Following the introduction of RFID at all PLUS highway toll plazas last Saturday, highway users had faced traffic congestion on Monday morning. The situation appears to be so bad that PLUS had disabled comments on their Facebook page, presumably due to a barrage of criticism and complaints from the public.
RFID tolling has been adopted extensively on several highways in the Klang Valley and there are currently 1.5 million registered RFID users so far. So what went wrong with a system that was supposed to reduce highway congestion? Here are several suggestions that PLUS and Touch ‘n Go could do to improve the overall RFID experience.
Clear signages for RFID lanes
The rollout of RFID by PLUS is not a small matter as it operates the longest highway in Malaysia covering 83 toll plazas from Juru to Skudai. PLUS has been promoting its RFID readiness for a month now but there’s lack of awareness on the ground level in terms of RFID lanes.
On Monday morning with the surge of traffic, there appears to be confusion due to the change of payment lanes available. To make matters worse, the RFID lane placements are not consistent across all toll plazas and highway operators, which leads to last minute lane changes. There were reports of SmartTAG users entering the RFID lane without realising that the lanes have been converted. As you can imagine, one mistake can cause a huge backlog for other vehicles.
To avoid possible confusion and last minute maneuvers, highway operators should put clear and large signs to illustrate payment lanes available before the toll plaza. This would give ample time for drivers to switch to the correct lane for a smoother journey. Assuming all RFID lanes are placed on the far right, a barricaded buffer zone to separate RFID traffic from the rest can be introduced in the first few weeks or during peak holiday or weekend season.
If there are issues with RFID lanes, the congestion will not affect other TNG and SmartTAG users. Similarly, if there are issues on TNG and SmartTAG lanes, RFID users will not be affected, and other highway users will see the clear advantage of RFID.
Onground support required
Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. As this is the first time PLUS is enabling RFID, there should be more onground personnel at RFID lanes to assist users that get stuck. The barrier (“palang”) for RFID will not go up if there’s insufficient balance, or if the tag can’t be detected.
As an RFID user for several years, most of the issues are due to tag detection errors which can be resolved quickly by reversing back by a few feet. Some users who got stuck for the first time may not know what to do and this issue can be sorted quickly if a standby staff uses a handheld RFID reader to clear the vehicle.
Maintain at least one SmartTAG lane at all toll plazas
Despite the previous assurance that TNG and SmartTAG lanes will be retained, several SmartTAG users have expressed frustration that SmartTAG lanes have been replaced with RFID at some small toll plazas. As a result, they would have to queue up at the TNG lane which is obviously slower, and this would add to congestion.
It makes more sense to retain at least one SmartTAG lane at all toll plazas and some have commented that PLUS should convert existing TNG lanes instead. Alternatively, a hybrid SmartTAG + RFID lane can be deployed at toll plazas with space constraints.
Enable PayDirect as soon as possible
Despite supporting RFID from 15th January 2022, PLUS still doesn’t support PayDirect at the moment. With PayDirect, you can link your physical Touch ‘n Go card including your IC to your eWallet which you can reload using credit card or debit card. This would help getting people started with maintaining an eWallet instead of queuing up to reload the physical TNG card. RFID acceptance would be easier once users overcome their eWallet hesistancy.
PayDirect users can also enjoy the convenience of auto-reload and this would also help reduce the chances of insufficient balance when going through a highway toll plaza. For clarity, PayDirect doesn’t reload your physical TNG card balance, and it only works on TNG and SmartTAG lanes. If you use the RFID lane, it will only deduct from your eWallet, not from your physical TNG card balance.
PLUS recently shared that RFID will soon support more payment methods including PayDirect, debit card, and credit card via an open payment system. This has been mentioned since 2019 and there’s no timeline at the moment.
RFID testing and troubleshooting
For users who purchased the DIY RFID Fitment kit, there’s no way to be 100% sure that your tag is installed correctly. Unlike an authorised fitment centre, users can’t test their self-fitted RFID tag and the only way to test is to drive through an actual toll plaza. If you’re unlucky, you’ll have to reverse and hope that it detects the second time. Although the DIY installation process is quite straightforward, there will definitely be cases of people installing it incorrectly or tags being damaged due to improper installation. It is also possible that the tag could be defective or damaged during shipping.
To provide confidence and assurance, TNG together with highway operators could set up a mock drive-thru RFID lane at the Rest and Service Areas (R&R) and strategic spots for users to test their RFID tags. If it fails, TNG can offer a free RFID tag replacement on the spot.
In case you didn’t know, TNG offers a free one-time replacement for its RFID tag and you can request one by contacting TNG. If you got the tag from a fitment centre, you can visit them again for a replacement. Take note that the free replacement is only applicable to those who purchased the RFID tag after 15th February 2020. RFID pilot users who got the tag for free are not eligible and you’ll have to pay RM35 for a new one.
More incentives to switch to RFID
At the moment, TNG is offering RM5 cashback and free shipping if you order the RFID tag from the eWallet. If TNG and highway operators intend to get more people to use RFID, there should be more incentives to drive the adoption.
Some have complained “what should I do with my RM100++ SmartTAG after switching to RFID?”. The folks at TNG could consider offering a “trade-in” programme to get users to swap their SmartTAG for an RFID tag with eWallet credit. On top of that, TNG could also partner with all car brands to bundle free RFID tags with all new vehicles registered in Peninsular Malaysia starting this year.
Highway users would definitely tolerate potential teething issues if they can see the potential value and savings of switching to RFID. Similar to retail transactions, TNG could offer cashback, discounts, or lucky draw entry for each toll transaction made via RFID. Even the harshest RFID critic will find it hard to say no if they can save a couple of ringgit in tolls.
As mentioned previously, RFID is seen as the first step towards a Multi-Lane-Free-Flow highway experience which is targeted in 2026. Before we can achieve a true barrier-less experience, the next step would be removing the barrier (“palang”) for RFID lane to enable Single-Lane-Free-Flow (SLFF). The transition to SLFF would require a clear legal framework to enforce fraud and bad payment situations. PLUS has already implemented Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) but there needs to be a clear policy to ensure toll evaders are charged accordingly and of course, stricter enforcement on number plate designs.
How’s your RFID tolling experience so far? If there are any suggestions on how to improve RFID, please drop your thoughts in the comments below.
- PLUS enables RFID at Juru-Skudai toll plazas at 10pm on 15 Jan. Here’s what you need to know
- TNG eWallet is offering RFID tags with RM5 cashback and free shipping
- Works Ministry: Govt targets to phase out Touch ‘n Go card and SmartTAG use by end of 2023
- Touch ‘n Go card and SmartTAG lanes are still available on PLUS highway after 15 January 2022