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Soon, pay highway toll based on vehicle size, road stress

NEW DELHI : The size of your vehicle and the potential load on the road infrastructure may soon determine how much toll you pay on national highways.

The government is planning a major overhaul of the toll policy, which would shift from the current system of tolling based on fixed distances traveled on roads to one where it is determined based on real time and distance traveled on highways.

Also, the toll is determined based on the actual size and weight of vehicles and not just on the number of axles as is currently the case.

The idea is to charge tolls based on how much space a vehicle takes up and how much weight it puts on road infrastructure, resulting in faster road wear, the said official said on condition of anonymity.

The Union Ministry of Roads is discussing the proposal and may launch pilots in some of its upcoming greenfield highway projects, including the Delhi-Mumbai corridor, before rolling out nationwide, the official added.

To prepare the ground for the change, the ministry has also asked the Indian Institute of Technology (BHU)-Varanasi to calculate the latest passenger vehicle unit (PCU) for various types of vehicles.

“Passenger car unit is a vehicle unit used to express the capacity of the highway or how much road capacity a vehicle will use and for how long. This unit was established several years ago, and meanwhile, the size of vehicles and their speed have made great changes This will be documented in the revised passenger car unit, which could also become the basis for determining highway tolls,” the official said.

Questions sent to the Ministry of Roads to get details of the proposed changes went unanswered until press time.

Mint had previously reported that tolling could also shift from the current FASTag-based system to a GPS-enabled one, creating a tolling system based on actual road use. Users with smaller and lighter vehicles covering shorter distances on highways would therefore pay much less toll than users with larger, heavier vehicles and longer distances.

“Location-based toll collection should be phased in, as it would be a technological leap over the current FASTag-based system. About 80% of tolls collected in India come from the transportation of freight by commercial vehicles, and this segment needs to be exposed to the changes first,” said Jagannarayan Padmanabhan, Director and Practice Leader – Transport and Logistics, Crisil Ltd.

“As processes stabilize, other segments can also be enabled to provide universal service for relocations across the country. Adopting technology for change is not complex or expensive. But the adoption should be gradual, eliminating the chance of disruptions,” he added.

In the current system, toll rates are determined on the basis of previously calculated PCU. The number of axles was also one of the criteria for determining the toll rates. This meant that larger trucks with a higher axle capacity paid more toll even if they were efficient, caused less damage to the roads and transported larger quantities of goods in a faster turnaround time. Also, the current toll system does not record the actual road distance traveled by a vehicle. Tolls are charged at specific toll stations for a full ride, even if a vehicle leaves the highway early.

The new system rewards efficient vehicles with lower toll rates, while vehicles that wear out road infrastructure and take more time and space are charged more.

The new toll policy will be finalized after the IIT-BHU report on the PCU review, which is expected in the next six months. Following the report, the PCU counts of several vehicles would be redetermined. Also, location-based services would require GPS devices on vehicles, and location-based tolling regulations need to be finalized, which would require the Motor Vehicle Act to be amended.

“Work to finalize the new toll policy is moving fast and could be announced in 2023,” the aforementioned official said.

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