Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) is a busy stretch during mornings and evenings. A year ago, vehicle users using OMR were accustomed to long waits at the toll plazas before they could pay the charges and pass through. For the most part of the day, the plazas used to be crammed with vehicles of regular commuters, queueing up to pay toll.
FASTag came as a boon for the users of the road, which is under the purview of the State Highways Department. The wait time was considerably reduced, thus easing congestion in this important stretch.
FASTag also encouraged many citizens such as Krithika Nair to go cashless. With the FASTag sticker on her car, she no longer had to spend time waiting at the toll booths. But when Krithika, who works as a Business Development Manager, drove towards the Thoraipakkam side of OMR on December 2nd, she was asked to pay the toll charge in cash.
She had no cash. Nor was the staff at the toll plaza willing to take money on Google pay. “It was a terrible experience. I trusted digital India so much that I stopped carrying cash with me. I had no idea about the FASTag issue at these plazas,” Krithika rued. The staff at the toll plaza let her off, as she had no money but by then, the whole situation had congested the stretch.
Such occurrences have been frequently reported on OMR over the past week.
For over a week, FASTag facilities at the five toll plazas of OMR — Thoraipakkam, Perungudi, Medavakkam, Navalur and ECR link Road (near Kalaignar Karunanidhi Salai) — have been non-operational.
Tamil Nadu Road Development Corporation (TNRDC), the nodal agency that maintains the toll plazas on East Coast Road (ECR) and Old Mahabalipuram Road, had not disseminated this information about the glitches in the FASTag network among commuters, leading to considerable chaos.
Some road users also faced double-charging at Uttandi, ECR. Meenakshi Ramesh, who anchors Citizen Matters Chennai and is a Trustee at Oorvani Foundation, paid the charge in cash when she travelled via Uttandi on December 1st, as a notice said FASTag was not functional. “But the same amount of Rs 38 was also debited from my FASTag account,” she said.
The toll plaza at Uttandi is notorious for double charging, say local residents, who have faced many such incidents.
A senior official from TNRDC, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the lack of connectivity in the five plazas is due to tower disruptions. “Two of our towers at Medavakkam and Navalur fell down due to the strong gusts of Cyclone Nivar, hampering connectivity. It is not possible to complete a transaction without Internet connectivity,” the official said.
Work to erect new towers has been commenced and is expected to be completed by Saturday, according to the official. “We have dismantled the old towers. If not for the showers during the past week, the work would have been completed already,” he said. When asked about the double-charging at Uttandi plaza, the official promised to look into the issue.
These lapses are putting the staff (at toll plazas) in a spot too. “We try our best to explain the situation. But people take out their anger on us because of issues created by connectivity lapses,” said a staff member manning one of these plazas.
Unavoidable traffic snarls
OMR is not used to its fullest capacity these days, thanks to the pandemic that has made work from home a norm. However, a lot of software engineers who must report at work frequently still use the road. They contribute to the majority of the current traffic on OMR.
“The impact of this FASTag malfunction would have been a lot worse, if not for the pandemic and the resulting sparse traffic,” said Kalaiselvan K, a resident of Thoraipakkam.
But the road is also used by residents of OMR. While a few of them have local resident passes issued by the TNRDC, which enables them to use the road without paying the toll charge, many of them don’t. “Locals are suffering a great deal too, due to the technical glitches. The stretches near the toll plazas are getting congested,” said Kalaiselvan.