All you wanted to know about FASTag - The Revolution in Indian Highways

  • Article explains what is Fastag, how to get it, concerns of motorists, teething problems and its financial benefits.
  • Indians take time to accept change. FASTag shall save them time and money.   

For ease of understanding article is presented in an FAQ format.

What is FASTag? 

Three years ago, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) introduced Fastag, a cashless option to cross toll gates on National Highways.


Fastag is a sticker that uses RFID technology and is stuck on the vehicles’ windshields. Sensors at toll gates read the Fastag and automatically deduct the toll payable. The Fastag is prepaid, and the motorist can recharge it online with amount users wish to. All new cars come affixed with Fastags. 


Toll gates have separate lanes for vehicles with Fastag. They are issued by banks etc on behalf of NHAI.

What Changed on December 1 2019? 

Fastag became mandatory for all vehicles to pay toll on Indian highways. The cash payment system is being phased out, and most lanes were converted into Only-Fastag toll gates. Penalties were also levied on Non-Fastag vehicles entering Fastag lanes.


The Only-Fastag system was enforced strictly. This causes disruptions at toll gates because of a very poor conversion of vehicles to Fastag. With the initial reluctance over, the rate of adoption of Fastag has been rapid.

How Does One Get FASTag?


Fastag is sold through various distribution channels - payment Apps, banks and also at the toll gate itself. All new cars are mandatorily stuck with Fastag, which can be activated by the motorist after he gets delivery of the car.


NHAI has managed to scale up sale of Fastags exponentially thanks to the pubic-private partnership model. Recharging is via the same channels.


The speed at which major truck and bus fleet operators (including STUs) have switched over to Fastag has been commendable. However, the transition has been extremely slow among individual car owners.

Faster Passage of Vehicles


Fastag is expected to reduce waiting time at toll gates. Initial reports validate that waiting time for Fastag vehicles have indeed gone down due to automatic opening of gates and reduction in manual intervention.


However, because of segregation of Fastag vehicles the cash lanes are seeing longer waiting times.


Another problem is the entry of vehicles without Fastag into the Fastag lane. The Editor experienced this during a recent drive from Gwalior to Dholpur where we entered the Fastag lane. We were told to pay Rs 150/ if we chose to use the Fastag lane or reverse, enter the cash lane and pay Rs 75/. Since there was no vehicle behind us, we could reverse the car and enter the cash lane. Just imagine the anger if there were 4 Fastag vehicles behind us.


Plugging Revenue Leakage


Apart from real-time monitoring of toll collections, the automation & digitisation brought about by Fastag has already seen rise in revenues, presumably because the scope for toll evasion by motorists and under-reporting of cash collections by toll personnel/ operators has come down.


The entire revenue collection process has become more dynamic and transparent.

Strengthening the Digital Economy 

The entire Fastag process rides on the back of the digital economy. Fastags are recharged online (now cash payment option is also available), toll payable is reduced automatically, an SMS is received every time you cross toll-post and the toll operator reports revenues online.


Use of online Apps and banks for buying, recharging and keeping accounts of Fastag usage makes it easier to transact for the motorist. The buying and re-charge processes are quick and hassle-free.

Resistance to CHANGE


The transformation to Fastag has been racked with resistance from motorists who did not heed year-long directives from NHAI requesting switchover. There were apprehensions that the digital systems would not work efficiently (if they were entitled to LPG subsidy they would realize how efficiently the subsidy got transferred electronically), some found toll gates inefficient and for many it was simply inertia to change or an excuse that tolls were being collected without a commensurate improvement in roads.


The December 1 switchover saw long Qs at toll gates, fights between motorists and toll gate personnel and even teething problems at some toll gates over non-functioning of sensors and lack of sensitisation of toll gate personnel themselves.

Ruffled feathers have been smoothened since then, and the rate of transformation to Fastag is increasing rapidly.


To calm down the unruly situation some toll gates have temporarily started more cash gates, and toll personnel are taking a milder attitude to levying penalties on non-Fastag users.

How Is It Working?


The main concerns of motorists have been about delays in buying Fastag (presumably due to the sudden demand for Fastags post-December 1), wrong deductions of toll amounts (mostly due to software glitches & Fastag service provider gaffes), non-functional sensors, long waiting times at toll gates and  about toll gates that are refusing to accept Fastag.


There have been squabbles between motorists and toll gate personnel when they Q up at the wrong lanes. Lane discipline has been lax in many toll gates, frustrating the Fastag users who had the discomfiture of seeing vehicles paying cash ahead of them in dedicated Fastag lanes.


On many occasions, when the sensors did not read the Fastags, motorists were forced to pay in cash only to find minutes later that their Fastags were also deducted (since then, NHAI has directed toll operators to let motorist through if their Fastag sensors fail to work). Fastag sensors have been slow to read the Fastags, or motorists have had to move their cars forward and back to enable correct readings.


Concerns of Motorists and Others 

The Fastag system is raising some nagging questions:


One, are motorists going to be under increasing surveillance, now that the digital system makes data collection and analysis of vehicle movements easier for the regulatory bodies in a country where privacy concerns are tossed out of the window?


Two, will this facilitate a more dynamic toll collection system that makes it easier to raise tolls, introduce time-of-day pricing and tighten the monopoly of toll operators on the highways of India?


Data collected by any agency or corporate can be misused. However, what is being attempted in India now has been prevalent in the West for years.


Upside – a Scorpio vehicle stolen from Pune was recovered from Thane, thanks to Fastag toll deduction alerts and GPS tracking. (India Today)


Further, there have been delays in extending Fastag to non-NHAI roads (mostly the state highways & others not under NHAI control), raising concerns of sharing of revenues between the NHAI and the other toll agencies, and loss of management control.


Two months later, some important toll roads continue to remain out of the Fastag net, infuriating motorists and thwarting the NHAI efforts to usher in a uniform national standard for highway toll collections.


Motorists are often disillusioned with their service providers, and are confused on how to move to another Fastag service provider since the recharging/ accounting is not universalised but routed through service providers.


The NHAI has stood firm amidst the volley of protests and demands to scale back the mandatory use of Fastags. It has also supported toll operators who stood up to motorists who flagrantly violated lane discipline at toll gates.


Benefits of FASTAG


One, like the abolition of tax check posts (subsequent to GST reforms), it will speed up movement of vehicles, especially cargo carriers, across major highways. Means cargo will reach faster and quicker turnaround time.  


Two, fuel burnt whilst waiting in endless lines at toll post will be saved.


“Estimated the cost of delay on Indian roads at $6.6 billion per year. The cost of additional fuel consumption due to delays was also put at $14.7 billion per year.” The Hindu

Three, reduces ability of toll operators to under-report toll collections. Increase in collections changes the economics of highway construction and will eventually result in more highways being built.


The highest daily toll collection via electronic system of FASTags has also been recorded at Rs 50 crore (single day collection) in January 2020 as compared to Rs 23 crore in November 2019. NHAI recorded its highest daily toll collection of Rs 86.2 crores in January 2020. Economic Times


Four, earlier fleet owners had to give truck drivers cash for toll who had the additional responsibility of keeping it safely. No longer.


Five, it promotes digitization of the economy. Live monitoring of the traffic is done by an online monitoring website , a start-up launched by two IIT-Kanpur alumni.

Six, it leaves an audit trail that has many uses e.g. recovery of stolen vehicle as stated above.


Do you have a complaint?

MORTH/NHAI/IHMCL has launched 1033 helpline numer for addressing FASTag complaints at toll plaza level. Complaints could be like Plaza not accepting FASTag, not able to read Tag, Plaza not supporting for monthly pass issuance, Stopped at Plaza for tag blacklist even though Tag is not blacklisted. From experience will say go to a reputed service provider preferably bank. 

The Way Forward 

Although the distribution across various service providers has helped provide the initial impetus, there is a need to universalise its application by making all State highways (including city entry toll post like Mumbai) FASTag-enabled and permit portability across service providers at a later date.


Indians take time to accept change. FASTag shall save them time and money.   


Author is a motorist based in Mumbai, who has been driving around India over the last 3 decades. You can read more about him in his Face Book Fan Page 

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