Keep Barriers Open On RFID Lanes To Ease Congestion At Toll Plazas During Hari Raya?

The Works Ministry is determined to have the Multi Lane Free Flow System (MLFF) on major highways from 2025. It believes that by not making vehicles slow down and almost stop – and wait for the barrier to rise – at toll plazas, the problem of congestion will be eased. Perhaps that might work although if we go by the example of the Subang toll plaza which was removed some years back, there is still congestion along that stretch of the Federal Highway.

Anyway, to have MLFF means that there will be no barrier (and no toll plaza too). The barrier has been necessary all this while because, surprisingly, there is no law which makes it an offence not to pay toll. It is treated like a ‘business matter’ and the toll concessionaire has to go after the vehicle owner who does not pay the required toll. Obviously, it will be very challenging to do so, and likely to require a lot of manpower and time tracking down toll-evaders.

For this reason, all toll plazas had had a barrier since the first tolled highway was opened along the Slim River Highway in the 1960s. It’s to protect the interests of toll concessionaires though why toll evasion was never made an offence is unknown.

In preparation for MLFF, there has been a move towards RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) for Electronic Toll Payment (ETP). The SmartTAG is also a form of ETP and just as good but there is official support for RFID because it is said to be able to process vehicles at a faster rate – 1,200 vehicles versus 1,000 an hour for the SmartTAG. For now, that is no advantage since the barrier exists and needs to be raised each time for a vehicle to pass through.

With the Hari Raya balik kampung exodus to take place later this month, various ideas are being considered to ease congestion at toll plazas. Every major festive season sees long queues, not to mention the horror stories of taking 7 hours (or long) from the Klang Valley to Penang.

Additional RFID lanes have been opened at PLUS toll plazas along the North-South Expressway as one solution. More lanes would certainly allow more vehicles through in less time. But there’s still that barrier…

Proposal from a senator
A senator from Terengganu, Datuk Razali bin Idris, has suggested that the barriers be removed in the RFID lanes during the Hari Raya holiday period so that traffic will not have to slow down, thereby speeding up traffic flow.

That’s a good idea (hopefully, there won’t be any problems with RFID signals) but the understanding which the senator (and the Deputy Works minister who listened to the proposal during a recent session in Parliament) has of how the system works might be a bit off the mark. It seems that they believe the barrier is raised when the camera at the toll plaza captures the image of the car and its numberplate, so the RFID tag is essentially redundant.

ANPR camera at a toll plaza.

Functions of RFID and camera
From what we know after extensive explanations by the PLUS people before, the RFID tag is the vital element which notifies the system of the vehicle’s presence before the barrier and also receives data on the vehicle to deduct the toll payable from a registered account. Once the toll is collected, the barrier will go up to allow the vehicle through.

As for the camera – which has Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) software – this is understood to be for purposes of recording in the event someone manages to sneak through without paying. Actually, there have been cameras at toll plazas for years to record what’s going on but ANPR will allow the toll operators to more quickly identify a vehicle.

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Whether the ANPR cameras can be used for ETP is unknown though it should be a technical possibility. Of course, it means that the ANPR system has to be linked to a database so that toll can be deducted from the relevant account. At the moment, with the RFID system, the data is from the tag and refers to the database that Touch’nGo has created, not JPJ’s database of vehicle registrations.

And given that we have cases of irregular numberplate formats (in spite of laws making them an offence), the ANPR might not work then. But without a barrier, the cars will just speed through (not too fast, of course) and the toll operator will soon start to find that the number of vehicles that has passed through might not tally with the number of vehicles toll has been collected from. It can become pretty troublesome then to identify which cars did not get charged.

Toll plaza

Keeping the barriers raised during the Hari Raya holiday period is a good idea but unless there is assurance that toll is collected electronically from every vehicle passing through, PLUS is unlikely to be willing to implement it. Of course, they could try it out on the toll-free days which are usually offered during major festive periods.

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