News reports have revealed that the government’s announcement to implement toll payment using the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology on the main stretch of the North-South Expressway (PLUS) from Juru, in Penang, to Skudai, in Johor, effective Jan 15 received mixed reactions from various parties.
According to the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (FOMCA) deputy president Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman, the association finds the implementation is being in line with the government’s intention to modernise toll payments and reduce congestion at toll plazas. “We see Singapore, which does not have tolls, traveling is faster because there is no need for motorists to stop, scan or touch the card and so on, like what we are doing now.”
The move to RFID is only a stage before PLUS goes towards full toll transactions without the presence of toll plazas when it introduces the multi-lane free-flow system or MLFF in the future. However, Mohd Yusof said the current 20 RFID routes at nine PLUS toll plazas still had bars, and the situation caused highway users to have to slow down. He said the value-added facility offered by RFID, which could be made online, should have been well-received by the public. “As many people say, to top-up Touch‘ n Go is a hassle. You have to stop at convenience stores or petrol stations, and you have to have cash because a cashless top-up is not possible. “So RFID provides an easier option because the top-up can be done on smartphones either using a debit or credit card, or online banking. It also has a direct top-up feature using e-Wallet,” he added.
He welcomed the move to implement the RFID in stages as not all highway users currently had access to RFID tags due to the lack of information on the system. The option given to motorists to use Touch‘ n Go and Smart Tag for a certain period of time is appropriate until everyone has access to RFID. Then, PLUS can gradually eliminate the existing payment methods and switch to RFID completely,” he said and suggested for more promotions to be made by PLUS on RFID for the benefit of consumers.
On the negative reaction from some netizens over the government’s move, Mohd Yusof said a similar situation occurred during the transition from cash payment system to Touch ‘n Go at toll plazas. “It did not take long for the public to accept the change (from cash payment to Touch‘ n Go).
However, Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association (PPIM) activist leader Datuk Nadzim Johan questioned whether there was an urgent need for RFID to be implemented with the majority of the people currently going through a difficult phase of life due to COVID-19. He said although PLUS had clarified that Touch ‘n Go and Smart Tag could still be used, it was still ‘bad news for some people. “Even though it is just an announcement and the existing payment method is still running, it is making some people become more stressed,”.
He also raised the question of how those in the rural areas may have problems installing RFID on the vehicles, as well as technical issues, such as the transfer of current balance in Touch ‘n Go and Smart Tags to RFID. “There must be a guarantee that there will be no additional costs on the users,” he said and hoped that PLUS would provide more information on the implementation of RFID.
Even though the system was introduced in 2018 there are currently only 1,269,957 using the system, Deputy Works Minister Datuk Arthur Joseph Kurup said the ministry was targeting 60 percent usage of RFID technology for toll payments by the end of 2022 and that the use of Touch ‘n Go and SmartTAG cards may be stopped by the end of 2023.
Cleary PLUS and Touch n Go RFID, need to do more in bringing awareness to the system and give consumers more leeway in terms of adopting the new technology. They do need to more supportive as these are unusual times with many still reeling from double calamity.