With Government set to decide on the future of e-tolls before the end of August, the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) has warned that the current model for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) has failed and will continue to do so if pursued.
The AA has published the findings of a new research report, in which it surveyed a representative sample of Gauteng motorists and their views on the e-tolling system.
Specifically, the group looked at which motorists continue to pay – and the reasons why they choose to do so. It also investigated what it would take to get people on board with the e-tolling system, and what would happen if government continued on its current course of action.
“The findings highlight explicitly that most users are not paying because of a principled position taken years ago and that no amount of cajoling or enticement will change their minds,” the AA said.
“In addition, compliance remains low and continues to drop because of the confusion resulting from different messaging from provincial and national government on e-tolls, and the announcement in March that historic debt will not be pursued.
This, along with Sanral’s strong arm treatment of Gauteng motorists with an iron fist in an iron glove, continues to exacerbate an already heavily-indebted system.
Who’s paying and why
From the AA’s survey results, it found that 40% of respondents were paying e-tolls, with around 30% registered with an e-tag. This sample is slightly more compliant than the known figure of 27% across the entire system.
Of those who pay e-tolls, 27% said they chose to pay because they feel that they have received a benefit from the system, and the price is worth the improvements they have experienced on the roads.
A further 20% said they felt it was their civic duty to pay, while a smaller percentage (18% and 15%) fear legal action, or want to avoid potential prosecution.
“With less than 10% of respondents indicating that the fear of legal consequences would convince them to pay, and only 9% indicating that their non-payment is due to the lack of legal consequences, we reach the conclusion that legal measures are not the answer. Thus, Sanrals attempt at debt collection via the legal system will most likely not improve compliance rates,” the AA said.
Around 40% of motorists do not pay e-tolls and never have, the survey showed – while an additional 20% used to pay, but have decided to stop.
The factors driving the rejection of the system are a combination of principle, and corruption.
When asked for reasons why they don’t pay, motorists highlighted government corruption as one of the key reasons they reject the system. Being forced to use e-toll roads because of no alternative routes was the second biggest factor, followed by not having any public transport to fall back on to avoid tolls.
This rejection of paying tolls is only targeting e-tolls, however, with motorists highlighting it as a chance to take a principled stand against government spending.
The AA’s data also showed what it would take to get people on board with e-tolls – and the answer was a simple “nothing”. Most motorists say that there is nothing that will convince them to pay, and that Sanral is fighting a losing battle to try and recoup past e-toll debt.
A small percentage of motorists said that social pressure could convince them to join up, but the system would require compliance levels of 95% to convince them.
Through its research, the AA said that it reviewed the road funding models of other countries, as well as its own previous comments on e-tolls.
“We have concluded, as we did when the GFIP funding model was first proposed, that the only fair, feasible, and effective method of collection remains linking it to the General Fuel Levy (GFL),” it said.
“Pursuing any alternative, we believe, will prove fruitless and will only further harden the position of those who are not paying.”
The AA said that this is a workable solution, evidenced by the fact that the Road Accident Fund (RAF) levy, for instance, has been ring-fenced for many years.
It added that there has never been a collection system based on the gantries and ETC’s (proven inefficient) model of collection that will work.