Non-payment of outstanding e-toll fees is now a criminal offence, and South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) plans to take offenders through the necessary legal channels – but many believe the process will be ineffective.
According to Sanral spokesman, Vusi Mona, the Sanral Act, which has been in effect since 1998, requires road users to pay a toll when passing a toll point.
“It is a road user’s legal responsibility to pay tolls and not paying is, according to the Sanral Act, a criminal offence,” Monsa told BusinessTech.
“On the Gauteng e-roads, there are signs at every off-ramp (exit) of the e-roads, providing details about the payment of tolls. These signs and the toll tariff signs, located along the Gauteng e-roads, before the toll point, indicate that the road user has a seven-day grace period to pay the toll fee applicable to that toll point.”
In the event that a road user opts not to pay these tolls, road users will be held liable for any outstanding fees and associated infringements.
“The offender will go through the normal legal channels and this may result in prosecution for non-payment.”
According to Mona, the administrative process that will be followed regarding e-tolls is as follows:
- Although the toll system is a pre-paid system, a road user has a seven-day grace period, from a gantry pass , to pay their e-toll transactions;
- If the e-toll transaction is not paid within seven days, it is transferred to the Violations Processing Centre (the section of e-toll operations that deals with overdue toll amounts);
- Due to the user’s status as an Alternative User, discounts (e-tag, frequent user and time of day) are no longer applied and the Alternative Toll Tariff applies.
- Transactions are rolled up and an invoice is issued to the road user;
- A road user is then given an opportunity to settle his/her e-toll transactions and depending on the time within which the toll transactions are paid, post Grace Period Discounts might apply;
- During that time, a debt collection process takes place;
- Once it appears that the debt collection process is unsuccessful, a Final Demand will be issued and the issue handed over to the prosecuting authority;
- Prosecution will be done in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act and/or Aarto pending when and where it will be implemented.
“Sanral does not have the mandate to sentence people to jail. That is a matter for the courts decide,” Mona said.
According to Wayne Duvenage, head of the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa), even though road users are now at risk of facing fines and possible criminal proceedings, Sanral may find its hands full with the sheer volume of defaulters.
“The same [risk of criminal proceedings] was implied in Portugal and the authorities did not arrest a single person, nor can they now that the defaulters list is too large,” Duvenage said.
“I believe that enforcement of all defaulters will not be possible and the authorities will not be able to treat some differently to others – this system in this environment with significant administrative deficiencies will be inundated with queries about wrong changes, cloned plates traveling on other cars VLN, disputes raised etc.”
“It will become impossible for ETC to manage the deluge of information heading their way from the disgruntled public,” Duvenage said.
Chairman of Justice Project South Africa, Howard Dembovsky, has long said that trying to enforce the prosecution of transgressors under the Criminal Procedure Act and/or Aarto act would result in a massive administrative mess in South Africa’s already-burdened court system.
“When Sanral speaks of the prosecution of e-toll transgressors, it seems to have forgotten to take into account the fact that the overcrowded court rolls are already struggling to deal with the existing matters before them,” Dembovsky said.
“By adding to this situation, they will either effectively bring the South African criminal justice system to a grinding halt, or fail in carrying out their threats. ”
According to Dembovsky, in reality, only a very small portion of total traffic fines issued under the Criminal Procedure Act result in the alleged offender seeing the inside of a court.
“Given the fact that some 600,000 e-tags have allegedly been sold, at the very least, the quantum of individuals who will be regarded to be e-toll transgressors could be in the order of 1 million people or more per day,” he said.
Even if Sanral decides to combine all of the transgressions committed by each e-toll transgressor into a single summons over a period of a month – as is being proposed by those who are explaining how they will deal with the prosecution of these matters – this will mean that 1 million matters will have to be set down for trial each month, Dembovsky said.
“You really don’t have to be a professor of applied mathematics to calculate that it will be physically impossible for the courts to handle these volumes – and you don’t have to be a professor of laws to understand that the courts cannot exclude from the process without seriously violating the basic fundamental human rights which are protected by the Constitution,” the JSPA chairman said.
So, should you pay your toll fees?
“I certainly believe there will be a large number of the public who will refuse to pay and will elect to defend the matter in court,” Duveange told BusinessTech.
“The first person found not-guilty will spark the end of the e-toll process and we believe this will be a possibility if tested in court. Social media communication platforms will ensure all incidents are shared and everyone is treated equally and fairly,” he said.
However, the Outa head stressed that the group does not advocate breaking the law by not paying – but he’s quick to point out that having an e-tag is not required by law.
“In this regard, if any member of the public feels the system is unjust, they have every right to exercise passive resistance to make it more cumbersome,” he said.
“We believe that if enough people do not get an e-tag, the system will be to difficult to manage and it will eventually collapse.”
Dembovsky said that he, too, does no advocate breaking laws, and encourages citizens to abide by the laws of the country.
“But I find myself in a moral dilemma over the e-toll laws because I really don’t believe they are just,” the JPSA lead said.
“I therefore cannot, with a clear conscience, encourage people to do anything other than to resist these unjust laws with vigour, and in doing so, I pledge to do the same myself.”
“I am prepared to openly state that I am now in total agreement with Cosatu’s and others’ views that these laws are unjust and unfair and therefore cannot be complied with.”