FastTAG woes on Mumbai Pune Expressway

Since December 1, 2017, it has been made mandatory for all vehicles sold in India to have a FASTag fitted on the windscreen, either by the manufacturer, or an authorized dealership at the time of sale.

The FASTag is a simple to use, rechargeable tag which enables automatic deduction of tolls at toll plazas across the country. The Tag employs RFID technology and is linked to a prepaid account to facilitate recharge. You can link your FASTag to your PayTM, ICICI or HDFC bank account, but will eventually be bank neutral.

The FASTag is being promoted actively in India by multiple agencies including NHAI (National Highways Authority of India) and the Indian Highways Management company. Currently it is claimed that FASTag is operational at 400 toll plazas in state and national highways. In a bid to increase adoption, the NHAI recently made FASTags available through petrol pumps.

There are obviously multiple benefits of FASTag for a motorist – a faster, more convenient way to pay toll. For the agencies, the benefits are much vast - removing the cost of handling cash, issue of e-recipt vs paper which is environmentally friendly. 

So much so, that the usage of FASTag is sweetened with a nice 2.5% cashback for the motorist.

The FASTag on my 6 month old Tata Nexon car is linked to my PayTM account. My first experience at the Mumbai Pune Toll plaza was amazing – with the tag reader at the entry Toll Plaza reading the tag smoothly. Only part toll was deducted – Rs. 138 – and the balance was deducted at the exit toll. No manual intervention at all.

I received an SMS notifying me of the transaction and an e-receipt on PayTM.

However, from my next trip onwards, I ran into trouble.

At the Mumbai end (Khalupur) toll plaza, the scanner showed ‘insufficient balance on TAG’ and the toll booth operator asked me to pay cash. I forked out Rs. 230 – which is the full toll. The issue happened when I exited at the Pune (Talegaon) toll plaza. I showed my receipt to the toll booth operator and he opened the barrier. When I reached my destination in Pune 1 hour later, I discovered that the part toll of Rs. 138 had been deducted at the exit toll plaza. In other words, I was now charged Rs.138 extra – over and above the full toll.

The time stamp should demonstrate the fact that a double charge has been made.

The first time this happened, I let it go, because I was too busy. However, it happened a second time, exactly the same way during my next trip to Pune. That’s when I swung into action. I contacted PayTM Care through Twitter and posted the eCash receipt and actual toll receipt to them showing the timestamps. Unlike my prior experience with PayTM customer care, this time, they were prompt and proactive. I received a call and regular updates through Twitter DM. The current status is that the dispute needs to be resolved with the Toll Plaza authorities and they will revert to me once the procedure is complete. I will update when I hear from them.

Meanwhile, I have heard from other users that they too have faced a similar issue.

Also, as a FASTag user, I have been noticing several other issues that need to be fixed if NHAI is serious about implementing this across the country

  • The ETC lanes need to display whether they accept FASTtag or some other tag. Otherwise it causes confusion to the motorist (and as it is automatically deducted, it can even lead to double payment).For example, the Sea Link, Vashi, Airoli and Mulund Toll plazas in Mumbai have ETC lanes but they do not accept FASTag; they accept another tag issued by MEP. Yet, once or twice, the scanners read my FASTag and I was waived through without payment, while in other cases, I was asked to pay.
  • The toll plaza collectors need to be trained to troubleshoot a tag problem rather than yielding to pressure of the queue and demanding cash. For example, there is a handheld scanner in the toll plaza, which will read the tag if the mounted scanner cannot. They should try to honor the FASTag before concluding that it is not working. They should be alert to double charging – for example the toll operator who checked my receipt should have seen that the scanner was also activated and my money got deducted. At the least, they should be aware of the double charging issue.
  • There should be a FASTag presence in digital medium – as a website and a social media handle – to document and listen to user issues.

I recently read an article which said that NHAI plans to implement exclusive FASTag lanes and penalize a vehicle with double toll if it enters such a lane without a Tag. Before they go ahead with such draconian measures, they should first iron out the chinks in their own system.

UPDATE : After 2 more trips on the Expressway, I have understood the the FASTag is not read when the vehicle is too far from the barrier/scanner installed above the barrier. At a distance, the scanner reads the tag but displays the message 'insufficient funds'. When the vehicle moves closer, it reads the tag correctly. So the good news is that the training to be imparted to toll booth staff is really simple.


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