12+ ways How toll booths cheat drivers despite fastag - eNidhi India Travel Blog

12+ ways How toll booths cheat drivers despite fastag

Tollbooths are unavoidable nightmare of every vehicle owner. In exchange for a smooth road, vehicle owners are expected to pay 2-3 Rs per km at toll booth. Even paying that doesn't ensure smooth journey. There are a dozen different ways how toll booths loot vehicle owners. Here is a list. Do share your thoughts.

1. Too many toll booths
Toll booths are supposed to be at least 50 kms apart. But now we have a toll booth every 25-30 kms in many places. Between Udupi and Mangalore (60 kms), there are two toll booths (just 11 kms apart) extracting 100+ Rs one way from each car owner.  Between my home n Mangaluru there are 3 toll booths - 3 toll booths within 60 kms or on an average one every 20 kms. A round trip journey costs me 300 rs in toll for just 120 kms- almost 3 Rs per km in toll alone. On top of this 200% tax extra on fuel, 25% GST paid on vehicle ex showroom price, few lakhs paid as road tax all extra. [Details]
It is the same in Bengaluru also- between Bengaluru and Tumkur (60 kms) there are 3-4 toll booths (more if you include NICE road also).
Now state governments are also seeing toll road as new source of revenue. Plans are on to convert several state highways that were hitherto toll free also into toll roads. Entry and parking fees charged at various spots extra.

2. Keep extending toll contracts forever
When roads are built by private companies, it is done on a BOT model- Private companies build the road with their money, operate it for a certain period of time, collect toll, recover their investment, make some profit and then handover the road to Govt. Typically, 10-20 years is the contract time by which toll company recovers their spend on the highway. But once started, toll collection never stops. Contract is extended by another 20-30 years by bribing politicians and officials, so your grandchildren also will end up paying toll though there's nothing new done on the road and entire investment is recovered with profit via toll collection.

Govt turns blind eye to such cases, some silly excuses are given to extend toll period. Govt should publish contract amount (say 10 cr was spent to build the road) and monthly collection. If 2000 vehicles pass through toll booth daily paying average 50 Rs, it is 100000 per day, 30 lakhs per month. 10 Crores will be recovered in about 3 years flat. Some more time for salary, maintenance, interest, profit etc, about 5-6 years toll company recover their spend and start making money. At least after 10-12 years a road should be toll free. But have you identified any 20-30 year old toll road now becoming free? It never happens.

3. Illogical monthly pass rule
People living within 20kms are eligible for a monthly pass at concession rate. However toll operator plays some tricks here- these passes are not issues for 30 days from the date of payment but it expires on last day of the month irrespective of when it starts. If I want to get s pass on 25th of a month I should pay for full month for just 5 days or pay full toll amount and travel without pass. Why not give it for 30 days validity from date of purchase (like how our sim card validation/recharge works?)

4. illogical return fare rules
Return fares are supposed to be cheaper than two one way toll. but again toll operator plays trick here- return rate is applicable only till same day midnight- not 24 hours from the time of payment, no 2-3 days option.

What difference does it make whether I return tonight or tomorrow afternoon? Why not give a reasonable time for vehicle owners? I need to finish whatever work I have to finish on the other side of the toll booth.

5. No exemption to locals
With fastag becoming mandatory, toll gates tried to eliminate exemption that existed for locals. Locals (those staying within 6 kms from toll booth) have given their land for the highway construction, are forced to drive 3-4 kms in wrong direction for a U turn and can't afford to pay 40-50 Rs each time they need to go to their destination just a few kms on the other side of toll booth. Thus locals are exempted from paying toll but its enforcement often needs heavy protests and arguments with toll staff. Fastags are not autoprogrammed to deduct zero from locals, different toll operators have different rules in this regard (Chennai OMR toll wanted passport with local address- passport costs 3000 Rs to make and one who has no intention of going abroad why should they be forced to get a passport? Why not accept Adhaar or vehicle RC? There were heavy protests in Sasthan and other toll booths in South Canara recently, after which toll company agreed to exclude locals from paying toll.

I am not clear how the system now works for exempted dignitaries- they will be manually let through or their cars also will have a special fastag that will never charge them?

6. Forced mandatory fastag
Car owners are forced to buy fastag even before registration. Those who use it within the city, have no toll road to pass to, those who are comfortable paying 2x in cash or ok to buy fastag later when they need are given no option. You pay 600 Rs extra for fastag along with vehicle price and you get balance worth 100 Rs. 500 Rs is gone in the process. 

7. Can't switch off fast tag
If I have two SIM Cards and I don't want to use one, I can switch it off. Whenever I feel the need to use it I can switch it on and recharge. We need similar feature on Fastag, so that we can turn it off and turn it on only when we head out on a trip or are planning to use a toll road. This will prevent fraud, unnecessary charging and other misuse. But no, Govt doesn't want to give such control to users- only option is to call helpline, provide tons of document and request to block and then repeat the process when you want to unblock. Why not let users manage it themselves?

8. Deliberately Delayed SMS
Once money deducted from fastag, SMS should be sent immediately. If there is any dispute vehicle owner can park the car, speak to toll staff and sort out the issue. But SMS is often sent after 1-2 hours, by that time owner would have driven 50-100 kms so if there is a dispute it is not possible for him/her to come back 50-100 kms to toll booth. Easy money to toll company. Even if I come back and prove that toll company was at fault in deducting extra money, there is absolutely no compensation for time and fuel I had to waste in the process. 
No option to raise a dispute online, no OTP process before deducting money, no security against fraud.

9. No duty manager/complaint desk at toll plazas in evening
Toll is collected 24x7, but if you have a complaint, goodluck. Managers are only available during day time like 9 AM to 6 PM etc. Even complaint counter is closed. So if you have any complaint you have to take half day leave from work, waste your time at toll booth and fight for refund. No compensation for time and value lost in this process. How hard it is to have a senior staff on night duty handle customer complaints on the spot if any, instead of asking customer to return next day after 9 AM (as if he has no other work than begging for his money back)

Vehicles without fastag are charged twice the toll. If extra money is debited, toll company should be made to refund 10x the amount as compensation for time and effort vehicle owner had to spend to fight his/her case.

10. Not using technology to protect consumer interests
While issuing fastag, how hard it is to identify tollbooths near the address of car owner and auto program the fastag to deduct zero? No, they won't do that. Car owners need to go to specific lane, scroll down windows, show documents and seek exemption. Not using technology that is capable to read fastag from fast moving vehicle- we have to stop and wait till scanner gets up from sleep and reads fastag. Not using technology to protect fastag owners from fraud is a deliberate attempt to exploit car owners and make more money illegally.

Using technology following can be done
1. Debit zero on toll booths where vehicle owner is exempted (locals)
2. If total debit in a month crosses monthly pass amount, passing toll booth should be free for rest of the month, so without having to buy a monthly pass in advance each consumer is given an upper limit.
3. Give a longer return timing and debit as per discounted two way fare on return
4. Track how long the queue is, if it is longer beyond set limit or fastag reading is not happening within set time, auto open toll gate and let vehicles pass through.

11. Fastag isn't saving time
In many countries, vehicles simply zoom past the toll booth and automatic machines do their work of debiting the money. In India vehicle owner has to stop 100% for scanner to scan fast tag, if scanner fails wait till a human staff comes with hand held scanner, move his/her car backward and forward to let scanner read and so on. Thus fastag isn't doing much to save time. Now it is lot better compared to 2 years ago, but still there is lot of improvements possible.

There have been many instances where toll booth staff demand cash claiming fastag server is down. Once you pay in cash fastag money is also debited and you are cleverly cheated. Due to time, effort and fuel it takes to go back and fight the case, many take the loss and keep quiet. Cheating fasttag companies should be shut down if there are multiple complaints like this.

There are some rules- if scanner doesn't scan within 30 seconds it is free, or if there're too many cars waiting cars can pass through without paying toll. But these are seldom enforced. Car owners need to wait for several minutes at the toll so all the time they saved by cruising on highway is lost at multiple toll booths that are popping up every 30-40 kms.

12. No compensation for affected vehicle owners
Nitin Gadkari is talking about GPS based toll collection. But he has no interest in satellite based pothole detection and compensation. No time limit to complete projects (Kundapura flyover work, Mangaluru pumpwell flyover work, service road work etc get delayed by decades) and no compensation (no reduction in toll, no stopping toll) for vehicle owners. If more money is deducted by mistake or fastag is misused, vehicle owner should run from pillar to post wasting his/her time. At the max you may get a refund, no compensation for time and effort wasted due to someone else's fault.

13. Double charging
In Chennai, a single toll receipt is enough to enter and exit a toll road on OMR. However Uber and Ola would charge their customers twice- one for each instance of passing toll booth- those who don't notice it lose twice the money. Similarly if a driver is unaware of exact rules, he/she might be tricked into paying twice by toll staff.

I am just getting used to the concept of fastag and its usage. Aravind has written a detailed post about his fastag experience here.

Do share your thoughts.

My previous posts on toll: 1. Toll road nuisances (2012)  * 2. Overpriced Bengaluru airport toll

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