South Africa is getting a final answer on e-tolls – but you might not like it

 ·11 Jul 2022
SANRAL e-toll

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula says the government will ‘for sure’ announce a solution to e-tolls in October, but there is still ongoing uncertainty as to what exactly will happen to the failed scheme and who will ultimately foot the bill for it.

Speaking at a media briefing at the end of June, Mbalula said that talks around the controversial scheme are still ongoing between himself, finance minister Enoch Godogwana, and president Cyril Ramaphosa.

After Cabinet has resolved the issue, Godongwana will announce the government’s plan for e-tolls — either during or before his Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS), Mbalula said.

However, Mbalula has made similar promises for several years, and road authorities are continuing with the status quo for the time being.

Moneyweb reports the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) plans to issue a new tender for the Open Road Tolling (ORT) system on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP). This is despite an e-toll payment compliance rate of just 17.7%.

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 of opportunity

The government’s original proposal to scrap e-tolls would most likely have involved an increase in the fuel levy, however, the government has likely missed the opportunity to pass on the costs through increased fuel prices as the country grapples with a global energy crisis.

Mbalula himself alluded to the fact that this proposal was on the cards, but that government will now have to rethink its strategy.

“There was a decision that was taken by the cabinet on the e-tolls which was taking us in the direction of the fuel levy. The fuel levy story has become very messy over time and is no longer an option we can consider,” he said.

Outa chief executive Wayne Duvenage agrees that the government has likely missed its chance, despite repeated calls from his organisation to make the change in recent years.

He noted that a decision on e-tolls, promised since July 2019 but still awaited, is expected to formally scrap the e-toll scheme and announce an alternative funding solution for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).

This came four months after the Sanral board passed an urgent resolution in March 2019 stating that it will no longer pursue criminal action against motorists with outstanding e-toll debt.

“We are aware that the e-toll decision has already been made by cabinet, which has been commented on by the minister several times since last year,” said Wayne Duvenage, OUTA chief executive.

“We are also aware that this decision would most likely have involved an increase in the fuel levy to generate the necessary revenue to pay for the maturing GFIP bonds, as was confirmed by the Minister. However, the fuel levy option they had planned has become a headache in today’s environment of soaring fuel prices. That horse has now bolted.”

Read: The average price South Africans are paying for a new car right now – and what you can get

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