FASTag is a solution devised by the Government who never faced the problem that it is expected to solve. FASTag tries to work out so many questions that it forgets the very problem it is supposed to solve. Rather, the problem statement formulated for FASTag itself turns out to be so misplaced that it cannot solve a thing.
The basic premise of FASTag is to charge the vehicle, which is flawed in the Indian context. The principle should have been to charge the person in the vehicle. This fundamental change in the design of the FASTag would have made the solution much simpler and elegant.
Let me explain.
Vehicle and Driver/Passenger are separate entities
Few Indians still use taxis for moving on the highways. In this case, the toll tax is borne by the passenger and not by the driver of the taxi. Why would a taxi owner, who is a separate being from a driver too, put a FASTag on the vehicle?
We have private passenger vehicles of various sizes. They might carry one group of passengers, who will have to bear the toll, or an assorted group, in which case the driver will pay. Either way, again the owner has no incentive to put the FASTag.
In the case of lorries and trucks, it is even more complicated. There is a complex web of owners to lessors to sub-lessors to drivers. None of them has any benefit of putting the FASTag on the vehicle. The ownership of commercial vehicles changes frequently and at times, hidden from RTO too.
Only a minority of commercial vehicles ply on fixed routes with fixed drivers with identifiable and unchanging ownership. Apart from one-time registration with RTO at the time of purchase of a commercial vehicle, there is so much of flux that nobody would want to put a tag of title on the vehicle.
FASTag is supposed to be a like-to-like cashless solution for toll collection in cash. When the toll is collected in cash, is there a need for KYC? No. Then, why should a FASTag require a KYC? If the Government wants to unravel the vehicle ownership tangle, it has to come up with other solutions. This is not the job of a FASTag.
Indian Highways have a maze of differentially priced toll booths. Which owner has the bandwidth to keep a track of the tolls paid, tolls to be paid and accordingly keep topping up FASTag for individual vehicles so that it does not get black-listed?
Why would anyone who is going to travel on highways once/twice a year undergo all this hassle? Why would anyone want to keep their cash idle in the FASTag account that would earn interest for the bank but not for the vehicle owner? The idea of minimum balance in FASTag account is out-rightly hare-brained.
FASTag was conceived sometime in 2016-17. It might have made sense then, but now in the age of the ubiquitous QR codes, FASTag seems to belong to the pre-historic era.
Even in the FASTag lanes, boom bar is closed. The vehicle has to effectively come to a stop for the FASTag to be scanned. When, anyways, the vehicle has to come to a stop, it is better to put a QR code at the toll booth. The driver might as well scan with the smart-phone, get the account debited and move on.
Every driver has a smart-phone. Majority of them use payment apps as well. Give them a bouquet option to choose the app they want to pay from. Period, the problem of cash collection is solved.
For a taxi, the passenger would scan her/his phone and make the payment. For a commercial vehicle, the driver would have either collected the cash from owner/passenger or be it his own cash, he can deposit in his app and pay by scanning QR code with his phone. He is bound to do this for his own convenience, which he would not have for the sake of his owner. Even for State Transport buses, another FASTag defaulter, the drivers would want to put money in their wallets and scan through.
A QR code would simplify the process thoroughly. Rather, it will make FASTag redundant. Yes, there will still be people who would want to pay cash, but they will be much lesser than people who flunk FASTag currently.
FASTag has been burdened to come up with solutions to so many problems, it is doomed to fail. It is yet another achievement for the incompetent Government, unaware of the ground reality, to complicate what could have been a seamless and straightforward solution.
Junking it would look Government officials and the Minister look silly. By doing so, they will look silly once. Currently, they are made to look silly every time, a vehicle goes through a toll booth paying cash.
The moral of the FASTag debacle is to stick to solving one problem at a time, be realistic about the on-the-ground pain points, and not be smart by half to tackle multiple problems with one solution. It has never worked, it will never work.
An optimal solution would be to abolish multiple toll gates and have a SINGLE toll. That would be some reform.
PS: I am sure that I would have made some mistakes in my assumptions. However, after seeing the ground reality at the toll booths, I am certain that the FASTag in its current avatar doesn’t have a future.