GS1 system adopts an open architecture approach to bring in transparency in toll collection system that is currently working on build-operate-transfer model
With an aim to boost cashless transactions and speed up toll tax collection from the concessionaire to the government, the Delhi Government officially kick-started electronic toll collection (ETC) in July 2019 using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)-based ‘FASTags’ across 13 booths in the capital city. The ETC move will also enable the government to track as well as put restrictions on over ten-year-old diesel vehicles from entering the city. Auto Tech Review spoke to Ravi Mathur, Chief Executive Officer, GS1 India, to understand the science behind the electronic toll collection system using vehicle tags.
GS1 India is a body set up under a joint collaboration between the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, CII, ASSOCHAM, FICCI, FIEO, BIS and Spices Board. GS1 India aims to boost adoption of GS1 standards across various domains to reduce costs through automation based on globally unique identification and digital information, thus paving the way for increased efficiency in supply chains. The GS1 system adopts an open architecture approach that has been designed meticulously to carry out modular expansion with minimal disruption to its existing applications. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and other supply chain application software drive the implementation of the system.
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) had rolled out a flexible, interoperable toll collection system using GS1 standards at its toll plazas in the country in 2014. Although the process did encounter headwinds during procedural adoption, the ETC system is currently deployed to collect tax through dedicated RFID tag lanes from 470 toll plazas, which includes 420 national highways and the rest being state highways. The system drives transparency in the toll collection system that is largely spread across various concessionaires operating on the build operate transfer (BOT) model, Mathur pointed out.
RFIDs are largely available in three versions – active, semi-passive and passive tags. Active tags have their own power supply, but for transmitting the signal back to the reader, they rely on their own power supply, which allows them to offer maximum range against the two other versions. Semi-passive tags have their own power supply, but for transmitting the feedback signal back to the RFID reader, they have to rely on the signal coming from the RFID reader.
The RFIDs that are currently being used in India are passive tags and do not have their own power supply and rely on the radio waves coming from the RFID reader for source of energy. These tags have a lesser range; however, they are compact in nature and cheaper to install as no power supply is involved for the tag. ETC enabled RFID-based FASTags act as a prepaid toll account affixed on the windscreen of the vehicle to enable passenger vehicles as well as commercial vehicles to pass through any toll plaza using the same tag across India, the GS1 India CEO explained.
RFID basically works on radio waves and not as the line of sight technology like in case of bar codes. In such ETC systems, the RFID reader is installed at the toll plaza that constantly emits radio waves which look out for RFID tags installed on the windscreen of the vehicle. Using ISO endorsed GS1 standards, each window is uniquely identified with a global individual asset identifier (GIAI), which is encoded in the tag. Whenever the RFID tag is within the range of the reader, the reader automatically tracks the tag and transmits the feedback signals to the receiver or detector antenna. The RFID reader is directly connected to the computer, where the information is processed by micro controllers as per the GS1 standards and facilitates correlating and reconciling toll collections based on the vehicle class. The system reduces cash transactions during toll collection at plazas, bunching of vehicles at toll outlets and brings down time spent at toll plazas from 10 min on an average of less than a minute, and can save up to ` 60,000 cr in fuel bills for India.
In order to ensure faster adoption, FASTags are already available at e-commerce websites such as Amazon, and the MoRTH has plans to make tags available at petrol pumps as well, which could also be interoperably used for paying parking fees or buying fuel at a later stage. The MoRTH also rolled out two mobile apps for easier top up of FASTags, using UPI and to link the FASTags to bank accounts. For now, seven member banks including ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, SBI, IndusInd Bank, HDFC Bank, Equitas Small Finance Bank and Paytm Payments Bank offer account linking facilities. With MoRTH Minister Nitin Gadkari asserting that there will be no respite from toll collection, as the government is focussed on utilising these proceeds to develop improved infrastructure facilities in the country, the faster adoption of FASTags appears to be the only way out for faster travel.
It is critical to point out that little over 30 % of the toll currently collected from the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI)-managed toll plazas is done electronically. MoRTH has drawn up aggressive plans to implement FASTags for motor vehicles over the next four months as well as increase the electronic toll collection to 100 % to reduce traffic congestion at tolls plazas, thus addressing the ever-growing air pollution problems in the country.
TEXT: Anirudh Raheja