Pay back motorists who have forked out for e-tolls, says AA

The Automobile Association (AA) says the ministerial task team deliberating on the future of e-tolls in Gauteng must consider from the outset that the current model of funding for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) has failed, and is doomed to remain a failure if pursued.

The AA said that research from its newly-released Road Funding Report is clear that Gauteng road users have no intention of ever paying within the current framework.

“Our research indicates people will not pay under the current conditions. It also shows that debt is not a factor in people’s decisions; most users are not paying because of a principled position taken years ago and no amount of cajoling or enticement will change their minds,” it said.

Given the findings from the report, the association said the only fair and sensible approach is for the immediate suspension of e-tolling in Gauteng, and the reimbursement of consumers who have paid e-tolls since 2013.

The AA again called for the ring-fencing of an e-toll levy linked to the General Fuel Levy (GFL) – as it did when the funding for the GFIP was first mooted – as the only equitable and viable means of funding.

“Compliance remains low and is dropping because of a number of factors. These include the confusion resulting from different messaging from provincial and national government, and the announcement in March that historic debt will not be pursued. In this environment, compliance rates are expected to significantly taper off further, leaving only a fraction who still pay,” the AA said.

The AA Road Funding Report has considered a number of different road funding models, and reviewed road funding models in Africa and other countries internationally.

“Our research also carefully considers the best options available for the GFIP funding and we always returned to the ring-fencing of a specific amount linked to the GFL,” the AA said.

It stressed that despite claims to the contrary, the ring-fencing can be accommodated on a provincial basis, instead of nationally, to ensure only residents of Gauteng who benefit from the GFIP, are taxed in this manner. “Despite objections to this ring-fencing, it remains the easiest, most equitable, and least administratively difficult, tax to collect,” the AA said.

It added The South African National Roads Agency’s negative approach to public interaction has also led many motorists to have a jaundiced view of the agency which continues to perpetuate a user-pays narrative even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the current system will neither be accepted, nor adhered to, by those who must ultimately pay the bills.

“There is not now, nor will there ever be, a collection system based on the gantries and ETC’s (proven inefficient) model of collection that will work. The Departments of Transport and National Treasury, SANRAL, and ETC need to acknowledge this. Ring-fencing is the only workable solution and any attempts to dissuade this approach are, quite frankly, exacerbating an already horrendous situation while ignoring an achievable outcome,” said the AA.

It added that users who have paid tolls to date should be reimbursed to ensure equity going forward.

“Compliance rates are too low to make this system viable, and no attempts – either financial or legal – are going to change that.

“Consumers are already stretched to their financial limits, and they have dug in their heels on this issue. Attempts to force these payments out of them will not change their minds. It will, in fact, only further entrench their already hardline approach, causing even more debt. All of this while a perfectly reasonable, immediate and viable solution is already within government’s ambit,” the AA said.

Read: How much it would cost to scrap e-tolls right now

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Pay back motorists who have forked out for e-tolls, says AA