As government continues to drag its feet on providing a “solution” to the failed Gauteng e-tolling system, roads agency Sanral is gearing up for a new legal framework which could see motorists fined, or having licence renewals blocked if they don’t pay their outstanding fees.
The City Press reports that new warnings from Sanral have started appearing online, including a warning that vehicle licence renewals will be blocked if a driver has not paid their e-tolls, the paper said.
A Sanral spokesperson reportedly confirmed that the warnings were live, but could not say whether the changes were in effect.
Civil group Outa said that the warning was fear mongering, stating that, if it were in effect, 80% of road users in the province would not be able to renew their vehicle licences.
“Renewal of a vehicle licence can only be withheld with if an enforcement order for outstanding infringements fines has been issued against an owner/driver of a vehicle, and it hasn’t been paid. Outstanding e-toll fees is not an infringement (road traffic offence),” it said.
Under current regulations outstanding #etolls is not an infringement + car licenses can NOT be withheld. Government aims to change this through the introduction of the new #AARTO amendments, which #OUTA believes are unconstitutional. OUTA is currently challenging new AARTO.
— OUTA (@OUTASA) March 7, 2021
However, a new set of penalties for the non-payment of tolls are coming along with the implementation of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act, which takes effect in July 2021.
Under the Aarto, a new demerit and penalties regime will come into effect, which will see motorists start out with a set number of points, losing them if they commit various traffic offences.
In previous drafts of the laws, failing to pay tolls, including e-tolls, would have seen drivers lose one demerit point and receive a fine. Amended laws removed the demerit point, but kept the fines.
According to the Democratic Alliance, as the laws currently stand, drivers face a R500 fine each time they pass under an e-toll gantry and do not pay – while other fees, such as administrative costs of sending fines, could see another R100 slapped on top of that.
Various group have warned that the Aarto may be used to force e-toll compliance, and have opposed the laws on this basis.
Regarding licence renewals, Sanral’s threat to withhold licence renewals has been sitting on its e-toll website since the “new e-toll dispensation” was announced in 2015.
The e-toll problem
The e-toll system has failed, with less than a quarter of motorists – typically large fleets – complying with payments. It has been rejected by the vast majority of drivers, and is now a massive liability for government, which is saddled with billions of rands in outstanding debt.
Government, for its part, has been flip-flopping on e-tolls for years, moving between indications that the system will be scrapped and insistence that it will remain in place to pay the money owed.
A solution to the impasse around the system was promised in 2020, but this was delayed by the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown. An outcome to the problem has again been promised in the coming weeks.
However, indications are that the system is not going away, with national government repeating its support for the ‘user-pays’ principle which is the basis for e-tolls. In the latest budget from National Treasury, explicit support for this principle was given, with finance minister Tito Mboweni saying that, unless it is implemented, Sanral will continue to suffer financially.
This puts national government in conflict with Gauteng’s provincial government, which is calling for the system to be scrapped entirely.
The province recently made formal submissions to the national government indicating its rejection of the implementation of e-tolls, with Gauteng MEC Jacob Mamabolo saying that the province is working with the national government to ensure e-tolls are stopped over concerns about the financial impact on motorists.
Mamabolo said that his government is also opposed to the Aarto Act as a means of enforcing e-tolls in the province.
Critics have slammed government’s insistence on continuing with the system, with civil group Outa maintaining that it has failed, and there’s no way to force drivers to accept the system, so other solutions need to be found.
Justice Project South Africa, meanwhile, has flagged various problems around the Aarto Act itself, including the fact that the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) – which will purportedly be managing things like e-toll fines and the blocking of renewals – is facing forensic investigations over maladministration.