Civil action group Outa has revealed the seven options transport minister Fikile Mbalula presented to cabinet at the end of October to bring an end to the e-toll impasse in Gauteng.
In July 2019, president Cyril Ramaphosa tasked Mbalula to work with finance minister Tito Mboweni and Gauteng premier David Makhura to find a solution to the impasse.
This follows high levels of non-compliance from motorists to the scheme, and an inability to finance the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) bonds, along with the rising public dissent on the issue leading up to the 2019 elections, Outa said.
“A decision was expected by the end of August 2019 and that deadline was missed, as expected.
“At the end of October, minister Mbalula indicated the decision which requires cabinet’s collective approval, is now expected by mid-November,” Outa said.
The constant delays in process were indicative of disagreements between officials overseeing the matter, Outa said, with the Gauteng government (Makhura) and national government (Mboweni) at odds on the matter – and Mbalula caught in the middle.
Mboweni’s medium-term budget speech on 30 October referred to e-tolls and the “need to build a culture of payment, as government services can only be sustainable if all of us that can pay for services, do so”, which was interpreted as meaning that e-tolls would remain in place.
This was followed the next day by Mbalula indicating that his task team had provided cabinet with a range of options, including a “preferred reconfigured approach to GFIP”.
However, cabinet told the officials to do more work and return in two weeks when cabinet would make a decision.
In an email sent to supporters on Wednesday (6 November), Outa outlined the seven solutions presented to cabinet, adding a brief commentary of what each one would mean for Gauteng motorists.
The options were:
Cancel the e-toll scheme
This is the best decision, Outa said, but would require detail on which alternative funding mechanism will come into play.
Use a partial “shadow” toll scheme
This would essentially see the removal of e-toll collections with the funding then generated from Treasury or some other funding allocation based on traffic volumes measured.
Sell GFIP to a private concessionaire
This would hardly be possible, Outa said, as the roads belong to the public and “no private concession will want to take on a failed scheme with minimal likelihood of success in turning it around”.
Introduce a public transport fund to prioritise public transport on freeways
Outa said this would require clarity as it implies this may still be done through e-tolls and, if so, the scheme would continue to fail.
Introduce a hybrid funding model using a combination of taxes, fuel levy and vehicle licence fees
This is a “good option”, Outa said, though without the vehicle license fees. It would essentially mean the removal of e-toll collections.
Replace e-tolls with physical toll plazas
Outa said that this would cause absolute chaos, “and if this was at all a possible solution, they would have done so from the start.”
Keep the existing e-tolls scheme
This represents the status quo. Outa said it would continue to stand its ground to have the matter addressed through the courts and through our ongoing civil action campaign.
According to Outa, there is another option that has apparently been put forward by the Gauteng provincial government: to transfer the scheme fully to the province.
“It’s not clear if this is included any of the seven options or how the PIC debt with Sanral would be transferred to the province,” it said. However, this suggestions would indicate Makhura has a strong desire to scrap the system.
Outa also warned against the spread of misinformation coming from government officials, particularly around compliance levels and the debt attached to the e-tolls scheme.
“During his recent interviews, Minister Mbalula claimed the e-toll scheme had at some stage achieved a compliance level of 70%. This comment tells us that he is being misinformed by his advisors, as the maximum compliance level according to Sanral’s own e-toll income information was achieved in June 2014 at R120 million for the month and this is equated to 40%.
That figure is now down to below an average of R60 million per month in 2019 – reflecting compliance levels of between 20% and 25%, Outa said.
More evidence of confusion and misinformation comes from Minister Mbalula’s claim that the outstanding e-toll bills are at R67 billion.
“In July, National Treasury told Parliament the GFIP debt was R39 billion (ie the bond value of R21.5 billion plus interest), out of Sanrals total outstanding debt of R47 billion. His statement implies that e-toll defaulters are responsible for Sanral’s entire debt, which is nonsense,” Outa said.