The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has made Fastag mandatory from 15 January which means that all vehicles crossing inter-state tollbooths needs to have these RFID-based tags on their windshields.
Fastag is an electronic toll collection system deployed by the NHAI (National Highways Association of India) across India. Fastag uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to make payments directly from the customer’s digital wallets that makes the whole process cashless and efficient.
Fastag makes the entire process of toll collection automatic which leaves us with a very important question. What is the tollbooth attendant doing if the entire process is automated?
To find answers we made our way to the Murthal tollbooth located in Haryana on National Highway 44.
Speaking to tollbooth attendants at the Murthal toll plaza we learned from them that there is a need for an attendant to be available at the tollbooth always. They said that the Fastag has to first be confirmed manually in the system for it to be valid. The attendant enters the Fastag as valid in the system and then the gates open.
Other reasons for attendants to be present at the booth, as quoted by officials, include when some users have an invalid Fastag, blacklisted Fastag and there were times that the RF reader at the tolls would not work properly which is where tollbooth attendants would manually scan the Fastag using a portable RFID reader.
Also, there are vehicles that do not have a Fastag, but enter the Fastag lane. Those people have to pay double the toll amount and for that attendants have to present at the booth to hand them a receipt for the transaction.
To learn more about the whole system we also went to the Panipat toll plaza which is around 50 kilometers ahead of Murthal. The Panipat toll is a bit more organised and well set up with boom barriers at each booth.
Senior officials who manage the toll booth said there was no need for an attendant to be present at the booth for Fastag to work normally. The only time an attendant is required is when the RF reader isn’t reading the tag or when they need to be scanned manually. The officials didn’t want to come on camera though.
He also mentioned that in the course of time as the system gets more efficient the number of attendants needed at the tollbooths will be lesser. In countries like Dubai and Malaysia, there are at max 2-3 tollbooth attendants at a plaza which is all you need.
Fastag is currently at a nascent stage and will take time to become a fully efficient ecosystem. This could be a worrying sign for the people currently working at the NHAI-managed toll gates in India. With Fastag becoming fully automatic in the days to come where will the tollbooth attendants go?
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