Construction of highways was an excellent piece of thought. Travelling on straight stretches of tarmac which cuts through uneven terrains, bendy roads and provides a hassle-free experience of crossing a city without even entering it. Shooting past miles of roads in half the time. Except if you're on an Indian highway. Precisely so, if you're on it after December 1st of 2019.

In an attempt to curb the usual bottlenecks that form around the toll plazas of every Indian national or state highway, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has introduced their flagship programme.

What is this programme?

To make the process of collecting toll payments faster, the MoRTH has come up with a more comfortable and digitized process called FASTag. An Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) initiative where tolls will be deducted automatically from your bank account on crossing a specific toll plaza.

Wait, so we don't have to pay cash anymore at the toll booths?

Post-December 1st, if you have a FASTag label on the windscreen of your car, you don't.

I don't get this. How does this FASTag label thingy work exactly?

So, FASTags are nothing but rechargeable and prepaid tags which the user is supposed to affix on their car's windscreen. On arriving at a highway toll plaza, the toll barriers will electronically read the tag, deduct the toll amount automatically and lift up the barrier, thereby reducing congestion or ultra-long queues.

But how do I link my bank account for automatic FASTag deduction?

These NHAI-issued tags aren't pre-assigned to any particular bank at the time of purchase. After the user has bought the same, one can link his/her existing savings account/e-wallet to this FASTag by using My FASTag mobile app.

Okay, and where can I buy these FASTags?

FASTags can be obtained via the National Highway toll booths, IOL, HPCL or BPCL. Several banks such as SBI, ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, HDFC Bank, IndusInd Bank, Paytm Payments Banks and Equitas SF Bank have also come on board to commence trading of this. Moreover, one can also order via e-commerce websites like Amazon or Paytm.

However, in any case, users might have to submit certain verification documents like the vehicle's RC (Registration Certificate) or the user's Driving License, which may take up to 2-3 days to validate.

But what if I don't have a FASTag on time? Will I not be allowed to cross the to

Our Indian Government seems well aware of that mentality, and hence, they have a workaround as well. For commuters not possessing such a tag, a hybrid toll (for non-FASTag users) will be present at all toll plazas. Those willing to pay in cash instead of installing this will be bound to pay DOUBLE the toll amount.

That's strict! Will this be a mandatory thing?

Yes. The Government has announced the installation of FASTags to be a mandatory procedure. All Indians commuting via national or state highways are supposed to have these labels fixated on their vehicles before the upcoming deadline of December 1st 2019.

What's the total cost we have to bear for the FASTag to start working?

An initial tag cost of INR 100 ($1.39), depending on the vehicle class, a refundable security deposit of INR 250 ($3.48) and an initial threshold amount of around INR 150 ($2.09) which can be availed via the FASTag walled. Final bill sums up to around INR 500 ($6.96).

How about we buy just one tag and use it for several vehicles?

Before you even think of going there, let me stop you and advise you otherwise. Every vehicle is supposed to have a tag to itself as these tags will be carrying the RC numbers of the vehicle provided by you at the time of purchase.

Users with multiple vehicles plying down these highways will have to purchase numerous such FASTags. However, the user will be able to keep track of the same via the My FASTag mobile app.

So, that means more transparency for fleet owners, correct?

Exactly. On every toll deduction, an SMS will be sent to the registered mobile number along with a prompt on the app. Fleet owners will be able to track their goods vehicles based on the expected time of arrival.

But how is it better for the Government?

As everything goes digital, the Government gets a better view of what's happening on the ground. Toll revenues are expected to soar by a considerable margin. According to Government figures, the toll tax revenues will increase to INR 1 lakh crore ($15031million) annually in the next five years.

Escaping these tolls isn't something new on Indian roads. It's seldom seen that transporters are using the same e-bill for plying down the same route, multiple times. Such toll evasions will get eliminated as these electronic toll barriers are triggered to deduct the toll amount automatically.

Moreover, highway officials can keep track of vehicles paying for a cheaper toll destination and ending up someplace else. Penalising and accountability will be much easier to carry out.

Are there any benefits for the users?

A tiny one. Cashback of 2.5 per cent on all National Highway toll payments can be availed. But only until the financial year of 2019-20 ends.

What if the FASTags aren't working?

You can check for a solution by surfing through the FAQ section on the mobile app. If that doesn't do the trick, reach out to the customer support team via the app itself.

All that is fine. But do we have enough FASTag counters operational on our highw

According to the data released by the NHAI, we have a total of 525 toll plazas with operational FASTag lanes already. 1.1 million FASTag transactions are recorded daily, which amount to a daily revenue collection of INR 25-30 crores ($ ).

Currently, 6.2 million vehicles are already equipped with a FASTag. However, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari has stated that out of the total 1.4 lakh km highways that fall under the NHAI's jurisdiction, only 24,996kms have toll plazas on them. This figure is expected to increase to 27,000kms by the year-end.

Don't see enough operational FASTag lanes. Is the Govt doing anything about it?

The Centre has sent officials across various states to report on the implementation of these FASTag tolls at all NHAI toll plazas. These officials are supposed to "monitor the preparedness and ensure operation of 100 per cent e-tolling through FASTag".

Asheesh Sharma, member (finance) of NHAI and chairman and managing director (CMD) of IHMCL, the company implementing the project told Economic Times, "We have been encouraging state governments to come on board to make 'one nation one tag' a reality. We have told them that we are ready to bear their capital costs as well as 80% of operational costs to make their toll plazas FASTag-enabled. I am hopeful that 8 to 10 states will come on board very soon."

But, until then?

Apply to get yourself a FASTag before the deadline, get your bank details verified and hope for the FASTag counter in your area to be working. To be on the safer side, keep some change at hand.

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