South Africa’s e-toll saga is finally coming to an end – one way or another

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula says that a final decision on the future of Gauteng’s controversial e-toll system should be made within the next two weeks.

Presenting to the National Council of Provinces on Thursday (6 May), Mbalula said that the decision was still awaiting final approval by the cabinet.

“On the matter of the e-tolls, we are engaging with the (National) Treasury and we are at the end of our processes. The decision is on the table and we expect that in the next two weeks we should be back to cabinet.

“Before we table our budget vote speech, we should go back to you (the NCOP) and to the public to announce the cabinet’s decision on e-tolls.”

Mbalula said that the process has taken longer than he would have liked, but that it was a big decision that involved multiple stakeholders – not just the Department of Transport.

E-tolls have been met with resistance from road users since inception in 2013, leading to non-payment by many, and calls to scrap the system altogether. However, the system has also proven detrimental to the government’s national road plans as it continues to drain money.

In October 2020, Mbalula said that his department is being impeded from rolling out new road infrastructure projects because of a lack of resolution around e-tolls.

At the time, the minister said that president Ramaphosa’s cabinet is set to finalise a new funding model for the project after receiving proposals from his department.

Missed window

The Automobile Association (AA) has said that any decision which does not bring an end to the tolling system in the province is doomed to fail.

Because of the uncertainty caused by the long delays in providing a resolution, government has effectively missed a window of opportunity to bring tolls back to the table, and can now only look for alternatives to remedy the situation, the association said in March.

“In mid-2019 we released our road funding report which clearly showed that Gauteng motorists have no intention of ever paying for tolls. Nothing has changed, except that more allegations of corruption have been levelled against the system which we believe only hardens people’s views not to pay,” the AA said.

The association said that the refusal to pay and the rejection of the system was also about the manner in which the issue of e-tolls was handled by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral).

The AA said that Sanral missed several opportunities to soften its approach to gain more popularity for the system, but instead it has persisted with a heavy-handed approach which is further widening the gap between itself and the public.

“These approaches are counter-productive: not only are threats hollow because they operate in an environment where government has not yet given clear directives, but they are also alienating the people who are being asked to pay.

“Given Sanral’s history of dismissing the public’s opinion, on top of this current indifferent approach, the current trend is that fewer people are paying and more are falling out of the system, a trend we expect to continue in the weeks ahead,” the AA said.


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South Africa’s e-toll saga is finally coming to an end – one way or another