Fastag out, ANPR in? Well, that’s what the Indian government’s transport ministry seems to be planning in order to automate toll collection, and eventually eliminate toll booths and long queues. ANPR stands for automatic number plate recognition, and the technology is currently on a pilot test in India. If this technology works, toll booths will be made redundant, and tolls for highway use will be charged directly from the bank accounts of road users. If ANPR works, it will not just save time for motorists but will also save millions of liters of fuel that’s wasted everyday as motorists queue up to cross toll booths across India.
Mr. Nitin Gadkari, union transport minister of India, had this to say about the ANPR technology at a recent summit,
And now, we are going to launch automobile number plate technology (Automatic Number Plate Reader cameras) by which there will be no toll plazas.
In the past, Mr. Gadkari has also said that the government is exploring GPS based toll collection, which will also eliminate toll booths but will collect toll by tracking a vehicle’s movement through GPS instead of reading number plates at strategic locations. Back then, this is what Mr. Gadkari had said,
We are in the process of introducing GPS instead of FASTag while using satellite and on the basis of which we want to collect the toll. Technology is also available on number plate and there is good technology available in India. We will select the technology. Though we have not taken an official decision, in my view on the number plate technology there will be no toll plaza and there will be a sophisticated computerised digital system by which we can give relief. There will be no queues and people will get great relief.
ANPR vs GPS-based toll collection?
The Indian government is expected to adopt one of the two technologies in order to eliminate toll booths: ANPR or GPS-based toll collection. An exact timeline for the change has not yet been announced. We expect it to take a couple of years as the scale of the change is quite large, and adopting a new technology in India does come with its own set of challenges. Mr. Gadkari has been instrumental in pushing through Fastag, and its wide adoption across the length and breadth of India. The minister achieved this in just a couple of years, and Fastag is now a big success. We’ll have to wait and watch if ANPR/GPS-based tolling is also just as successful.
What about privacy?
While both ANPR and GPS-based toll collection promise more convenience and less time and fuel wasted by waiting at toll booths, they do present privacy challenges. We hope that the Indian government builds robust systems to safeguard individual privacy, which is now a fundamental right as declared by the Supreme Court of India in a 2017 judgment.