India - tollroads in the news for toll plaza gridlock and grand plans

February 3, 2008
By Peter Samuel

Tollroads are much in the news in India - good news and bad news. The big bad news story is the first chaotic week of the new mostly 8-lane toll expressway southwest out of Delhi to Gurgaon, a developing edge city not far from Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport. 28km (17mi) long, the tollroad also becomes part of National Highway 8 between Delhi and Mumbai, formerly Bombay. Traffic volumes are already 150k/day in the corridor so the new road was built to four lanes each direction for most of its length.

The road, formally the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway, abbreviated to Gurgaon Expressway is billed as India's first truly urban tollroad. One of the toll plazas at Km24 with 32 toll lanes is the largest in the country.

The new road is a mix of upgraded surface arterial and new construction with a substantial elevated section, and new service roads in places. Construction cost was $250m (Rs1,000 crore, a crore being 10m, the Rupee Rs40=$). At purchasing power parity it would be several times.

Madhusree Chatterjee IANS wrote of the opening:

"On a chilly January evening (Jan 23), the 27.7 km multi-lane Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway inaugurated Wednesday gave the Delhi-Haryana border a rather exotic feel.

"Bathed in the golden glow of the setting winter sun, the two states at their border - where the skyline of the capital melted into the silhouettes of glitzy malls, high-rises and new-age info-tech hubs of upmarket suburban Gurgaon - seemed poised to take a giant leap in time.

"The network of nine flyovers (interchanges) looping the Access Controlled Delhi-Gurgaon section of National Highway 8 like strands in a necklace stood like a precursor to change.

"For those present at the inauguration ceremony Wednesday evening, the expressway was a symbol of better, bigger and more globalised 'greater Delhi' obliterating territorial boundaries.

"The capital is riding to the future astride its giant network of roads," he quoted an engineer, and cited the delight of people anticipating speedier trips and new opportunities for jobs and visiting.

To reduce travel times from an hour to 20 mins

The promise of the expressway was that the journey from Delhi to Gurgaon would be reduced to a reliable 20 minutes compared to the 50 to 70 minutes drive over surface arterials.

But news stories turned sour within a day as the mainline toll plaza at Km24 couldn't cope with the traffic and regularly developed backups described as "several kilometers long". Just the trip through the toll plaza in peak hours is said to be regularly 20 to 30 minutes. One reporter said stingingly it was the first expressway to be slower than the regular road.

What's gone wrong?

The toll plaza at the 24km point on the Delhi-Haryana border has 32 gated lanes, 4 are reversible, which certainly meets the old rule of thumb of at least three toll lanes per travel lane. Indeed using four reversible lanes in the direction of peak flow that's a potential 20 lanes. If they have backups then with a maximum of 8k to 10k/hr fed by four travel lanes they must be doing fewer than an average 400 to 500 veh/hr in the toll lanes.

The plaza has three payment modes - toll collectors, proximity or contactless smart cards handed to the collector and transponders. The transponders like Virginia have the brand name Smart Tag.

Cash tolls for cars at the three plazas are Rs11, Rs16, Rs62 (approx 25c, 40c, 55c) and for tractor trailers Rs33, Rs49, Rs62 (75c, $1.25, $1.55). Monthly passes with the proximity card (Rs150, $3.75) provide discounts up to 50% for personal accounts and 34% for commercial accounts for use up to 29 round trips per month. Commuters can buy a transponder for $25 (Rs1000)to get similar discounts.

Cause of the backups seems to be many separate issues.

One source of trouble is motorists getting in the wrong toll lane. This gets worse the longer the backups because motorists can't see the signs and select the correct lane, even if they are inclined to do so rather than get as far forward as there is space and wiggle left or right for priority.

A reporter on the scene writes that motorists are not forming into orderly single lines as experienced toll plaza patrons do, but instead are approaching in multiple queues and jockeying for position. The operator - a concessionaire company DS Constructions - has staff with loudhailers out in the approach queues trying to impose some order. The marshals, as he calls them, have also had to deal with many minor sideswipe bangups from vehicles changing lanes or pushing in.

The toll collectors are complaining that motorists are slowing movement through the manual lanes by offering high denomination bills - Rs500 ($12.50) and Rs1000 ($25) for the Rs16 (40c) toll. There have also been incidents of motorists refusing to pay the toll and arguing with toll collectors, causing delays.

Many motorists on the Gurgaon Expressway have not followed instructions in placement of the transponder on the windshield - a problem familiar to US tollers - so there are lots of non-reads.

The guillotine gates

There have been a number of incidents with motorists hitting, or getting hit by toll gates. A You Tube video suggests the gates are a bit slow in dropping down after a vehicle has cleared the toll zone. One reporter said he witnessed a gate shatter the windshield of a vehicle that was moving through too close behind the one ahead. Modern gates can have their timing adjusted. The system doesn't have license plate reading cameras so video tolling isn't an option.

Other sources of delay are non-reads of transponders and of the proximity cards. The gates are probably being used to hold vehicles with non-reads since there is no report of a camera system to video toll.

One report says transponders are not being read because motorists are driving through too fast, though this seems unlikely. Transponders generally read better at high speed than in stop and go conditions, even though laymen might think the opposite is true - at least with 915MHz. 5.8GHz being more directional may be less forgiving with a smaller read cone. Tekkies are likely retuning the antennas.

All these problems will be overcome over the next few weeks with decent management and competent technicians - and through motorists developing a more orderly approach to the toll lanes - but meanwhile there is horrible publicity coming from the startup backups.

(THOUGHT: they might be better doing the leap to highway speed, all electronic tolling, not that that isn't without its challenges - legal and administrative.)

Three toll points

There are three toll points on the Gurgaon. At the southern end of the expressway at Km42 beyond the built area where it is 6 travel lanes there is a smaller mainline toll plaza. Also ramps to and from the International Airport have toll lanes.

Overall 59 toll lanes are in operation, 24 electronic toll (ET) some of them mixed mode supporting cash and prox cards. The remaining 45 are cash and prox cards.

Electronic tolling on the Gurgaon is a European standard CEN278 5.8GHz RF system. There is an automatic vehicle classification system. Toll systems are supplied by Kapsch of Austria in a joint venture with Delhi-based company Metro Road Systems.

India is one of several Austrian technology battlefields with Austria based Efkon successfully selling the ISO CALM infrared communications transponders to other tollers.

The concessionaire of the new tollroad is a joint venture of two construction companies going into infrastructure - Jaiprakash Associates (JayPee Group) and DS Constructions. They bid and paid a fee for the 20 year concession issued by the National Highway Authority of India, which has a large program of concessions - referred to by the British term BOT for build, operate and transfer.

Some of the concessions however require a government grant to make them viable. They called the Gurgaon a "negative grant" concession.

Ganga Expressway

As well as the national government many Indian states are also doing toll concessions. Uttah Pradesh between Delhi and Calcutta has recently been in the news with the largest concession by far - a 1,050km (650 mile) 8 lane expressway to be built on the left bank of the Ganges (Ganga) River on a flood control bund.

It is being pushed by a remarkable chief minister of the state known by the one name Mayawati.

BACKGROUND: Delhi metro area is about 15m people which would make it number 3 if located in the US, behind New York and Los Angeles but ahead of Chicago. Kolkata or Calcutta also has around 15m and the largest city in India is Mumbai or Bombay with 19m. Population of the whole country is second only to China at 1,120m on 1.27m sq miles or 3.29m km2. Income per capita is $2700 at purchasing power parity.

Latest official statistics are for 2004 with 73m total motor vehicles in India, but 52m of these were 2-wheelers - motorbikes. Cars in 2004 numbered only 9.5m, trucks 3.7m, buses and others 7.8m making a total of only 21m 4-or-more wheelers. With the Indian economy freed up for about a decade now, growth of motor vehicles (excluding motorbikes) has been rapid - about 2m a year.

The introduction by large local carmaker Tata of a $2500 car called the Nano is likely to make cars affordable to a growing slice of the Indian population, suggesting there will be huge demands for increased and modern roadspace. Only China is building more new tollroads.

The first phase of a nationally sponsored highway development plan nearly complete involves work to upgrade or build anew 14,280km (8870mi) of highways, Another phase due for completion by 2012 involves approx 10,000km more (6,000mi). These are mostly 2+2 lane roads a mix of surface arterial and expressway, some just lane additions, others greenfields highways, and they include

- a socalled Golden Quadrilateral, a rough square perched on a corner being Bangalore-Madras (Chennai) in the south and going clockwise to the western corner Bombay or Mumbai with the top corner being Delhi, and the eastern corner Calcutta

- a North-South highway from north of Delhi to south of Bangalore

- an East-West highway from west of Bombay to northeast of Calcutta

But the states are increasingly active in concessioning construction of major highways also, as indicated by the spectacular Ganga (or Ganges) Expressway in Uttah Pradesh.

A website on Indian tollroads http://www.indiantollways.com/

National Highway Authority of India responsible for national concessions http://www.nhai.org/

DS Constructions, one of the Gurgaon concessionaires http://www.dsconstructions.com/

Jaiprakash Group, the other concesssionaire http://www.jilindia.com/

Toll system company Metro Road Systems http://www.metroroadsystems.com

The national Department of Road Transport and Highways: http://morth.nic.in/

PERSONAL NOTE: Nearly fifty years ago I spent three months in India but have never been back. I did the golden quadrilateral as they call it now, counterclockwise, getting off a merchant ship in Bombay, smuggled duty-free bottles of whisky into a country that then had Prohibition, and for three months lived and traveled off the proceeds by steam trains and buses - there was barely a decent paved 2-lane road outside the cities then - Bombay to Bangalore, Calcutta, Delhi and back to Bombay. Loved the place. Great people. But the poverty among great masses of Indians was heartbreaking - their poor nutrition and health, unsanitary living conditions, tiny houses, lack of appliances and services.

In those days reactionaries in the west said that countries like India were bound to remain mired in poverty. That seemed absurd to me after living there a while. For all their problems these were a lively, creative, intelligent, proud and resourceful people, who could better themselves if they got their economic governance right.

Today the new reactionaries of the west - environmentalists - deplore the fact that people like Indians are rapidly working their way out of poverty. This has many manifestations but is epitomized by their creation of the Nano, a $2,500 car for the people.

"A nightmare, of course," was the succinct comment on the unveiling of a Nano by an environmentalist blogger on the Urban Insights website in Los Angeles. The "of course" expresses the dogmatism, the arrogance, the blinkered worldview of this reactionary movement. No need for discussion. We know the answers.

"Nightmare" is their reaction to the reality that moving to modernity involves uncertainties, tradeoffs, and challenges. Of course building the roads, dealing with the reshaping of cities, managing air quality issues and the like will be tough with the proliferation of Nanos and their competitors. But the yearning of the people for mobility, for opportunity to range further afield in their daily lives, as demonstrated by the demand for automobiles is good and it is irresistable.

So much more comfortable for reactionaries if things would just stay as they are, or if they would only change the way We know they should change - to our blueprint, or 'green'-print. Not gonna happen.

TOLLROADSnews 2008-02-03


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