E-tolls not only a middle class problem

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) argues that e-tolls are not only a burden for the middle class, with low income workers and the poor also being forced to pay to travel on highways.

Many low income earners use private cars to travel to work, not through choice, but because they have no reliable alternative. “They are already burdened by rising fuel prices and electricity tariffs,” said Cosatu spokesperson, Patrick Craven.

He said that the campaign against e-tolls by Cosatu, the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) and many others, has been “powerfully vindicated” by the testimony of a whistle-blower, employed by the Austrian company Kapsch, which works with Sanral on the e-tolling of Gauteng’s highways.

Craven said that the new information reinforces the argument that e-tolling is inefficient and wasteful way to raise funds for a vital public service like the country’s highways.

According to a Bloomberg report, in February, Kapsch Trafficom saw a sharp decline in its share price on the back of a 8.5 million Euro (R124.5 million) writedown, due to poor earnings from the South African e-tolling system which the company maintains.

Kapsch took the writedown on part of compensation it was due to receive from Sanral to maintain electronic road tolls around Johannesburg and Pretoria before they began operating last year, spokeswoman Katharina Riedl told Bloomberg.

“Unresolved issues in this regard noticeably weighed down the third-quarter earnings,” CEO Georg Kapsch said in the statement.

E-tolls meant to be wider

In correspondence with Outa, the Kapsch whistle-blower claimed that the e-toll system was designed to monitor 7,000km of national roads.

“Sanral had an ambition for the system to be planned and designed on the assumption that open road tolling would be implemented on a national scale, whereas Kapsch were of the opinion that the risk factors were too high, and argued for an incremental approach, starting in Gauteng,” the whistle-blower said.

He said that Sanral insisted that its Central Operations Centre must have the capacity to handle several thousand kilometres of road with gantries erected to gather data from across the country, starting with Gauteng, but extending soon afterwards to national roads in KwaZulu Natal and the Western Cape.

This added R2.5 billion to the project’s overall cost, which Gauteng motorists are being asked to pay for, the whistle-blower said, adding that Kapsch informed Sanral that the risks of a national roll out were “too high”, but was ignored.

He added that there are serious design flaws in the current e-tolling system, while Sanral’s IT portal for the e-tolling system is also vulnerable to hackers, who can easily access commuters’ personal information.

The whistle-blower, who still works for Kapsch, said he’s willing to be interviewed by Public Protector’s office to prove his allegations, which have been compiled into an affidavit by Outa, which has submitted it to the Public Protector.

“This revelation will give a boost to the federation’s determined campaign to defeat this attempt to privatise our highways,” Craven said. “We continue to urge motorists not to register with Sanral or buy e-tags, and to make the system unworkable.”

Cosatu said that e-tolls will not just affect the people of Gauteng; pointing out that the whistleblower confirmed that e-tolling will be used for future road projects throughout the country.

“Tolls will also put an indirect burden on the poor of the whole country, by adding to the cost of transporting goods, which will have an immediate effect on food inflation,” Craven said.

“The ‘user-pays’ principle is a thoroughly capitalist and elitist concept, totally at odds with the progressive and socialist belief that public services should be delivered on the basis of people’s needs and not the size of their bank balances,” the spokesperson said.

“Cosatu has consistently argued that when additional revenues have to be raised by government, then this must be done through the tax system, rather than tolls which take no account of the drivers’ ability to pay.”

“Taxation is both fairer, since the more you earn the more you pay, and far easier to collect,” Craven said.

More on e-tolls

E-tolls pushing consumers over the edge

Sanral right about e-tolls?

Sanral bags R250 million from e-tolls

E-toll inside source spills the beans: Outa

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E-tolls not only a middle class problem