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Wednesday , 29 November 2023

Tolling Tricks & Trends

In the year 1998, the Government of India started the project of upgrading and widening of the major links of the national highway network to four or six lanes. The project, named the ‘National Highway Development Programme’ (NHDP), consisted of ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ (GQ), ‘North-South corridor’ and ‘East-West corridor’. The ‘National Highway Authority of India’ (NHAI), which has been the principal promoter of this development programme, had proposed that the development be done on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) basis. NHAI came up with numbers of models for private financing such as Build Operate Transfer (BOT), Annuity Scheme and in some cases, guarantee on the return scheme. Here, recovery of the investment is being done by levying of user fee charges, either by the Concessionaire or by the Authority such as NHAI or the State Government. In case of Annuity based projects, the payment is being made to the Concessionaire semi-annually or annually at the agreed rate during the operation period.

Toll Management Systems

For the use of the tolled highway, an amount of money, i.e. user fee has to be paid by the road user. The amount of money to be paid depends upon various factors like road section, class of vehicle, etc. Collection of user fee can be done either manually or by a computerised toll collection system. Mainly, there are two types of toll collection systems, i.e. Semi-Automatic Toll Collection System and a Fully Automatic Toll Collection System – popularly known as ‘Electronic Toll Collection’, wherein vehicle does not have to stop at the toll plaza for payment of user fees.

In the initial days of toll collection, the most common method of collection of fee was manual type tolling where money is collected manually by the toll collector and a pre-printed receipt is issued to the driver depending upon the vehicle class, road section and type of journey such as single/return journey. This method is still viable and is deployed at places where density of traffic is less, or where the expected toll collection does not validate the implementation of a full-fledged computerised toll collection system. This is so because in this method the operation cost is less and the operations can be started without extensive training. However, there is no audit on toll collection and with increase in traffic volume, this method will result in longer vehicle queues at the toll plaza as the per vehicle processing time is longer in this method.

In the case of semi-automatic type of toll collection system, the payment is made manually to the toll collector and other processes like the issue of toll receipt, data storage and management, lane management like opening/closing of boom barrier, traffic light operations, etc. are done through the toll collection system. In addition to the toll collection system, here, an Automatic Vehicle Classification (AVC) system is also installed. This AVC is usually a set of various sensors and other equipment installed in the lanes which detect the category of the vehicle passing through the lanes.

The data from the various sensors is collected and with complex algorithms, the class of the vehicle is determined by the AVC system. In case there is a mis-match between vehicle class processed by the toll collector and that as detected by the AVC, a photograph of the vehicle is taken and all data regarding that particular transaction is recorded by the system to be inspected and verified by the Toll Plaza supervisor.

The AVC is an invaluable tool which is used to monitor and verify the processes being done by the toll collector and helps in identifying any misclassification of vehicles or other forms of misappropriation. The Toll Collection System automatically identifies any such violations and enables appropriate action to be taken by the concessionaire or toll collection agency. In the case of fully automatic toll collection system, a transceiver unit is installed at the entrance of the toll lane at the toll plaza and an On Board Unit (OBU) or Tag is attached to the windshield. All other data like vehicle class, vehicle registration number, date of issue, expiry date, type of scheme, balance amount/trip, etc., is stored in the database corresponding to the unique ID of the OBU/Tag. When this vehicle approaches the lane, the transceiver unit detects the OBU/Tag and based on the unique ID of the OBU/Tag, the data is validated and if the required amount/trip exists in the user’s account, the boom barrier opens automatically and the vehicle is allowed to pass through the lane. This entire process takes place automatically without any human intervention.

This method is fast, secure and convenient for toll collection. However, this method can be applied only in areas with a higher concentration of urban or frequent travellers. It is not feasible for one time road users or for vehicles that ply infrequently.

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