Continuing the ANC government’s wild swings on the controversial e-toll system, Gauteng premier David Makhura says e-tolls will be scrapped – despite government’s insistence that the system is here to stay.
In an interview with Independent Media on Wednesday, Makhura said that e-tolling has no future in Gauteng, and that he has president Cyril Ramaphosa’s ear on the matter.
“I am engaged in discussions with president Cyril Ramaphosa to scrap the e-tolls. I made a persuasive call to him. He understands that these e-tolls are burdensome to the working class owning cars and middle class,” he said.
The premier was responding to protests held by the DA this week demanding that contracts relating to the failed system not be renewed. He dismissed the noise, however, saying that the DA was trying to use the system as a political tool, while he was hard at work on the city’s future plans, which includes scrapping the system.
However, Makhura’s comments directly contradict the message from the ANC-led national transport department and National Treasury, which have both stated, categorically, that the e-toll system will not be scrapped, and that road users have to pay their outstanding fees.
Most recently, responding to questions posed to him in parliament, transport minister Blade Nzimande said the e-toll system is here to stay, despite protest from opposing political parties.
And during his maiden mid-term budget speech in October, finance minister Tito Mboweni called on Gauteng motorists to pay their outstanding bills, ‘because nothing comes for mahala (free)’.
He said that the e-toll project’s debt had ballooned to over R40 billion, and that money had to be paid. While the flaws of e-tolls are widely known by now, and alternatives were being looked at, the user-pays principle that e-tolling represents is the standing policy.
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.
The system has been operating for five full years, and has led to deep liquidity issues at the roads agency, which has been forced to put R130 billion worth of new developments on hold.
Sanral has noted that Gauteng roads are starting to get congested again, and will continue to do so year on year, adding that everyone needs decisive clarity on the issue once and for all.
Coenie Vermaak, CEO of the E-toll Collection Company (ETC) whose contract with Sanral is ending soon, warned that motorists could face a 6 hour commute between Joburg and Pretoria if Sanral could not get the funds it needs to upgrade and maintain the city’s main routes.
Makhura said that the e-tolling system is a tax burden on the residents of Gauteng, who have made it clear that they are not happy with the system and do not want it. He said that he is expecting president Ramaphosa to respond positively to alternatives he has presented, “in due course”.
“We can and will find alternative ways of expanding and maintaining our road network without e-tolls. E-tolls have no future in Gauteng,” he said.