As reported, Touch n Go (TnG) has started the public pilot programme for the radio-frequency identification (RFID) system, a new electronic toll payment system that uses a sticker on the car to pass through toll gates. After physical TnG cards and the Smart Tag, RFID is the next step in electronic toll collection.

The RFID tag, which comes in the form of a sticker with a tiny grain-like chip (some would have noticed this on Uniqlo price tags and Decathlon product labels) and an antenna, “follows the car” and is registered/installed on one vehicle – unlike a Smart Tag that you can bring from car to car. Have two cars? Each will need its own RFID tag, which is linked to the owner’s Touch n Go eWallet app.

As the vehicle passes through the toll gate, an overhead scanner reads the radio-frequency from the RFID sticker and deducts the toll fare from the user’s eWallet.

To clarify, the eWallet is as advertised – it’s a digital wallet. And like your physical wallet, it only contains as much money as you put in, which is not all the money that you have in the bank. So, it’s not like Visa Paywave or in any way linked to your bank accounts. You’ll need to reload the TnG eWallet – put in RM100 and that’s what you will have in the eWallet, something that users of Boost or FavePay apps would be familiar with.

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Reloading is a simple process and can be done in the app itself, anytime via credit card or online bank transfer (Maybank2U, CIMB Clicks, etc). You’ll never have to step into a petrol station TnG kiosk again, and there’s no reload fee for the eWallet too.

Back to the programme. Ahead of RFID’s launch in January 2019, TnG has kicked off a public pilot programme as scheduled, and our Hafriz Shah was among the first registrants to get their RFID tags installed. The trial, open to Klang Valley highway users who drive Class 1 vehicles (passenger cars, vans, 4x4s and pick-up trucks) with private registration, will allow for fine-tuning aspects and troubleshooting to be carried out.

Pilot programme users won’t need to pay for the RFID sticker, but they will still be required to pay toll charges as usual. The RFID lottery winners will need to set up an appointment to have the sticker installed by authorised staff, a process that should take no more than 15 minutes, taking into account the many questions users will ask the installers.

Chatting with the staff at TnG’s customer service centre at the NPE Pantai Dalam toll plaza yestrday, we were told that the pilot programme received overwhelming response – over 100,000 people applied to be among the first 10,000 RFID users.

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Currently, each fitment centre is doing 60 cars per day (30 in the morning shift, 30 in the afternoon), but this will soon be ramped up to 100 cars a day. Besides NPE Pantai Dalam, there four other centres are at the Customer Experience Centre in Bangsar South, Kesas R&R Awan Besar, Besraya Loke Yew toll and MEX Salak Selatan toll.

At present, RFID lanes are present on 16 highways, with more to come. One can spot the RFID lanes via the “RFID Tag” logo, and there are three types of RFID lanes around – dedicated ones, and hybrid ones that also accept TnG cards and Smart Tags. What if you forget that RFID is fitted and you take out your Smart Tag out of habit? Hafriz tried exactly that and we can report that RFID takes priority and you won’t be double charged.

As you can see, the RFID sticker’s best location is on the car’s left headlamp. We assumed that the windscreen would be the ideal location, but were told that the sticker can’t be located near metal, which rules out the top of the windscreen and the side next to the A pillars, where most people place their road tax stickers. The signal “gun” used to test reception shows interference if the sticker is placed on the top/side of the windscreen. Window tint is a barrier for in-cabin placement of the sticker, literally.

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Sticking the strip on the headlamp might be good for reception, but not for looks. Even though the sticker is transparent and can’t be seen from afar, it’s clearly visible upon closer inspection and does “scar” the appearance of the headlamps somewhat. It can potentially disrupt the operation of LED headlamps too – we saw an Audi A4 with Matrix LEDs coming back for sticker repositioning.

During our time there, we spotted only one car having the TnG RFID sticker placed on the windscreen, and that was only because the owner already had a similar type of RFID strip for his condominium access on the car’s left headlamp. Installation can only be done at authorised fitment centres because the test gun is needed to confirm that the sticker works. Should there be any issues or malfunction, TnG will issue a new sticker at no cost to pilot project participants.

Our man gave his consent, reluctantly, and the sticker now resides flush on his Merc’s LED headlamps. We were told that while “hybrid” stickers for glass and plastic exist, it’s best to standardise the placement. The sticker needs to reside on an angled surface, which makes headlamps ideal for 99% of cars on the road. I can imagine then that it will be tricky for vehicles with bluff front ends (Range Rover, Rolls-Royce) and pop-up headlamps (1990s sports cars), although that wouldn’t concern many.

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If you’re thinking of DIY transplanting the sticker to another location yourself, don’t, because it’s designed to stop functioning once peeled. This also means that the sticker is of no use to thieves. If you lose it for some reason, a call to the TnG Careline to suspend the RFID will take care of things. The sticker is also claimed to be dirt, weather and waterproof.

After installation, TnG will send an SMS to the user within 24 hours to inform that the RFID has been activated. Our RFID guinea pig says that the system works as advertised so far, and he was able to coast through the toll gates without any fuss.

As expected, it takes some getting used to – as the familiar Smart Tag beep is absent and the display board doesn’t show eWallet remaining balance, just the toll charge – but one can breeze through the gates faster, and the gantry operates at a slightly faster speed.

By the way, our RFID’s detection range is 2m versus Smart Tag’s 1.5m. Active and battery-assisted RFID tags have greater range, but they require power and are more expensive. Our passive tags use radio energy transmitted by the toll booth readers.

So there you have it, our first hand experience of being among the first to install and use RFID toll payment in Malaysia. No more hiding away and taking out Smart Tags, no more 9V batteries, no more reloading TnG cards at petrol stations and ATMs, and hopefully smoother traffic at toll plazas.

We could all do with the added convenience and time saved, but will have to get used to checking eWallet balance (there should be low balance warning, we haven’t emptied the eWallet yet) and that RFID scar on our headlamps. Here’s one way to look at it: if everyone has the same scar, it becomes more the norm and less ugly – just like the BCG mark on everyone’s arms.

Overall, there are some restrictions we wish weren’t there, but it’s a step in the right direction for sure. What do you think of the TnG RFID system? Watch the video below and share with us your RFID experience in the comments. And no, your Smart Tag won’t become obsolete overnight come January 2019, although the process of phasing out the devices starts now.