There is only one answer to e-tolls

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula has announced that a final decision on the future of Gauteng’s controversial e-toll system should be made later in May. However, business and labour groups believe the only solution is to scrap e-tolls permanently.

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,” he said.

However, South Africa’s largest trade federation Cosatu says that there is only one acceptable outcome – e-tolls should be scrapped.

It said that the government has not consulted on the decision, but that there is still ‘ample time’ for the consultations to take place on a possible solution to this policy failure.

“Cosatu remains adamant that the only acceptable announcement will be the one of the total scrapping of this user payer system.

“Anything other than the total cancellation of e-tolls will result in the prolongation of the ongoing dispute over e-tolls. The federation remains unwavering in its commitment to this ongoing boycott of e-toll system.”

Cosatu said that it is also sceptical about Mbalula’s ability to meet the two-week deadline, as he has made similar promises in the past.

Missed window 

The Automobile Association (AA) also believes 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, the 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, it said in a statement at the end of 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.

Read: Bad news for car buyers in South Africa

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There is only one answer to e-tolls