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GPS tolling must address accuracy, privacy concerns first

The government’s plan to switch to GPS-based road tolling from FASTags may face logistical and privacy-related challenges, industry experts said. Apart from installing GPS devices and software on existing vehicles, the system will also require building complex frameworks and safeguards to prevent usual inaccuracies of smartphone-based GPS.

In GPS tolling, the device will recognize when a vehicle enters or leaves a particular area, and toll will be charged based on the distance travelled at the highway’s exit point. As the system is based on sensors, there will be no need to stop at toll plazas, unlike FASTags.

“The implementation requires vehicles to have a GPS-based device called an on-board unit, or OBU, an application installed inside the OBU, and a power source,” said Vivek Ogra, partner and transport consulting leader, EY India.

While modern vehicles come with built-in GPS, older and pre-owned vehicles will require the installation of a new OBU. Ogra said there is a need to “articulate an implementation framework” that will ease the implementation. This may require additional expenditure from users. For instance, a GPS device from MapMyIndia can cost 2,500 or more, with additional charges for cellular connectivity and software. Industry experts also cautioned that accuracy-related issues with GPS could lead to miscalculation of toll. “Whether it’s the government or NHAI (National Highways Authority of India), they have to make sure that they have accurate mapping and geo-fencing. Only then can they accurately charge,” said Rohan Verma, chief executive of MapMyIndia. This, according to him, will require highly accurate maps and navigation information on where the toll road starts and when geo-fencing is being done. “You have to make sure you are not inadvertently capturing people who are travelling on service roads as GPS can have such inaccuracies,” he added.

Agendra Kumar, managing director, ESRI India, agreed. “The current level of accuracy guaranteed by GPS operators is 15 meters, which is fairly high. But higher accuracy may be required to ascertain whether a car is on a service road or highway,” he said.

MapMyIndia’s Verma noted that Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) new NaviC satellites may help in this regard. NaviC stands for Navigation with Indian Constellation, and is an indigenous version of GPS, that uses seven satellites to provide navigation, timing and positioning services in the country.

The government has been pushing smartphone makers and other device manufacturers to utilize this system in their devices. “NaviC has seven to eight satellites which, along with the 30-odd GPS satellites, increases the number of satellites GPS can see, resulting in improved time to fix accuracy,” added Verma.

GPS-based tolling also raises privacy concerns that the technology could be used to track users and their vehicles. EY’s Ogra said the policy around data governance is the most critical part of the entire implementation. “Anonymization of data is very important, and therefore, an implementation challenge.”

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