As time and again highlighted by our national leaders, Arteries and veins are to the human body, that Roads and Highways are to the nation. Drawing a parallel between the importance of roads and highways to that of the human circulatory system itself emphasizes the crucial role played by them in the smooth functioning of a nation. And when we talk about the maintenance of these highways, toll booths and toll collection play a pivotal role. In 2016, India introduced FASTag, the first-ever electronic toll payment collection system across the country to facilitate faster and hassle-free toll collection. A good deal of deadlines and 5 years later, it’s observed that only 93% of people are using FASTags despite the doubled toll amount on normal cash payments. This is when the government has already started laying bricks of a new initiative to be launched in 2023, which is a GPS based toll collection system that would do away with the current physical toll booth system. This would be done using a global navigation satellite system and GPS imaging on vehicles. But will this initiative reap the desired benefits?
The Expected Positives
Some of the positives associated with this system are that it would definitely eliminate the long waiting periods and queues at the toll booths, aiding in lesser congestions and jams thus reducing travel time and facilitating quicker ETAs. This GPS system, just like FAST, would definitely prove to be a relief to the environment and even the pockets of travellers due to the reduced idling on the toll booths and reduced fuel wastage due to long lines. Also with India moving towards technological advancements in many fields, the use of a GPS based toll collection system would be a giant leap towards automation. Especially in years following a global pandemic that paved a way for lesser human contact and applying technology wherever possible, this system could prove to be quite useful. Another significant advantage of this system would be aiding in better tracking facilities of vehicles, which again is very helpful on highways especially in terms of security and emergency help. Building a strong network between the tracking coordinators, helpline centres and logistic support teams of hospitals, highway police etc, would significantly speed up the access time to security and medical assistance. Also since this system would require both the National Highway Authority of India and the Ministry of Road and Transport to work together, we could possibly look at an example of really good inter-departmental coordination that if adopted by various other departments as well, would quicken up policy adoption and implementation processes.
The Possible Shortcomings
While we speak of the positives, the possibility of certain drawbacks cannot be overlooked. Greater automation and newer technologies have often raised debates and issues that are concerning but at the same time emerging technologies are in demand as well. If the government is aiming to install this system throughout the country, then it needs to take certain preparatory measures as well such as building technological foundations for the system, Geofencing throughout the nation, devising a proper implementation plan and much more to avoid lapses. For this GPS based system to be a success, it needs minute and detailed planning that ingrains this system into the everyday life of commuters. Since technology in itself is such a vast domain, it has its own requirements, the basics being the internet stability or GPS connectivity which is still a problem in some parts of the country. The hilly terrains or remote areas and highways and roads that cut through forests or densely vegetated lands are very uncertain locations when it comes to connectivity and attempts to provide a stable network in these areas may adversely affect the ecology of that particular region. Again to aid seamless GPS navigation there must be cooperation established between the central and state authorities in these matters. Often the two are seen tossing responsibilities towards each other, but the co-operation between the center and state is of utmost importance as the roads get interlinked and definite terms must be established. Looking at the fact that people took almost 5 years to adapt to the FASTag system, it seems to be difficult for them to adapt to this additional improvisation within a few years of FASTag, which itself is a new policy.
The Ministry is trying to take a huge step forward towards digitalization and development, but history is witness that citizens are not really fans of sudden policy changes. Also, digital reliance or use is still a complication for many people. With that in mind, surrounding them by additional digital mediums, GPS imaging and linking the bank accounts to the required portal that would cut the toll charges based on the GPS based distance of the cars etc, may foster some additional criticism from the ones who are not well versed with digital processes and systems.
Another complication which may arise is the GPS device installation in the vehicles. The newly purchased vehicles may come with the new system, but the vehicles that are in use would need to get the GPS system installed. This would again require a proper plan to equip all the existing vehicles with GPS compliance. Also, the estimated toll prices that might be charged after the new system is levied are not clear too, will they be below the existing prices or the same as they are now or will they increase is still a question. The question of how the charges will be set also needs to be clarified.
Lastly, the concerns of privacy might also surface as they have always in the past, be it regarding mobile applications, or governmental portals saving user data, or banks for that matter. Thus the tracking and location accessing facilities that may be associated with this GPS system in the vehicle might also raise certain privacy concern questions.
All in all, there must be some proper explanatory content released by the government before introducing this system, for the public to know more about it and facilitate better and faster adoption. Also, a step by step implementation would be a good idea to avoid hasty reactions from the public and to give them small time frames after every step of the policy implementation, to make way for the required changes and equip themselves for the next step. Also, many people would raise questions like is there a logical necessity of this system right now in our country? To that, we suppose that the Covid-19 pandemic has paved way for greater automation and fastened the pace of cashless systems across the county, thus the transport department also needs to step up with the changing times which would fasten the work of the department as well. For a country like India, such developments are very crucial. With the construction of projects like Central Vista, it’s time for all the departments to step up their process, coordinate, and work in a systematic manner, thus even the road department should revolutionise its functioning. Countries like Japan, Russia have had these systems for years, so we guess it’s high time for India to take a step towards that but with proper planning and implementation strategies.
I am a research and public policy enthusiast and am currently pursuing my Master’s in Public Administration. Additionally, I am passionate about writing, global affairs and aspire to serve the people of my country in the future.
My name is Mohammed Sabtain and I have completed my Bachelor’s from Christ University. I am a political enthusiast and am well aware of International affairs. Additionally, I am also interested in Research and English literature.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.