Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Manual tolling causes severe congestion in India

The limitations of traditional manual toll collection have become only too apparent on one of India’s newest toll roads, the 25 km Gurgaon-Faridabad 4-lane highway in Huryana state (outside Delhi), according to the Times of India.

It is the first PPP project in the State, and has resulted in traffic jams of up to a kilometre in length since opening a few days ago due to delays in collecting revenue at toll booths (which range from 6 to 14 lanes in width). The operator is called Reliance Infra, a large Indian electricity utility company which also has another 10 toll roads either in operation or under construction. The toll for a car is Rp 15 (US$0.27) per trip. The report claims the road gets about 30,000 vehicles a day, hardly an astonishingly high number, and there is no provision for accounts or tag based users to swiftly move through toll booths. A more detailed description of the road is at Indian Express here.

The operators claim everything will be sorted out soon, but at first glance it appears toll collection is vastly below capacity in terms of efficiency or that pricing is too low (prices are listed at the bottom of this report from Times of India).  Of course another report (Hindustan Times) indicates traffic has been held up by protestors objecting to paying to use the road for relatively short trips, especially for villages adjacent to the toll plaza. 

It is astonishing that regular users cannot as yet set up accounts for DSRC access to at least automatically controlled barriers, which would help reduce delays.   None of this is new, as there is plenty of experience globally in addressing this sort of thing (and I would have thought a company, albeit local, experienced in establishing toll roads would know this too).

Is it the tradeoff between spending more on getting consultancy advice to make sure things work smoothly and everything starts off prepared to be as efficient as can be, or doing to cheaply and just muddling through?

Of course these delays are also matched by the report in the Daily Mail about the Delhi-Gurgaon toll road delays.   That toll road is managed by D.S Construction, and part of the problem is that tolls are paid for a relatively short journey by many users.  Yet shifting the toll plaza could halve revenues, indicating the fundamental problem with using manual tolls in a congested environment.

All of these problems could be solved longer term if India had the infrastructure, systems and laws in place to allow electronic free flow tolling to be implemented, collected and enforced effectively.  However, that would require an enormous project to be undertaken involving tens of millions of vehicles.

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