at FASTag enabled ones is not as smooth as expected. This is because motorists with the tags are also using them, said motorists at toll plazas.
Motorists failing to maintain a minimum balance in their accounts, tags malfunctioning, and deduction of more money have been leading to arguments between vehicle owners and employees at toll booths.
From January 15, the number of cash toll booths at the plazas will be reduced further . “At present, most of the toll booths are reserved for FASTag users and only two or three lanes allow cash lanes. After January 15, we will allow cash transactions only in one toll booth. In addition to this, vehicles entering FASTag lanes without the tag will end up paying double the toll fee.” Mr. Somashekar added.
Sadahalli -- Taxi drivers hesitant
One of the more problematic collection points is the Sadahalli toll plaza used by those going to or returning from Kempegowda International Airport (KIA).
Officials cite lack of cooperation from taxi drivers. S.P. Somashekar, general manager and projector director of NHAI said, “We believe that regular users of toll roads have gradually shifted to the new system and the number is likely to increase. However, at Sadahalli toll plaza, a good number of taxi drivers remain hesitant. They have been demanding toll receipt which we cannot give. We are planning to take up the matter with BIAL and other concerned authorities to educate drivers on benefits of FASTag.”
Diya Shetty, who recently used an Uber to KIA noticed that her driver had not updated to FASTag. “When I asked him why, he said that he was worried that he would be charged double the toll. He was convinced that instead of the usual ₹135, he would have to pay double,” said Diya. Another KIA passenger, who hailed an airport taxi, recounted a similar experience.
Toll booth employees said they regularly receive such complaints from taxi drivers. “They claim that for a round-trip travel from the city to the airport, they were charged ₹180. NHAI has fixed ₹135 for round trip: ₹90 while going towards the Airport and ₹45 while coming from there. Because of this problem, some of the drivers prefer to make cash payments,” said a toll booth employee.
Often, toll employees simply let motorists pass to prevent long hold ups. “Many motorists are unaware of the fact that they must keep a minimum balance. When we tell them that there is no minimum balance , they argue with us and refuse to pay cash. Other vehicles start honking causing chaos. Many times we have allowed vehicle without collecting the fee,” an employee of Sadahalli gate said.
Hosakote -- Traffic moving fast
Of the 10 lanes in the Hosakote toll (five towards Hosakote and five towards Bengaluru), eight are dedicated for FASTag vehicles, and two are for cash payments. Venkata Swamy, who was travelling from a village near Nelamangala to Kolar said, “I crossed two toll plazas and in both of them, the FASTag lanes were moving quickly.”
However, slow-moving vehicles in the cash lane was a common sight at the Hosakote toll plaza. A toll plaza employee said that though one lane was dedicated for cash payments, many vehicles, which were not FASTag-enabled, used the electronic lane.
“In such cases, we give them receipts from a hand-held machines. Apart from that, there have been a few instances where there were problems with the tag and we had to give them receipts.”
There should have been more awareness created before implementation of the initiative, say toll plaza employees.
“Let all the lanes be FASTag-enabled, but one should be allotted for cash payment. People should not be compelled to pay only through online. If a few want to pay it through cash, an option for them should always be open. There will definitely be people who do not use any of the payment apps and bank accounts not linked to any services," Shiv Kumar, a private bus driver.
Electronics City -- No relief from congestion
Despite having affixed FASTag, a majority of vehicle owners using the Electronics City Toll gate said that they are yet to find relief from traffic congestion at the toll plaza during peak commuting hours.
Every day, 50,000 cars and heavy vehicles cross the toll plaza. “Fights often break out been those manning the booths and motorists as some motorists have an insufficient balance and start arguing,” said Balamurugan, an IT employee.
An official at the toll plaza attributed the congestion to traffic moving to NICE Road and Hosur as well as tech parks. “Due to space constraints, we cannot add more toll booths. At present, there are 18 toll booths of which only five accept cash. We are hoping that the number of FASTag users will increase.”
(With inputs from D. Ramakrishnan)
Namma Bengaluru is a weekly column that looks at civic issues. Readers can write in their comments to: email@example.com