What was once just a simple way to provide cashless payments for tolls, evolved into a more convenient option for mass transport – but it's been an uphill fight to achieve integration with their eWallet system.
Are you old enough to remember when toll systems were purely cash and coin based? For many road users – especially the younger ones among us – Touch ‘n Go has been a part of the driving experience from almost the day they start driving. A couple of years ago, the government and highway concessionaires moved to remove manual payment booths to force everyone into using either Touch ‘n Go or Smart Tags, and after a small period of adjustment the general driving population got used to it.
And then, a secondary problem appeared. In line with many companies coming up with eWallet systems, Touch ‘n Go also decided they would have an eWallet system to compete – and they would let you link your Touch ‘n Go card with it. On the surface this sounds amazing as it would allow users to circumvent the experience of manually topping up a Touch ‘n Go card at petrol stations, convenience stores, and so on.
But it didn’t quite work like that, and many users found themselves stuck at tolls because their cards just didn’t have enough balance to get through. Repeat after me: my eWallet and physical card balance are not the same. This is something that many Touch ‘n Go (TnG) users are still having trouble understanding, but you can’t put the blame entirely on them because the issue isn’t exactly straightforward either. The TnG eWallet system was something developed independently and in a way designed to work with the RFID tags that were introduced not so long ago.
The problem is RFID is still pretty slow with its rollout, despite TnG’s best efforts to get widespread adoption. Much of the issue is also surrounding gate failures and lack of infrastructure in many parts of our road network – for example, closed-toll systems. This applies as well to how your TnG card is read at toll booths because of the way the systems aren’t completely integrated.
An open toll system is one where a user can choose to use the toll road or circumvent it with a non toll-route but still end up on the same path. This is for standalone cases like the Penang bridge (one toll in, no toll out), or the SPRINT highway tolls – and in these cases, your eWallet balance is deducted if it has sufficient balance, instead of your physical card balance.
Unfortunately, closed-toll systems like the NKVE and greater North-South Expressway still require you to have physical balance in your card. These closed systems operate like train lines where there is an entry and exit gate, and the amount it deducts depends on the gate from which you came in. If you notice, when you enter these closed road systems, the first toll booth doesn’t deduct anything from your balance.
Why this is the case, we aren’t entirely sure. It could be the nature of TnG’s systems that it cannot record the eWallet entering at a certain gate and exiting at another in order to calculate the distance travelled and appropriate toll charge. For a very short period of time, KESAS highway had a TnG top-up machine built into the lane which was pretty interesting, but they have all but disappeared.
If you have a Smart Tag or something similar, it pays to double-check the physical balance in your card before you join any closed toll systems to make sure you don’t get stuck at the gate. Failing that, just make sure you pull off at a rest stop or one of the highway offices to get the physical balance topped up if you need to before you have to exit the highway.
In short, the eWallet system added a level of convenience that can only be experienced in a reasonably limited context. Users still can’t avoid having to top up a card’s physical balance, especially if their travels involve closed-toll systems. Hopefully, TnG figures out a permanent workaround in the near future. The company has pledged that RFID functionality will be rolled out across Malaysia by the end of 2021, with Johor slated for their next widespread implementation - but they are dealing with a legacy system that is incredibly difficult to integrate.