India Mulls Satellite-Based Toll Collection on Highways; What to Expect?

Union Minister of Roads, Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari recently reiterated the government’s commitment to introduce a new satellite-based toll collection system for the country’s highways. Although the minister didn’t specify any timeline, this innovative system will be designed in a way that allows it to charge tolls based on the distance travelled, directly deducting the amount from users’ bank accounts.

Gadkari highlighted the efficiency of this system, emphasizing its potential to reduce toll taxes and streamline journeys for vehicles. He explained, “Money will be deducted from your bank account, and you will be charged based on how much road you cover.” This approach aims to save time and costs for road users.

The satellite-based toll collection system will represent a groundbreaking move to transform India’s highway infrastructure. Once implemented, it will mark a significant step forward in improving the country’s transportation network and offering a more convenient and cost-effective toll payment experience for drivers.

Satellite-based Toll Collections: Understanding the Functioning 

The proposed system will leverage the global navigation satellite system, a sophisticated technology encompassing satellite-based navigation systems like the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS). An essential component of this system is the On-Board Unit (OBU), a tracking device installed in vehicles to facilitate accurate mapping using India’s very own GAGAN, a satellite navigation system with an approximate accuracy of 10 meters.

Explaining the mechanism, a Ministry of Road Transport and Highways official outlined the process of toll calculation based on distance travelled, enabled by digital image processing and software algorithms.

The coordinates of the entire length of the country’s national highways will have to be logged with the help of digital image processing, and software will be used to assign the toll rate on a particular highway, calculate the toll amount for a vehicle as per the distance travelled by it, and then deduct it from a wallet linked to the OBU.

However efficient, the new toll system will particularly face challenges in regards to toll recovery in cases of non-payment or system manipulation. The absence of physical barriers necessitates the implementation of Automatic Number-Plate Recognition (ANPR)-based systems nationwide, a formidable logistical task.

Moreover, ensuring data security and privacy remains paramount, with the government opting for the GAGAN satellite system over GPS to safeguard sensitive information.

Additionally, gantries equipped with CCTV cameras will enforce compliance by capturing high-security registration plates to prevent system abuse or evasion.

This new satellite-based toll system has also made the industry think about and question the discontinuation of the FASTags system.

FASTags: The Thing of the Past? 

FASTags, since its introduction in 2016, has achieved widespread adoption throughout the nation. This was especially accelerated recently when the radio frequency identification-based toll collection system was made mandatory by the government on February 16, 2021. Now, with the announcement of OBUs, commuters are concerned that the new system will replace the recently adopted FASTags. However, no such announcement has been made by the Ministry. The government has not yet decided on whether OBUs will be made mandatory for all vehicles or only for new vehicles.

Spoken about since 2020, the OBUs are said to complement rather than replace FASTags. While FASTags will continue to operate, the satellite-based system promises lower operational costs and enhanced efficiency, eliminating the need for toll plazas and streamlining the collection process.

The technology allows for dynamic pricing adjustments, optimizing revenue collection, and reducing congestion. Additionally, the flexibility of GNSS technology enables tolling on all road categories, addressing traffic diversion and toll evasion issues.

As India strides toward a more technologically advanced and efficient transportation network, the satellite-based toll collection system stands as a testament to the nation’s commitment to innovation and progress in the logistics and supply chain sectors. With meticulous planning and implementation, this visionary initiative holds the potential to revolutionize toll collection and redefine the country’s highway infrastructure landscape.

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