With the wider implementation of RFID toll lanes reaching its 6-month mark, Ong Kian Ming, Bangi member of parliament and former deputy minister of international trade and industry, has weighed in.
As any average motorist in Malaysia can attest to, particularly those living in the Klang Valley, tolls are a tolerated but costly and somewhat convenient part of any commute and even most short-distance journeys.
In summary, there are too many tolls going every which way, usually long queues when traffic gets heavier, and they can quickly cost us a chunk of change at the end of the day. And that’s before you factor in the lingering issues experienced at the toll booths/lanes themselves.
First Impressions With RFID
Like most of us, Ong’s first impressions of the RFID tags were fairly positive with him finding it easy to purchase, install on his vehicle, and set up via the TNG eWallet app. This was back in March 2022.
Some immediately apparent advantages include not having to deal with the large and somewhat cumbersome SmartTAG transmitter (as well as replacing its battery from time to time), the easy in-app balance checking and topping up, and having an easily accessible transaction record of toll payments.
However, inevitably, he also encountered the same pervasive issues that have been experienced by nearly every one that’s used cashless/tag-less/card-less system for any length of time such as the fact that most toll plazas only have one dedicated RFID lane which can lead to people cutting across traffic in a dangerous manner.
“Better Than SmartTAG”
In addition to other pain points such as the potential for improper installation and the possibility of approaching a toll with insufficient balance if the auto-reload function is not enabled, he also points out how it might be easy for some people to forget they had used an RFID lane to enter a closed highway system (such as the North-South Expressway) and use the SmartTAG or Touch n’ Go lane when exiting the highway.
Overall, Ong says he views RFID as an overall better experience compared to the SmartTAG he was using previously but felt that there are still many ways for the new toll collection system to improve.
He then gives a total of 8 suggestions with the hope that Touch n’ Go, PLUS, the Works Ministry that regulates the National Highway Authority (LLM) will collaborate further to realise, enhancing the highway experience for all Malaysians, not just users of RFID.
Proper analysis of the traffic data at MyRFID versus Smart Tag versus Touch&GO lanes to assess their respective efficiencies and take the necessary corrective action.
Use technology to remind highway users of low balance/auto top-up options.
Implement and allow negative balance (or Pay Later) to ease flow of traffic.
Roll out MyRFID for buses, lorries and other heavy vehicles.
Increase the availability of the Enhanced Touch & Go card.
Put in a timeline for conversion of Smart Tag into MyRFID lanes.
Link the MyRFID to other payment systems.
State the timeline for the overall plan to migrate to Multi Lane Free Flow (MLFF) system.
He does also elaborate on each suggestion, so feel free to read the full Facebook post linked here. However, we’d also like to give our own two cents on which suggestions represent the biggest gains and should be prioritised.
The first suggestion we’d support is #2 to prevent toll users from entering a highway with insufficient balance. The Auto-Reload function, which can mitigate this, is available though not mandatory, more could be done to actively alert users as their balance starts to dwindle.
This also ties into suggestion #3, which we’d argue is the most obvious solution to the ‘no balance’ problem. TNG should allow eWallet users’ accounts to go into negative balance when attempting to pass through a toll on a depleted eWallet.
What Can Be Fixed And When?
Setting up a ‘Pay Later’ function would likely need some level of cooperation with highway concessionaires and additional education to the end-user but would go a long way in preventing the long queues caused by driver carelessness and neglect (by not checking their balance beforehand).
Of course, there will need to be a limit to how much negative balance will be allowed, even penalties and punishment for abusing the system or purposely attempting to enter a highway toll with zero balance. For this, perhaps cooperation with JPJ is in order.
On the matter of the Enhanced Touch n’Go cards, Ong’s sentiment is an obvious one. We all know that TNG should have made more than the seemingly tiny batch they did end up selling to customers at launch. Scalpers are running wild with some cards being sold online for RM100 and their next large shipment of new cards is only reported to arrive in June, which is a pretty lousy and sluggish rollout.
The final suggestion we’d like to comment on is both #6 and #8 since they’re very much topically linked. Since the January 2022 wider implementation of RFID and the backlash that followed, there has been precious little in the way of a timeline as to when SmartTAG/TNG lanes will be converted into ones supporting RFID.
In tandem with the radio silence on this matter, there has been increasing chatter about working towards a future with multi lane free flow (MLFF) roads that do not even need toll plazas. The introduction of RFID tags themselves was integral to this same plan but there can be no progress as long as the number of RFID lanes is kept low and we cling to SmartTAG and TNG card taps to pay for tolls.
In the past 5 or so months, the advantages of MLFF have only been communicated poorly with various talking heads never explaining a full project blueprint attached to a timeline. All we have are vague descriptions of a booth-less, gate-less highway network that somehow still magically saps us of money the more we drive on them.
Who knows when that will happen, what will lead up to it, or how much that will cost the average Malaysian. It comes as little surprise that the vast majority of us just don’t seem to care.