Your old e-toll bills aren’t going away – government says you should pay up

 ·10 Apr 2024

The National Department of Transport, the Gauteng provincial government and road agency SANRAL are making a big noise about the controversial e-tolling system finally being scrapped from Thursday (11 April) – but motorists are not off the hook for their debts.

This is according to transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga who said that, as the law stands, anyone who was billed for using the roads while they were tolled roads—up until midnight on Wednesday—is still obligated to pay up.

“In terms of the law, motorists are still obligated to pay,” she said. “But how this will be enforced is still to be discussed. If there are challenges, that’s a matter we will be looking into.”

“There is law. There is an existing law that says if you use a toll road, you must pay. We have not repealed this law, so based on that, yes, people must pay.”

Also adding his views on motorists’ outstanding debt, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi said the government would consult with a specialised team on the matter, stressing that it is a complicated issue.

He denied ever promising motorists that they would get refunds, saying that he was misrepresented when saying that the issue of debt was an “outstanding issue” that needed to be addressed.

“The basis of the disputes on e-tolls was a lack of consultation. Therefore the payment or enforcement of debt, we must subject it to consultation, so people can’t say we are taking a decision without consulting,” he said.

“So we will consult; there’s a technical team we will establish. It’s not an easy thing. There’s the element of SARS. There are people who have paid tax on this; there are people who have hired cars who have paid e-tolls. Cars have changed from one person to another.

“There are a lot of things that need to (be considered). Hence we believe consultation will be enough, and once we have consulted we will have something to announce,” he said.

According to SANRAL’s briefing documents on the scrapping of e-tolls, while it is still obligated to collect outstanding e-toll debts, its decisions to no longer prosecute motorists over the debt (a decision taken in 2019) still stands.

The end of e-tolls

Chikunga and Ledufi were speaking at a media briefing ahead of the midnight “scrapping” of e-tolls in Gauteng.

While the transport department has been saying e-tolls will be scrapped from Thursday 11 April, communication from SANRAL points to 11 April being the last day for the system, with billing continuing to 23h59 on Thursday.

After that (00h01 on Friday, 12 April), the Gauteng e-toll roads will no longer be tolled, ending what can only be described as a logistical and political nightmare for the government.

Pushed through ahead of the 2010 World Cup and officially launched in 2013, the e-tolling project in Gauteng was supposed to be a funding mechanism for critical roads in the province that hinged on the “user-pays” principle – those who use the roads, pay for them.

However, road users in the province almost unilaterally rejected the scheme, refusing to pay for years, while the debt costs continued to rise.

The “end” of the scheme was initially announced by Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana in the 2022 medium-term budget policy statement (MTBPS) – but issues over how the shutdown would be funded and processed remained.

The scheme’s official end was finally signalled at the end of March 2024, when the transport minister gazetted changes to regulations, changing the affected roads in Joburg back to non-toll roads.

All that remains is to pay for the whole mess.

In terms of the agreement with National Treasury, Gauteng is on the hook for 30% of the debt owed on the e-toll project, amounting to almost R13 billion. The balance of 70% will be paid by National Treasury.

It has been a long-standing question where the Gauteng portion would come from.

During the Gauteng budget in March 2024, MEC for finance Jacob Mamabolo said that the province approached financial institutions to borrow the necessary money to pay off the e-toll debt – while also taking on over R4 billion worth of maintenance backlogs.

Lesufi said that, while the roads will remain national roads, as part of its agreements and negotiations with National Treasury, the province agreed to handle the maintenance of the roads in preparation for further phases of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.

He added that while the e-tolling will be scrapped, the e-tags and e-toll gantries will continue to be used and repurposed.

E-tags will continue to be viable for use across the country – but they will not beep in Gauteng, and motorists will no longer be billed.

The gantries, meanwhile, will be used for other purposes, such as fighting crime, tracking stolen vehicles, and speed enforcement. Other infrastructure, like the e-toll offices and kiosks, can be used for Driving Licence Testing Centre services – but discussions are ongoing.

Read: The final word on e-tolls

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