We didn’t expect such a big fight against e-tolls: Sanral

E-tolling has been on Gauteng’s roads for five years on Monday – and Sanral is no closer to finding a way forward for the controversial system, which has been rejected by the majority of road users in the province.

“We didn’t expect (the rejection of e-tolls) to be at the level that it is on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project,” said Alex van Niekerk, Sanral manager for planning, toll and transport.

Speaking to EWN, Van Niekerk said that any tolling operation around the world is met with backlash.

“We’ve been tolling on South African roads since the mid-1980s, it’s the same when you have to go through any toll declaration process – people don’t like to pay for anything, it’s human nature, so we expected some of that (backlash),” he said.

“But we didn’t expect it to be on these levels.”

Sanral’s e-tolling project has been a dismal failure since its launch on 3 December 2013, with low levels of compliance from Gauteng motorists leading to low revenues and subsequently pushing the road agency’s debt levels through the roof.

The initial cost of the e-toll project – phase one of the Sanral’s plans – was over R22 billion, but its debt has now escalated to over R40 billion. South Africa now needs to pay R1 billion a year to service these debt repayments.

Compliance, meanwhile, is currently estimated at between 25% and 30%, depending on who you ask. Tolling opponents have cited a number as high as 90% compliance for the system to be viable.

According to Van Niekerk, the issue is far bigger than the e-toll debt, however.

Phase two of the GFIP project has been postponed indefinitely as a direct result of Sanral’s failure to collect fees – and much of the ‘good’ e-tolls have brought, such as more open roads, are already being undone.

R130 billion of planned new toll projects for the whole country are now also on ice, because there is no way to fund them.

“Not paying e-tolls does not resolve the issue that the whole GFIP was about – improving infrastructure and boosting the economy and job creation and all of those things,” Van Niekerk said.

“Because of the current state of the project, over 150km of new roads are not even on the map anymore. So the reality is starting to set it. Not paying e-tolls doesn’t solve the problem for the need of new infrastructure,” he said.

Roads are starting to get congested again, and will continue to do so year on year, the Sanral manager said, adding that everyone needs a decisive clarity once and for all.

Founder and chair of Outa, Wayne Duvenage has been one of the biggest critics of the system.

According to Duvenage, the financial mess that has now upset Sanral’s expansion plans is of the road agency’s own making.

Outa, while battling e-tolling, has never advocated or supported the idea that no one should pay for the country’s roads and maintenance – but has rather taken issue with the method (e-tolling).

Duvenage and Outa have long called for alternatives, including a national fuel levy increase, which would have already paid off the e-tolling debt, had it been implemented from the start.

According to Duvenage, Outa supports the user-pays principle, but it needs to be fair and just.

“Gauteng roads make up 1% of Sanral’s network – the amount of money Sanral had billed the public for these first full years of e-tolling was going to account for 34% of their revenue,” he said.

“34% of revenue from 1% of road users – where is the justice in user-pays for that?”

Read: Here’s how many people say they will never pay for e-tolls

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We didn’t expect such a big fight against e-tolls: Sanral