Published on December 24th, 2021 | by Subhash Nair


Why We Think Mandatory RFID On PLUS Is NOT A Good Idea

Making Touch & Go RFID Mandatory On PLUS Will Be Messy And Difficult

As I was driving down to Johor Bahru last week, a news announcement on the radio mentioned that RFID would be deployed along the entire PLUS highway in January with Touch N Go lanes and SmartTAG lanes gradually being phased out. This plan was first announced early last year but was delayed by the pandemic. Now that it’s being rolled out, my first reaction was, “ok, good, at least we’re moving towards a single system that’s more convenient to reload”.

But then I realised just how difficult things were going to be for a LOT of people.

RFID Will Make Life Difficult For Me

That’s because I was driving down to Johor Bahru in a media test car. I’m lucky enough to have this privilege, and I’m more than happy to fill up and pay for my own tolls (no car company gives out Touch ‘N Go cards when they pass us test cars, to be clear).

However, I am starting to worry about the logistics of travelling to visit my parents in the future with test cars. 

RFID is a one-car-one-account system. This means that future test cars will probably have to be fitted with RFID as standard, with a Touch ‘N Go e-Wallet account in the car company’s marketing department linked to it. How exactly would this system work out?

I would not feel comfortable putting my toll tab on any marketing department. And if they work out a ‘deduction’ system whereby I pay for what I use at the end of my test drive, would I also be able to submit that for my monthly claims?

BHPetrol_Euro5 Diesel_2021

This is a rather niche problem and one that doesn’t concern 99.99% of our readers. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

RFID Will Make Things Difficult For Car Sharing Companies

There’s an argument that RFID is the way of the future, and maybe that holds some water. However, there are also those who say that car-sharing will be the way of the future.

There are already loads of car-sharing companies that are operational in Malaysia. Short-term car rentals from GoCar, Socar and others are here and they work. I personally have tried both in the Klang Valley and the go from KL to JB. 

But how would they work with RFID? They will face the same limitations as the marketing departments of car companies, only there won’t be a relationship of trust. So, they’ll probably have to insist that new customers pay a larger deposit to cover a potentially large toll bill.

SOCAR cover photo

That’s going to severely affect their business. I remember when choosing between Socar and GoCar, my choice was down to which offered the better price. 

RFID Will Make Things Difficult For The Tech-Illiterate And Old

I personally don’t think RFID is as simple to understand as Touch N Go’s people believe it is. I think the Touch N Go Card and SmartTAG system is flawed but it’s straightforward. 

You have a pre-paid card. You top it up when the balance is low. You touch it and you go. 

Touch 'n Go Parking Surcharge

Add a layer of complexity: you have a Zing Touch and Go card, it reloads itself when your balance is low. You touch it and you go.

Add another layer of complexity: you have a SmartTAG, you put your Touch N Go Card in it and it beeps when you go through the toll. When it beeps a lot after use, you should change the battery. If it doesn’t beep, you touch the card on the reader and go.

All of this is quite intuitive and most people can figure it out with ease. However, RFID isn’t intuitive at all. Your mandatory NRIC has Touch N Go built into it. Every Malaysian has one. 

But RFID is not straightforward and it never will be, no matter how hard they try. You still have to buy the strip and have it installed properly on your car. You still have to have a smartphone. You still have to download an app. You still have to register an account. You still have to set the RFID strip up with your vehicle through the app and reload your e-Wallet.

This may be easy for most people under 30 or 40. But many older people will be stumped by this. Some don’t use apps, but still need to use the PLUS highway. This is a system that will make life very difficult for the ageing population of Malaysia, especially if it becomes mandatory in a short amount of time.

Should RFID be Mandatory?

This is a tough one. On the one hand, I do think RFID and perhaps a multi-lane free-flow system of tolling could be the future. But on the other hand, I don’t think Malaysia is the kind of country where this would work.

And I don’t think the convenience factor outweighs the cost, complexity and all the teething issues that are going to come up as it rolls out.

RFID use cases according to touch n go

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Written work on @subhashtag on instagram. Autophiles Malaysia on Youtube.

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