A few years ago, the government introduced an ambitious project called FASTag-Electronic toll collection. On paper, this was a great initiative & long overdue – a simple RFID sticker affixed to your car windshield that sensors at toll collection centers on highways will automatically scan. The appropriate toll would then be deducted from your linked prepaid wallet. To make things even better, this prepaid wallet wouldn’t be maintained by FASTag, but by a few partner companies (Like ICICI Bank, PayTM, Airtel, HDFC Bank among many others). You can order your FASTag from any of the partners, stick it on your windshield by yourself and maintain appropriate balance in your wallet before passing a toll plaza.
This would ease congestion at toll collection centers because people wouldn’t need to fish for change, wait for balance, interact with a human etc. They only need to slow down at the toll center and the boom barrier opens automatically to let you through. Why would anyone not want to use this method as opposed to fishing for cash? A perfect arrangement, right?
Wrong. Indians being Indians made sure not to let a positive thing succeed.
I have been using FASTag for many months, but it was on a recent trip to Agra that I realised that this initiative has been a complete failure.
- Most highways still don’t accept FASTag. 7 out of 8 toll plazas on my trip to Agra didn’t accept FASTag. These were all on Western Peripheral Expressway & Yamuna Expressway.
- People have sworn not to use it. Typical Indian mentality is doing the opposite of what you are told to do, and in this case, the people did exactly that. People have sworn not to use FASTag and they have kept their promise.
- The government has been too lenient in enforcing its use.
The one toll plaza on my trip which did accept FASTag was backed up for at least 1km, and that too in the FASTag exclusive lane. It was evident that people were not using FASTag. I decided to note what the 10 cars ahead of me did while passings the toll (There’re electronic displays showing toll status).
- Only 1/10 cars ahead of mine used FASTag.
- 7/10 cars ahead of mine had FASTags, but insufficient balance. They all paid cash. I believe this is because by law all new cars are mandated to be delivered with a FASTag and these cars had one but the drivers never bothered to add balance to their accounts.
- 2/10 cars ahead of mine didn’t have any FASTag.
The fact that even when cars come preinstalled with FASTag people don’t bother to use it shows me what a failure this has been. On top of it, the government seems to have backtracked on its claims that people who enter FASTag lanes without one will be penalised or charged double. The toll collector sitting in the FASTag lane booth didn’t even expect anyone to use a FASTag, he was quite casually taking cash from people and returning them change.
Why anyone would chose to use cash when there’s a much simpler and convenient alternative boggles my mind. It is a testament to how stubborn we Indians are and refuse to do something new even at the cost of convenience.