Tuesday, December 29, 2009

40, 39, 38... ZIP, ZAP, ZOOM!

40, 39, 38... ZIP, ZAP, ZOOM!
STANDING TOLL
The Hosur Road-Electronics City flyover will be thrown open to the public within the next 40 days, i.e., as soon as the electronic toll collection system is in place
RENUKA PHADNIS


The Hosur Road-Electronics City flyover will be ready for use within the next 40 days. There are two major tasks as yet to be executed. One, the electronic toll collection (ETC) system is not yet in place. Two, a Government of India notification is awaited by the consortium (Soma Constructions, Nagarjuna and Maytas) to permit it to start collecting toll from flyover users. Unless and until the issue of traffic management is sorted out, it cannot be thrown open to the public.
“This is unlike any other project. So even though the flyover is ready, the plazas and the equipment required to collect toll from road users have not yet been installed. Work is going on and it will take a month more to be ready,” said Brigadier Deshpande, an employee working with Bangalore Elevated Tollway Limited, which is the concessionaire (that is, the entity which has got the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) project). “So, even though the flyover is ready, the project cannot as yet take off,” he said, referring to the still-inprogress traffic management system. “Right now, the flyover is like a building with walls. Unless its pipes, lights and toilets work, it cannot be used,” he said.
“The toll collection is like a banking transaction — it must work correctly. It is no longer about a chap sitting at the gate and collecting cash. A company is writing a programme for us and that has to be tested,” he said.
The customised software is being executed by an Australian company called Efkon. “But the company is in no way responsible for the state of affairs or the delay,” he said.
“The second reason is that we are waiting for a notification to be issued by the Government of India permitting us to collect toll,” said Brig Deshpande. The notification is expected in a few days,” he said.
OK, BUT WHEN EXACTLY?
“I don’t think I can give an accurate answer. There is no point in giving a date. I don’t want to raise public expectations and then disappoint the people — that is unfair to the public. But we are very near there. It will very likely start within the next 40 days. We are very hopeful that it will start by that time,” said Brig Deshpande.
SOFTWARE CHALLENGES
On Saturday, Brig Deshpande had said that there were hardware and software glitches delaying the ETC. However, on Monday, he denied any such issue. “We are not handicapped when it comes to technology and work is going on in full swing. It is just a difference in public perception and reality (about the flyover). There are nitty-gritties of the project that only the consortium members are aware of (which the public is not aware of),” he said.
CONSORTIUM-ELCIA COMMUNICATION GAP
One reason for the delay in the toll collection work appears to be a lack of information as regards the exact number of users. While the consortium mailed and asked Electronic Cities Industries’ Association (ELCIA) about the exact number of people who will use the elevated roads, there was no response from ELCIA.
“We are keen to see this project start as we are most affected by it. We asked ELCIA to give us an estimate of the number of probable users but there has been no response from them. I am waiting since the last two months for a reply,” said Brig Deshpande.
He said that ELCIA has been monitoring the project from day one and that he had received several enquires from ELCIA about when the project would start. He said, “They are our target customers. This project is for E-City people and we are surprised that they (ELCIA) do not know how many people will use the road. I think they themselves don’t know the numbers.”
How will knowing the number of users help? In the ETC, the vehicle does not have to stop. There is no exchange of cash at the toll gate. An ‘onboard unit’ is mounted on the vehicle’s windshield and it is read by the scanner. If the unit is valid, the gates open automatically. “These units are expensive and knowing the number of users would have helped us immensely. Anyway, now the project is nearing completion and we no longer need that information,” said Brig Deshpande.
ELCIA CEO Prakash Rao said that it had tried assessing the number of users but got no responses from individual companies. ELCIA had done its own study and the results were handed over to the consortium. “But it is not possible to assess the exact number of users right now. We will get to know the exact number of users only 15 days after the flyover becomes functional,” said Rao.

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