Malaysia To Test Multi-Lane Free Flow Tolling in 2022, Finally

Automologist LING wonders why the road to free-flow toll is so unnecessarily long.

They say that better late than never, but when there is so much wasted effort and public funds along the way, it’s no wonder that the rakyat (citizens) is questioning “why now?” and “why bother?”.

Around the time when Malaysians were introduced to the Touch n’ Go or TnG card as a cashless mode of payment at road tolls, our neighbours in Singapore was already using the ERP (or Electronic Road Pricing) gantry, equipped with cameras and sensors, to automatically collect toll money as the car whisks past underneath. No need for the vehicle to slow down, for the driver to fumble for change nor waiting for the boom barrier to be lifted. Overall, a much smoother system, most would agree.

After the Touch n’ Go, we here in Malaysia were introduced to the SMART Tag, a device that complements the TnG card and allows it to be read from a distance. While there was still a boom barrier, it was meant for cars to not have to stop completely at the toll booth. On paper, it should have improved traffic flow at the toll plazas but in reality, toll booths were segregated into different payment systems – cash, TnG card and SMART Tag – resulting in a lot of vehicles cutting across lanes left and right as they approach the plaza.

And the so-called SMART system often malfunctioned and a string of cars would get stuck at the SMART Tag lane, having to reverse or cut into the next lane, resulting in traffic flow disruption at the lanes on either side. Priced at over a hundred Ringgit, it was not an affordable device for the average Malaysian motorist either.

Then a few years ago, they introduced the RFID chip (also by the TnG company) embedded in a sticker that could be attached to the vehicle’s windscreen or headlamps and read by the overhead sensor at the toll booth. The RFID was supposed to lead to the eventual introduction of barrierless tolls. As an early adopter of this (and because it was free for those who registered early), I found it to be much better than the SMART Tag system  – the RFID system never failed to detect the chip and there was no battery that required changing. But the RFID system never really went past the testing phase. While still in use, only one toll booth, if any, in the entire plaza is allocated for RFID toll payment. More cutting across multiple lanes involved.

And now, a couple of days ago, we are told that we will see our first ever Multi-Lane Free Flow tolling system being tested on our highways next year. This will be overseen by Green Packet Bhd (not TnG, for some reason) and will be installed at the Besraya Highway for a 3-month data collection period before plans for rolling it out across all Malaysian highways. You would think that Malaysians would welcome the news, but no.

Most comments on social media point out that we are almost 30 years behind our neighbour, Singapore, which had been using the same system to great success for all those years. Many are wondering why we had to go through the various systems to finally arrive at this when we could have just leapfrogged technology and followed our neighbour’s footsteps many years ago.

Quite a number are sceptical and think that it will never take off, the same way RFID didn’t, with more money being wasted on “testing”. Most likely the TnG cards are here to stay, at least for a while.

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