Wed | Dec 8, 2021

Card payments coming for highway tolls, but not right away

Published:Wednesday | April 21, 2021 | 12:07 AMMcPherse Thompson/Business Writer

Motorists will be able to pay toll fees by credit card for usage of the May Pen-Williamsfield highway link, which is under construction and due for commissioning in less than two years. Only cash is currently tenable at the manned toll booths on...

Motorists will be able to pay toll fees by credit card for usage of the May Pen-Williamsfield highway link, which is under construction and due for commissioning in less than two years.

Only cash is currently tenable at the manned toll booths on Highway 2000, both for the East-West corridor operated by TransJamaican Highway Limited, and the North-South segment managed by Jamaica North South Highway Company Limited.

“Currently, we are studying the possibility of deploying payment terminals in order to enable the use of credit cards in the manual toll lanes of our network, in particular to respond to the safety concerns that you mention,” said Thierry Parizot, just before before demitting office as managing director of TransJamaican Highway last Friday, April 16. He is succeeded by Ivan Anderson, the head of NROCC.

“The future section of Highway 2000 East-West – from May Pen to Williamsfield – that will open end of 2022 will offer this possibility to the motorists,” said Parizot in response to Financial Gleaner queries on the general shift in the consumer market from cash towards card payments, as a safety measure amid rising crime, and whether the toll operator would be accommodative of the trend.

The Chinese operators of the North-South Highway corridor did not respond to requests for similar comment.

Some time ago, then transport minister Mike Henry indicated a willingness to examine the cash-only policy of operators Jamaica North South for tolls. That followed the reported experience of South East St Ann Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna, who was reportedly stranded at a toll plaza along the highway after realising she had less cash than the required toll.

Hanna reportedly had $2,000 in cash, but the applicable toll cost was $2,450. Her request to use a debit or credit card to cover the amount was rejected at the toll booth.

While noting that it is a primary responsibility of motorists to ensure that they have enough cash to cover the tolls to traverse the highways, Henry said that Hanna’s predicament could have befallen anyone and warranted an assessment of options for travellers in such circumstances.

Parizot noted that East-West Highway travellers already have one option other than cash – the electronic tag that can be purchased through the sales office at the toll plaza or by initiating the transaction online. It’s unclear whether the plan for credit card payments will be rolled out for all the toll points on the corridor and done ahead of next year, or if the May Pen-Williamsfield leg will be used as the test case for assessing the impact and feasibility of a more comprehensive roll-out.

Around the world, some toll operators accept payment by bank cards, but like TransJamaican’s operation, it is more usual for payment to be in cash at toll points or, in the alternative, preloaded electronic cards. One of the exceptions is India, where research shows that all 365 toll plazas across national highways have been equipped to accept card payments.

For card machines to be deployed across the toll networks in Jamaica, all the highway operators have to do is ask their banks for the service, said Jamaica Bankers Association executive director Robert Murray, just as with any other business.

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