In a recent interview with Free Malaysia Today, Works Minister Fadillah Yusof revealed that highway users will soon be able to pay for highway tolls using any digital payment provider and not just Touch ‘n Go when Multi-Lane Free Flow (MLFF) is fully implemented in 2025. This would mark an end to Touch ‘n Go’s monopoly for highway toll payments.
Fadillah said highway concessionaires have been instructed to be ready to implement MLFF by 2025, which is a year earlier than the previous target. MLFF is a barrier-free tolling system where vehicles can travel freely without the need to slow down for dedicated lanes or barriers. Vehicles will be charged automatically via RFID coupled with an Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system.
The Minister said the public will have the freedom to use any digital mode of payment which includes Touch ‘n Go eWallet, debit or credit card, Visa or Mastercard, or any kind of electronic payment system as long as there’s a link available on a highway. A vehicle just needs to have one RFID tag.
He also confirmed that Touch ‘n Go card usage will be retired by 2025, and SmartTAG lanes will be phased out. At the moment, it is estimated there are 20 million TNG cards in circulation and 91% of transactions are used on 31 highways in the country.
When questioned about the readiness of highways to implement MLFF, he said if there are delays by some highway concessionaires, the government may consider a private investment model or private finance initiatives to take over the MLFF system. He added that the private investment model is for an open system and all systems across various highways in the country need to be integrated. He added that Singapore and Taiwan have a single authority over their MLFF system.
On 15th January 2022, PLUS which operates the most extensive highway network in Malaysia has enabled RFID with ANPR at 83 toll plazas along the North-South Highway. Fadillah has recently shared that the pilot stage of ANPR is also underway at the Kajang-Seremban Highway (LEKAS). He said his Ministry is also looking at a proposal for a public-private partnership (PPI) subject to further discussions with LEKAS concessionaire and another pilot project at Besraya Highway. Last year, Green Packet announced an MLFF Proof of Concept with FETC International that will be conducted for 3 months starting in early 2022.
Most highways in the country are currently limited to 3 payment options – TNG, SmartTAG, and RFID. The first two payment options are based on the physical TNG card while RFID is currently linked only to Touch ‘n Go eWallet. PLUS has recently mentioned that an open payment platform for RFID will soon be introduced, allowing users to make direct payments using credit or debit cards. This would eliminate the need of maintaining a Touch ‘n Go eWallet to use RFID.
At the moment, there’s no set target for the open payment implementation and it has been mentioned since 2019 when Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Aziz was still the Group CEO at CIMB. Touch ‘n Go had previously said it will introduce a new physical TNG card that can be reloaded via eWallet by the end of 2021 but it hasn’t been launched yet.
Back in 2018, PLUS started its own RFID pilot which allows users to link the tag to their bank account, credit, or debit card. Shortly after that, CIMB, which owns Touch ‘n Go, had initiated legal action against PLUS for breaching a joint venture agreement. PLUS had insisted that didn’t breach any agreement as Touch ‘n Go eWallet was offered as one of the payment options available for its RFID programme. Eventually, PLUS announced support for TNG’s RFID system.
As shared by PLUS during a recent media session, the current legal framework needs to be enhanced before highway barriers can be removed. This would be crucial to enforcing fraud and bad payment by vehicles that don’t have RFID tags or don’t have sufficient balances. Before MLFF is implemented, the next step would be to implement Single-Lane Free Flow (SLFF) where the barrier (“palang”) for RFID lanes is removed.
In countries such as Australia, vehicles without RFID tags will be charged via ANPR. They will be given a grace period to settle the outstanding toll charges which can be paid at selected petrol kiosks, outlets, or online. If the toll is not settled by the due date, a fine will be issued and legal action can be taken against the owner to recover the debt. Malaysia could follow a similar enforcement model and vehicle owners could be blocked from renewing their road tax or licenses until their outstanding tolls are settled in full. For ANPR to work effectively, number plates for vehicles must be standardised to ensure highway concessionaires can charge all vehicles accordingly when the barriers are removed.
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