Road firms don’t rely on NHAI traf­fic data

Business Standard - - ECONOMY & PUBLIC AFFAIRS - AMRITHA PILLAY

When a top pri­vate eq­uity firm placed its bid for the first round of Na­tional High­way Author­ity of In­dia’s (NHAI’s) toll-op­er­ate-trans­fer, its team had al­ready spent months sur­vey­ing traf­fic vol­umes on those stretches. This is not an ex­cep­tion, but a norm, where most road firms do not rely on the NHAI traf­fic es­ti­mates, but build their own.

With scope for in­ac­cu­racy and mis­re­port­ing, in­dus­try of­fi­cials pre­fer to stick to their own means. An email query sent to of­fi­cials at the NHAI re­mained unan­swered.

“The NHAI ten­ders these traf­fic sur­veys out to pri­vate com­pa­nies, which opens it up to a pos­si­bil­ity of mal­prac­tices,” said an of­fi­cial from a road de­vel­oper firm. The NHAI, with its con­ces­sion­aires and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, in­cor­po­rated the In­dian High­ways Man­age­ment Com­pany (IHMCL) to carry out elec­tronic tolling and other al­lied works by the NHAI, in­clud­ing traf­fic sur­vey ten­ders.

Road com­pa­nies in­stead pre­fer to have an in-house team or hire an agency to build their own traf­fic es­ti­mates. “No one wants to take a fi­nance de­ci­sion based purely on the NHAI data. Such big de­ci­sions need to be taken on one’s own data,” said a sec­ond of­fi­cial with an­other pri­vate road de­vel­oper com­pany.

The first road de­vel­oper of­fi­cial quoted ear­lier added, “More of­ten, the data shared by the NHAI and our own traf­fic re­search does not dif­fer by a huge mar­gin.”

While the IHMCL’s ten­der process is ro­bust in ask­ing for up to 98 per cent ac­cu­racy in the data, it also al­lows loop­holes to be ex­ploited. A tighter ten­der process for traf­fic data col­lec­tion through in­de­pen­dent agen­cies per­haps will help the NHAI fur­ther bridge the gap. This data is cru­cial to the NHAI for plan­ning ex­pan­sion of its road net­work and es­ti­mate mon­eti­sa­tion value of its as­sets.

The IHMCL ten­ders ask for sub­mis­sion of traf­fic sur­vey data by the ap­pointed data col­lec­tion com­pany in 15 work­ing days of com­ple­tion of the as­sign­ment. The time al­lowed, said of­fi­cials from the data col­lec­tion firms, leaves the data open to ma­nip­u­la­tion.

“All au­to­matic traf­fic counter and clas­si­fier (ATCC) de­vices have a live data feed op­tion. The IHMCL can ask for re­al­time data. Since the data out­put is in the form of an ex­cel sheet, if the same is down­loaded and then sub­mit­ted to a client, there is no way of know­ing whether the same has been tam­pered with,” said an of­fi­cial with a data col­lec­tion firm. There is more rea­son for road de­vel­op­ers to look at traf­fic data more closely now than ever be­fore. The rel­e­vance of such data is shift­ing from the NHAI to road de­vel­op­ers, for­mer NHAI of­fi­cials point out.

“The change in how projects are awarded is mak­ing it less rel­e­vant to the NHAI. In the build-op­er­ate-trans­fer toll, af­ter it moved to pre­mium-based award, it was less rel­e­vant,” said a re­tired NHAI of­fi­cial.

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