Why the new e-toll proposals won’t work

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) says that e-tolling, even under revised tariffs, will not work in Gauteng because its citizens simply do not trust The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral).

Outa said there is an unresolved historical conflict arising from the failure of Sanral to observe basic values and principles governing public administration, as defined in Chapter 12 of the Constitution.

The opposition group was responding to premier David Makhura’s state-of-the-province address on Monday, during which he promised “major financial relief” to motorists.

“The provincial government is part of the current consultation process… to develop a better dispensation which will mitigate the negative impact of the e-tolls on the people of Gauteng, especially the middle and lower income groups,” Makhura said.

“I am confident that the new dispensation should provide major financial relief to motorists, while simplifying the payment system to make it easy for road users to pay,” he said.

According to Outa, however, this is not enough.

“In Outa’s opinion, nothing but a decision to mothball the e-toll decision, will heal the rift of trust between Sanral and citizens, arising from their arrogant, bullying, and adversarial manner which they have chosen to deal with their critics and the public at large,” said Outa’s John Clarke.

The African National Congress on Monday said it was pleased that the Gauteng government had taken note of motorists’ dissatisfaction with the e-tolling system.

“To this end, we are particularly pleased that the Gauteng provincial government has listened to the people of the province when they said the current system of e-tolls was undesirable and unworkable,” provincial secretary Hope Papo said in a statement.

Papo said he hoped the dispensation would come with solutions.

“We trust that the new dispensation alluded to by the premier will finally put this matter to rest by delivering a solution that is equitable, affordable, administratively simple and sustainable,” he said.

Outa said that citizens are not just looking for charitable financial relief for their e-toll bills, “but an honest frank acknowledgement that Sanral has not lived up to its constitutionally defined obligations”.

It said that the debt created by installing the system can be paid from a slight increase in the fuel levy until a full social auditing process has been undertaken, and Sanral has become transformed into an inclusive, accountable and transparent agency.

Clarke said he was not surprised that the Premier couldn’t say much more on the e-toll matter on Monday, as the e-toll debacle has been a mess created at the National Level, but dumped into the lap of his Provincial Government.

“Sadly, the e-toll decision remains a case of ‘work still in progress’ some four years after the public outrage began, and following fifteen months of wasteful expenditure on a failed system, since it was launch in December 2013.

“The grave injustices and shocking decisions by Sanral and the National Government on this matter, cannot simply be explained away as a mistake and corrected with lower rates and pardons,” Outa’s spokesperson said.

Outa pointed out that the fuel levy has been increased by R1.10 (or 100% to R2.20 per liter as the combined effect of the Diesel and Petrol levies), since the tax year of 2007.

This was the year when the GFIP construction tenders were dispatched.

Clarke said that had the authorities decided to apply their existing Fuel Levy policy to finance the GFIP bonds, by allocating a mere 10c per liter of the past increases (or an extra 10c) for the project at that time, the project’s entire capital cost of R17.9 billion would have already been raised by today.

“We simply cannot understand why the authorities chose to ignore the application of its existing fuel levy policy in this regard.  Instead, they appear content kick this can down the road, exploring other complex options, whilst fighting with the remaining 30% of paying road users through Sanral’s Violations Processing Centre. ”

A panel, set up by Makhura, published a report in January which found that the e-tolling system, in its current form, was unaffordable and unsustainable.

The panel recommended a hybrid payment model – to ease the financial burden for motorists.

A hybrid system would still include e-tolls, but to a lesser degree than the current format. It would include:

  • Funding from the provincial fiscus;
  • A reduced-cap e-toll;
  • A ring-fenced national fuel levy;
  • Increasing and ring-fencing the cost of advertising on toll routes;
  • Increasing and ring-fencing vehicle license fees;
  • Increasing fees for tyres;
  • and recovering funds from the construction industry.

More on e-tolls

New e-toll system to give ‘major financial relief’

E-toll review panel findings: everything you need to know

E-tolls will stay, says Gauteng premier

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Why the new e-toll proposals won’t work