People won’t fall for ‘delusional’ e-toll debt write-off scheme, says Outa

Anti-e-tolling civil action group Outa says that the Austrian Electronic Tolling Company’s (ETC) proposal for a debt write-off in exchange for motorists paying their e-tolls over the next five years is delusional and desperate.

ETC published a statement this week in which it suggested ways in which Gauteng motorists could be enticed to finally adopt the failed e-tolling system, as debt continues to balloon as a result of noncompliance.

One of the proposals ETC offered is a five-year debt forgiveness plan, whereby motorists could have 20% of their standing e-toll debts written off for each year of full compliance.

“After five years, a newly compliant road user would be debt free,” the group said. “This would leave room for Sanral to restructure its balance sheet and a way for road users to become compliant without fear of legal summons.”

However, Outa called the proposal a delusional and desperate attempt by ETC to keep its business interest alive in South Africa.

The group also noted that Sanral has tried to entice road users onto the scheme in the past, and failed dismally.

“In 2015/16, Sanral offered a 60% discount along with a payment plan to those who had defaulted during the first two years of operation, which had the impact of raising less than 2% of the outstanding e-toll debt and a continued decline in the compliance levels thereafter,” said Outa head Wayne Duvenage.

“What ETC fails to comprehend is that the scheme is unfit for the purpose of settling the GFIP bonds for a number of reasons, the most significant of which is that they have lost the support of the people.”

Duvenage said that offers of this nature signify ETC’s ignorance of the intellect and will of the public.

“The public will not accept that Sanral presented the ETC five year tender as being won at a cost of R6.2 billion, while the contract was signed at R9.9 billion. They also still seek answers as to why Sanral paid R17.9 billion for the (Gauteng freeway) upgrade when sufficient research shows this to be grossly overpriced by around double the value.

“ETC is both delusional and desperate if they believe the public will fall for this carrot, if indeed it is ever introduced,” he said.

Growing debt

Debt attached to Gauteng’s e-tolling system has risen to over R47 billion, leaving the national government in a difficult position that is at odds with the political will to have the entire system scrapped.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura has made it clear that the provincial government’s position on e-tolling is that it should be scrapped – however, the finance ministry has opposed this, saying the user-pays principle inherent to the toll scheme is the fairest way to pay off the debts.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has stepped in on the matter, directing Transport minister Fikile Mbalula to find a solution to the impasse.

ETC has pushed hard on the message the alternatives to finance the debt while also funding maintenance and new projects simply will not work, and e-tolling is the only viable route. It has put a lot of focus on debunking a fuel levy as an alternative, warning that as much as R10 would have to be added to the petrol price to get it to work.

Duvenage said that Outa is of the opinion that it is not ETC’s place to make “ludicrous proposals” or get involved in the issue, as the company’s days on the project are short-lived due to a very limited extended contract period.

Outa has previously detailed its own alternatives to fund e-tolls and roads, which includes a mix of solutions, not just a fuel levy on its own.

“Discussions on alternatives still need to be held, and then there is the matter of a test-case court challenge in place, whereby over 2,000 Sanral summonses are being attended to by Outa on behalf of the public.

“Unfortunately, this legal challenge has been unnecessarily delayed by Sanral and is a matter that cannot be ignored or wished away by them,” he said.

Read: ‘Start paying e-tolls now, and in 5 years we’ll write off your existing debt’

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People won’t fall for ‘delusional’ e-toll debt write-off scheme, says Outa