YESTERDAY, the toll collection system at all PLUS highways went fully electronic. The Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) system will relieve the toll booths of long queues during peak hours and make the journey to and from a destination — especially for those commuting to work — much smoother and therefore, less stressful. Cashless, the transactions will now be between man and machine. Barring a technical hiccough, toll roads will function as they should, the most efficient way for motorised vehicles to get from point A to B without having to endure traffic snarl ups given that these are multi-lane highways in both directions.
Toll collection will indeed be speeded up. On busy highways, the customary two- or three-lane road is expanded into very many lanes leading to the toll booths. This is intended to facilitate payment and ETC will make it even better. Unfortunately, when 10 booths with 10 lanes are again compressed into three lanes the congestion during peak hours cannot be avoided. One sees this on the North Klang Valley Expressway (NKVE), for example, thus causing traffic crawls. The dilemma is that with a completely cashless toll collection this problem, mostly a peak hour phenomenon, is exacerbated. Yes, the waiting time to pay is substantially reduced only for rush hour commuters to find themselves negotiating a traffic crunch after paying, before the vehicles sort themselves out into three lanes again. The question begging an answer — why then the need for toll roads when the problem of traffic congestion is not completely solved? In the final analysis, Malaysians pay toll so that highways can be well maintained.
Are the bottlenecks then a necessary hazard or should more toll roads be built to disperse the traffic further? Obviously the more routes there are, the less will be the pressure on roads, but the high cost of maintenance cannot be defrayed such that every highway operator will make a profit unless, of course, the road user is made to pay the economic cost of running the highway at standards necessary to keep it safe.
A future projection suggests that with the laying of an efficient, integrated public transport network, especially in the Klang Valley, the ETC system will come into its own when the number of motorised vehicles on the roads are gradually reduced as commuters opt to leave their cars at home. In a sense, too, the ETC system introduces Malaysians to the experience of a cashless society, the greatest advantage of which is to reduce, if not eliminate, crimes such as snatch thefts and muggings. The proponents of this brave new world where cash is passé says that electronically-generated transaction statements will facilitate better personal budgeting. The ETC system is all about making one’s journey faster, smoother and safer.