An economist says that South Africans are short-sighted when it comes to the implementation of e-tolls on Gauteng’s freeways, stating that it enables world class infrastructure.
In a recent interview with SABC News, Dr Roelof Botha, economic advisor at PwC, said he conducted his own survey among 45 economists in SA in 2012 – with 85% agreeing with pretty much everything regarding the implementation of e-tolls.
“This is a classic example of people not being able to see the wood for the trees, because we should concentrate on the roads, and think about what it was before these roads were improved,” Botha said.
He stressed that the system enabled upwards 600kms of additional freeway lanes, with 34 interchanges upgraded, 47 new bridges were built, and lighting was provided for 186 kilometres.
“If Sanral were not able to prove that it had a funding mechanism, user charge principal on these roads, it would not have been able to secure the credit rating, and the loan required to build it,” the economist said.
He noted that at the height of the construction phase of the project, South Africa went into its worst recession in 40 years. He said that government did not have money for upgrading modern urban highways – with their priorities elsewhere, namely building schools, clinics etc.
“If it hadn’t been for the tolling of these highways, they would not have been upgraded, and we would have battled to get anywhere.
“If you want electricity, by and large, you have to pay for it. If you want bread, by and large you have to pay for it. If we want these modern roads, we have to pay for them,” Botha said.
The economist said that if a fuel levy was used to fund the Gauteng freeways, then road users in other provinces would have had to cross subsidize the roads.
Botha said that for every R1 paid for the roads, users would get the equivalent of R10 worth of benefit based on the time that users would save. “Time is the most precious commodity in the world…these roads are helping us to save time.”
He said that the argument that money from e-tolls would go offshore to Austria, were “flimsy”. Botha pointed out that when buying a motorcar in South Africa, between 50%-90% of the purchase price went to the country where the car is made.
Sanral awarded the contract for e-tolling implementation to ETC, which is 65%-owned by Austria-based Kapsch TrafficCom and 35% held by SA-based Traffic Management Technologies.
International trade is a two way street, Botha stated. “There is a top class firm willing to provide us with these services, and they have to be paid for the value that they will be adding to the economy.”
“Get the emotions out of the way, just appreciate the fact that we have got these first class roads,” he said.
The controversial Gauteng e-toll system went live on 3 December.