A proposal to improve the traffic rule compliance in India via Toll Plaza & FasTag

The traffic rule compliance situation in India is quite well known globally. And, for all the wrong reasons! I would love to say the reality is better than the perception. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Can we use our IT system expertise to improve? Definitely! But it would need a holistic approach. We need to plug the loopholes in each and every step of the process. Leaving any segment open is an invite for our innovative population to game the system and we will be back to square one.Before we get into the actual proposal, let’s first see how the overall compliance system works.

The compliance enabling system

Any compliance system, be it traffic or other legal or quality framework, typically has 2 parts

  1. Policy formulation and
  2. Implementation

The 2 parts feed on each other to either improve or degrade over period of time. We do have a functional working democratic system. That ensures the quality of policy formulation part in legislative domain. However, the system typically fails in the implementation phase in 2 different ways

  1. Inefficiency in enforcement of policy and
  2. Collection of data points to feed in the policy formulation step

So, if we can improve the implementation step overall, we can improve the traffic situation at least in the rule compliance aspect.

The rule compliance has 3 steps

  1. Scan/Audit for violation
  2. Violation processing and
  3. Remedial action

All the 3 steps need to work under a physically secured controlled environment to ensure all the steps can function without hindrance, sabotage or evasion.

The existing process and its short comings

Today our police force provides the physical security and judicial process along with record keeping system (RTO) ensures the controlled environment. However, they also double up to actually implement the 3 steps manually and there lies the problem.

Till about 5 years ago, in most part of India, police had to manually check for traffic rule violation and process the challan. They also needed to collect the spot fine. Given their limited manpower, there is only so much that they can do with such diverse tasking. Hence there were huge gaps in coverage of the scanning and violation processing.

Even in case of the covered area, when it comes to remedial action, there were further leakage as many perpetrators would simply vanish in our vast population. The judicial system, that is supposed to provide a deterrence for violations via punishment were simply ineffective in 2 ways:

  1. Tracking the violators at later point in time due to inaccurate record keeping via RTO and
  2. Inordinate delay in the judicial system causing denial of justice in reality.

Add the corruption in all 3 of these agencies i.e. police, judiciary and RTO in each of the 3 steps of compliance process and no wonder, we are in the current bad shape. Worse, due to the cost involved, there is a limit to increase manpower for better coverage and even increased manpower is not going to solve the corruption problem.

The current status of holistic solution

Hence, the solution has the following 3 parts to cover all aspect

  1. Automate the 3 step rule compliance process as much as possible to increase coverage and reduce evasion
  2. Remove human touchpoints to a large extent in the 3 step to reduce chances of corruption and
  3. Reduce the tasking of police to a single agenda of ensuring physical security to the automated systems with accountability fixed to the uptime.

We have made some progress in the first part. In many of our cities,

  1. Automated camera and other sensors are scanning traffic continuously for violation.
  2. We have come up with centralized ticket processing center that sends the notice by post to registered address of the vehicle as available to RTO .
  3. There have been a few online as well as offline collection points for voluntary payments of the traffic fine.

The still existing loopholes

However, these are vastly inadequate for a country like India. A few obvious areas of leakage are as follows.

  1. Scan Issues:
    1. Large segment of roads outside the scan coverage of police as well as camera and sensor
    1. Camera and Sensors malfunctioning or even deliberately damaged.
  2. Process Issue: RTO not having up-to-date address and other information.
  3. Remedial Action Issue:
    1. Offenders simply ignoring notice of fine for voluntary payment
    1. Large section of road networks unchecked to catch violators with pending tickets
  4. Scan and Remedial Action Issue:
    1. Police letting the offenders go without creating a ticket for violation or collection of past fines for a small bribe or workload issue
    1. Fake or illegible Vehicle number plates

While all of them may appear like edge case at a first glance, the situation is serious because of the volume of such cases happening on the regular basis.

Also the leakage creates a bad example for larger population encouraging people to take chances with violation, particularly with drivers spending large amount of time on road like commercial vehicles and cab drivers. Needless to say, any habitual offender in these demographic is creating disproportionately large amount of risk to the general traffic.

The scanning part can be improved with more coverage via automated sensors and cameras. Processing can be improved via linking with Aadhaar and other cross linkages with bank account address and so on. Both reduce human touch-points and impervious to corruption.

But, the current process has an enormous dependence on the police in terms of remedial actions, particularly for catching willful violators. No amount of increase in scanning and processing will have much effect if habitual offenders can avoid the penalty by paying a small bribe periodically and continue without any hindrance and any modification in behavior.

Plugging the loopholes

Given our legal process and the paucity of infrastructure to handle the enormous caseloads of various criminal procedures faced by Indian society at large, it doesn’t need a genius to realize that justice via court system will continue to be a long drawn process. Hence, it would not be prudent to depend on its deterrent effect to induce behavior change for habitual willful violators.

Neither it would be effective to depend on police to track the violator at a later point in time and collect the fine. The huge workload and the corruption potential would ensure that.

Then, the only solution appears to be is to create a framework where remedial actions in terms of correct amount of fine collection are largely automated, unavoidable and with minimal human touchpoint. This is where the FasTag comes to help.

Our toll plazas essentially act as gates in our highway system. As of today, we have 450 of them creating an effective grid pan India basis that’s very difficult to avoid for the target demographic of commercial vehicle and cab drivers.

If we link the toll collection system with our traffic challan processing system, we can effectively digitize, automate and make the remedial action leak-proof and corruption-proof.  

The way it will work is as follows.

  1. Whenever a vehicle crosses the toll plaza, the receipt (digital) would automatically list all the unpaid tickets and their dates of occurrences. It would also list the first notification dates for these tickets via toll receipt as well as by post.
  2. Each ticket would have a notice period by which the vehicle owner can challenge the ticket in a traffic court or pay the fine voluntarily in a processing center.
  3. Not paying the ticket on time would add an additional charge on top of the original fine.
  4. After the notice period, if the ticket is still unchallenged and unpaid, the next time the vehicle crosses any toll plaza, the fine gets automatically collected from the FasTag wallet.
  5. If the wallet does not have sufficient balance, the vehicle is stopped at the plaza. The owner is allowed to settle on the spot via other payment methods with an additional fee; failing to do so would be cause for impounding of the vehicle without allowing it to proceed further.
  6. If the ticket is challenged in a traffic court, the ticket goes to on-hold status till the settlement in court and fine won’t be collected for the same.
  7. There would be a warning if the number plate on the front and back are illegible and not machine readable or does not match with the details from the FasTag attached; after a few round of warning, additional challan would get generated automatically for a fine.
  8. A police/CRPF/CISF platoon is posted in the toll plaza 24/7 to handle any rowdy behavior of the rogue violators. They also double up as security grid on our highway to handle any criminal or terrorist movement as added benefit, improving the overall security of our society.
  9. The toll plaza would automatically generate reports highlighting the vehicles with overdue pending tickets and no collection via FasTag, reducing any chance for corruption via human intervention.

Example

Let’s say a vehicle is

  1. caught on camera causing a traffic violation on 15th Jan
  2. the ticket for fine of Rs. 500 is generated by 25th Jan and send via registered post
  3. asking the owner to pay the fine by 15th Feb or Rs. 600 afterwards

If the vehicle comes to a toll plaza on 10th Feb for the first time since ticket generation on 25th, he gets a digital notice along with the toll receipt informing

  1. the violation date of 15th Jan,
  2. by post notice date of 25th Jan and
  3. by toll plaza notification date of 10th Feb
  4. The fine amount of Rs. 500 which will become Rs. 600 if not paid by 15th Feb.

Between 10 to 15th Feb, however many times he crosses the toll plaza, he gets the same notice with same dates and fine amounts.

  1. He can challenge the ticket on a traffic court before 15th Feb in which case it would go to on-hold status and remain in the same status till the case is disposed of by the court. Or
  2. He does not challenge and pays Rs. 500 voluntarily in some processing center, online or offline. Or
  3. He neither challenges, nor pays the fine and comes to another toll plaza on 15th Feb, the fine amount of Rs. 500 is deducted from his FasTag amount. Or
  4. He neither challenges, nor pays the fine and comes to another toll plaza on 16th Feb first time after 14th Feb, the fine amount of Rs. 600 is deducted from his FasTag amount. Or
  5. Same as case 3 or 4 but FasTag account does not have sufficient balance in which case an additional Rs. 50 is charged as manual processing fee
  6. Case 5 and does not agree to pay, vehicle gets impounded with a criminal case lodged against the owner automatically.

Further improvements

As no solution can give 100% result, this solution would also not work in all cases. Any habitual willful violator, can still avoid the grid by avoiding and/or bypassing the toll plaza in the way of routing.

To improve coverage, more toll plaza should be created in most of the thoroughfares in India with some nominal amount of toll to cover for the cost as well as increase of revenue that can be plugged back in the road maintenance.

Even if the number of toll plaza is quadrupled from current 450, it is still less for a country as vast as India.

Furthermore, same can be implemented in other important traffic gating infrastructures like entry and exit points of airport parking, government/public building, tourist spot under ASI maintenance etc. so on.

Still there will be certain leakage e.g. violators, plying solely on roads outside these infrastructures. There will be certain dependence on Police for remedial action in those cases but the percentage would be reduced to a large extent and with the reduced workload, the police force can be better redeployed as protector of the automated scanning infrastructure and other law and order duties.

Cost

The additional cost of the system would be on two accounts

  1. Linking traffic challan system with Toll collection system after enhancements (- insignificant) and
  2. Cost of increased security manpower in toll plaza (significant)

While the second cost may appear prohibitive at the beginning, creation of additional toll plaza collecting extra revenue does offset the cost to some extent.

This additional cost on Indian tax payer comes with the benefit of additional security on our highway system and hence should not be grudged given our time and place.Also, the additional employment towards the security does expand our local economy.

Other drawbacks of the proposal?

Every toll plaza adds some time to the journey and creating more toll plaza would definitely cause slight slowdown in our highway system in theory.

However, the argument in favor of the proposal due to benefit of orderly traffic caused by increased rule compliance remains compelling and can potentially create a smooth, orderly and safe traffic flow which in turn can bring down the overall journey time significantly instead.

The improvement in automated remedial actions can usher in not just increased coverage of automated scanning of the existing rules like over-speeding, one-way violation, signal-jump, riding without helmet, driving after expiry of insurance etc. in more points of the road network via camera and other sensors but significantly better rules like diamond marked “no stopping zone” in each traffic crossing to prevent one of the main reasons for traffic jam and so on.

Conclusion

It is fallacy to do the same repeatedly and improve drastically different result. It is also not possible to increase manpower and expect more efficiency due to human failings. Automation to increase coverage and reduction of human touch-point can bring in efficiency provided the physically secured controlled environment is allowed to do it’s job.

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