Sunday 14 Jul 2024
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This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on May 29, 2023 - June 4, 2023

THE government’s proposed multi-lane fast flow (MLFF) toll collection system seems to be gaining momentum, with at least two highway concessionaires  — the latest being Ekovest Bhd — participating in a pilot testing of the system.  

Ekovest, the concessionaire of the Duta-Ulu Klang Expressway (DUKE), says it is collaborating with Amtel Holdings Bhd, its technology partner, to run a pilot testing of the system at its highway.

According to Ekovest managing director Tan Sri Lim Keng Cheng, the company has been conducting proof of concept (POC) testing for the MLFF system with Amtel since late 2022, as part of its initiative to reduce congestion and accidents on its highways.

“In the private POC, DUKE and Amtel aim to showcase the compatibility of on-board unit (OBU) systems with future MLFF technology, which is believed to be camera-based, to recognise vehicle number plates. The potential integration of the two technologies is not too dissimilar in practice from the electronic road pricing system in Singapore.

“The private POC is currently going on smoothly and DUKE intends to share its findings with the Ministry of Works (KKR) and Malaysian Highway Authority (LLM) for their deliberation with the MLFF technology provider,” he tells The Edge.

Lim says DUKE is the second highway to participate in POC testing for the system. The first is reportedly the Sungai Besi Expressway (Besraya), which is owned and operated by IJM Corp Bhd.  

Low-profile Amtel, which is listed on the Main Market of Bursa Malaysia, has more than 13 years of experience in providing technology solutions for the automotive industry.

Amtel chief executive Chester Koid Siang Loong says the group is still working to fine-tune the effectiveness of the system, and will be making the submission to KKM.

“MLFF is a major game changer for Malaysia highway users. Once both Ekovest and Amtel are satisfied with the MLFF pilot results, we shall present it to KKR for their consideration,” he says.

However, he declines to comment on the timeline of the submission.

Koid explains that when it comes to the implementation of MLFF, two key components are involved — a camera-based system with number plate recognition for detection and enforcement, also known as Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), and a battery-powered tag-based system for toll fare deduction.

“I believe using a battery-powered device such as OBU, commonly known as In-Vehicle Unit (IU) in Singapore, would guarantee better results compared to a sticker tag,” he says.

“As we move towards MLFF, the introduction of RFID or other alternative devices as an option to support MLFF is a good initiative, but we should not forget about the highway users whose existing devices still work perfectly fine and [don’t want to] be burdened with purchasing new devices or tags.

“In order to instil and promote healthy competition, both infrared and RFID systems can even co-exist and, ultimately, it will urge technology companies like us to continue to innovate and improve our product and services.”

It is understood that Amtel is also in talks with two other highway concessionaires to run the MLFF toll system pilot project.

Meanwhile, according to news reports earlier in March,  Besraya’s MLFF pilot project is expected to be implemented by the end of October. Besraya is said to be testing both RFID and ANPR. It is unclear who is its technology provider for the system.

Open payment system precursor to MLFF

In March, the government announced that RM3.46 billion had been allocated for the new MLFF system, which it hopes to implement as soon as 2025. MLFF is a toll collection system that allows vehicles to pass through a toll plaza without the need to stop or slow down.

The current toll collection system has been run by Touch ’n Go (TNG), which is deemed a monopoly, for over 20 years. All motorists have to pay toll, either using TNG cards or a Smart Tag OBU that is linked to TNG cards or Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) payment that is linked to TNG’s e-wallet.

For a start, the government plans to introduce the open payment system at toll highways that allows users to have the option of payment via debit or credit card, before moving to the MLFF system.

However, some industry observers reckon that the open system is inefficient as it would require highway operators to invest in two systems in a short period of time.

“At this moment, it is still unclear how the highway operators are going to install two different systems, moving from the current payment method to an open payment system and then change to the MLFF system.

“Then there is also the possibility of more congestion on the highway as payments through credit and debit cards take a longer time to be accepted in comparison to TNG,” one highway operator says.

At least 11 highways, including the New Pantai Expressway, Guthrie Corridor Expressway, Penang Bridge, Damansara-Puchong Expressway (LDP) and SPRINT Highway, will implement the open payment system by mid-September.

According to Works Minister Datuk Seri Alexander Nanta Linggi, the implementation of the open payment system is one of the initial initiatives in the transition towards the MLFF toll collection system that is being actively worked on.

“This will open up more opportunities for e-wallet providers and end the monopoly of Touch ‘n Go. It will also create healthy competition among industry players and open up more choices for highway users in terms of toll payment methods,” he says in a March statement.

During last week’s parliament session, Deputy Public Works Minister Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Mohamad said the government is currently fine-tuning the proposed implementation of the MLFF toll collection system. He said the payment options for consumers would be diversified and not limited to one payment provider scheme as it is now.

“This will indirectly help users to overcome the issue of not having sufficient balance when going through the gantry at the toll plaza, and thus further facilitate the movement of highway users,” he said, responding to a question from Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin (PN-Masjid Tanah), who wanted to know why the RFID system is still experiencing problems, leading to congestion at toll plazas.

The plan to implement the MLFF toll system collection is not new. It has been mooted many times since 2000.

In April, Nanta told The Edge that due to the complexity in terms of enforcement and high capital expenditure, the implementation was delayed until 2021.

Nanta says the LLM had carried out some studies between 2015 and 2017. “[With] those studies being the guide, MLFF is being planned and will soon be implemented. MLFF has been implemented in many countries, including Thailand and Indonesia. Therefore, the ministry has been actively engaging with our counterparts from other countries to identify issues and plan the implementation.”

Given that highway operators have already started working on pilot projects to test the MLFF system, there is a chance that it will finally come to fruition. But, at the end of the day, enforcement will be the key to its successful implementation. 

 

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