Smart card-based and electronic toll collection systems promise to make highway driving hassle-free with no traffic congestion and no waiting to make payment at toll plazas. Imagine driving on the national highways with no frequent stopping at the toll plazas to pay highway tolls, fumble for change. Sounds amazing and unbelievable but much to the respite of the tired and weary motorists who have to stop and pay, sometimes resulting in extensive delays and congestion, Indian national highways are on the threshold of a major overhaul—they are going hi-tech with contactless smart card-based and electronic toll collection (ETC) systems being deployed by National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and private players.

While contactless smart card-based toll collection system would utilise smart cards with an electronic purse to transfer money directly from the cardholder to the toll agency by flashing the card near the card reader, electronic payment, a popular mode of toll collection worldwide especially in the US and Europe, would process the financial transactions without human intervention at the toll plaza.

Electronic toll collection is fast-becoming a globally accepted method of toll collection, a trend greatly aided by the growth of interoperable ETC technologies. ETC equipment can take the place of a human toll collector who manually collects tolls at tollbooths. In addition, it allows such transactions to be performed while vehicles travel at near highway cruising speed. Thus, be it the Rs 850 crore Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway or the Rs 1,800 crore Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway and the Raipur-Durg Expressway, driving on these highways promises to become a pleasurable experience.

Even NHAI identified toll plazas in 10 locations—Kavalias and Jojro Ka Kheda in Rajasthan, Krishnagiri and Pallikonda in Tamilnadu, Garui in Jharkhand, Palsit and Dhankuni in West Bengal, Pattipadu and Vemapadu in Andhra Pradesh and Kognoli in Karnataka—for implementation of modern toll collection systems as a pilot project. After successful trial run, these systems would be rolled over to other toll plazas of national highways. NHAI is processing the tender for selecting the suitable ETC technology and preparation of ITS (Intelligent Transport System) blueprint for national highways.

The soon-to-be-a-reality scenario, says Ravi Palekar, general manager (electronics) NHAI, will bring much needed relief to the harried motorists. “In the absence of any legacy toll technologies in the country at present, this may be an advantage as India might choose the best available toll technology in the world today—the same advantage India enjoyed in the telecom sector and presently, our telecom technologies are at par or may be superior to US and European technologies,” he adds.

The biggest challenge with the tolls has been the methods used to collect them. Traditional cash collection facilities require motorists to stop and pay, sometimes resulting in extensive delays and congestion.

Enter ETC systems that would use vehicle-to-roadside communication technologies to perform electronic monetary transactions between a vehicle passing through a toll plaza and the toll collection agency.

Typically, when a vehicle with tags/transponders/on-board units (OBUs) approaches the toll plaza equipped with ETC, the tags/transponders/OBUs communicate with the roadside units (RSUs). On-board units and RSUs exchange information like registration number, vehicle class, identification numbers, etc. Upon receiving the information from OBUs, RSU interacts with central processing system for calculation of user fee to be deducted. RSU in turn will send information to deduct the calculated amount equal to the class of the vehicle from the balance amount in the OBU. After the amount is deducted from the OBU, the information will be sent back to the central processing system through RSU. The central processing system instructs Boom Barrier to open the boom for passing the paid vehicle.

Simultaneously, automatic vehicle classifier and counter (AVCC) system installed in the ETC lane identifies the class of the vehicle and sends the information to the central processing system. The system compares the vehicle class given by the OBU with the class detected by AVCC. If any deviation is observed between classes by two systems, the camera fitted in the toll lane captures the image of the vehicle with the number plate. All the above activities take place in a fraction of seconds. Sounds amazing, isn’t it?

Interestingly, the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway—scheduled to be fully operational by September-end—could emerge as the test-bed for hi-tech toll systems. The expressway would boast of an automated toll collection system that is being designed in a manner to provide uninterrupted flow of vehicles. Says Rafi Qadar Khan, general manager, DS Constructions Ltd, which is building the expressway, “We will be making use of smart-tags. The smart-tag technology is the first of its kind in India. It will reduce traveling time, as the commuters would no longer require standing in queues as the tags will be attached to the rear view mirror of the car and the machine at the counter will catch the rays and the open the barricade automatically.”

Adds Khan, “the system on DND flyover has the smart card technology but the tag installed on the vehicles of Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway will be superior and the vehicle will not be required to stop on the expressway.”

Similarly, a closed tolling system is coming up on the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway. In such a set up, all entrances to the project are controlled and a ‘token’—smart cards encoded with the issuing stations information—will be provided to the motorist at the time of entry into the system. The motorist can exit from any of the controlled locations and will be required to pay only for the distance traveled on the expressway by presenting the smart card once again at the exit toll plaza. With touch and go technology round the corner that virtually removes the stoppage time at the plaza, it’s time to drive in the fast lane.

PUBLICATION: Financial Express
AUTHOR: Sudhir Chowdhary
DATED: 25th June 2007