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E-tolling: 'Gordhan missed the point'

Finance minister Pravin Gordhan said yesterday that e-tolling would be implemented from 30 April with reduced tariffs.

While the reduction in e-toll fees by government has been welcomed, several interested parties still stand firm in the position that the contentious system should be banned completely.

Finance minister Pravin Gordhan yesterday announced that the system would be implemented from 30 April with reduced tariffs and National Treasury will make a contribution of R5.8 billion to the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), for which e-tolling was created. Motorists with e-tags will pay 30c/km, down from 40c; while motorcyclists will pay 20c, down from 24c; non-articulated trucks will pay 75c, down from 100c; and articulated trucks R1.51, from R2.

The SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) has not responded to queries regarding the tariffs for vehicles without e-tags. These tariffs are higher, since they do not include the e-tag discount.

Democratic Alliance Gauteng transport spokesperson Neil Campbell says the tariffs for vehicles without e-tags remain the same. Light vehicles without e-tags will pay 58c/km, and heavy vehicles R2.95/km.

Legal action

“We are very pleased that the minister found R5.8 billion and put it into the GFIP, but we are very disappointed that the concept of urban tolling still exists. There will be legal action now,” says Campbell.

He says the official opposition party is not impressed that the tolls have come down to 30c/km, because, come April next year, it will have shot up much higher than that.

“Sanral still overestimates the amount of extra capital that people have lying around every month. There is still no viable public transport alternative in most areas, except for the now unreliable Gautrain. It is a very expensive toy.”

Campbell also says the minister hit citizens with a double whammy, because there was also the 20c increase on petrol, which would have been enough to pay for the GFIP. “So he's being quite greedy. Plus there is an increase on the Road Accident Fund, which is a disgrace and should be disbanded. It's totally inefficient and basically bankrupt.”

Missing the point

The People's Budget Campaign, which comprises the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the South African Council of Churches and the South African Non-Governmental Organisation Coalition, says it rejects the continued reliance on the user pay principle in the development of road infrastructure.

“We do not support e-tolling and call for a reliable, safe, affordable and integrated transport system.”

Cosatu national spokesperson Patrick Craven says it was clear National Treasury was moving in this direction. “It's what they call a compromise. Our protest action will continue as planned.” Cosatu previously said it will march against the system next month.

“Our position remains the same. The main objection is to the principle of paying extra for basic public services. The funding should come from general taxation. Simply reducing the amount is missing the point.”

Making sense

The Automobile Association says it is still of the view that the toll issue should be funded from the fuel levy, regardless of the latest concessions from government.

“We are convinced that, despite the latest offering from government, the cost to the consumer, as far as the Gauteng tolls are concerned, is going to hit home hard when commodity prices increase, as well as transport costs,” says Gary Ronald, head of AA's public affairs.

“The tolls should go and an alternative funding model must still be considered.” He adds that if government could find R5.8 billion of unassigned funds in one hit for the GFIP then finding just R1.5 billion or R2 billion a year, over an eight- to 10-year period is very small. “This amount will then be small enough to be taken out of the fuel levy to cover the GFIP. It will also be cheaper, because there won't be any collection costs. That just makes more sense.”

Quandary?

Wayne Duvenage, vice-president of the South African Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association (SAVRALA), says the reduced fees still exist within a “funding mechanism [that] is inefficient, impractical and unacceptable”.

“We salute the minister for apportioning R5.8 billion of our taxes toward the GFIP, but ask why stop at a quarter of the amount required, especially in light of the extra 20c added to the fuel levy? The GFIP urban tolling plan has been ill-conceived and thrust upon the Gauteng road user with minimal consultation or consideration to its impact. It's not about the fee. Even at 10c per kilometre, it is the principal of tolling our urban daily routes to work and back that is wrong,” says Duvenage.

He also says to toll the GFIP suggests that all road upgrades in future should be tolled – “unless Sanral plans to be inconsistent with this principle. Does one detect a quandary in the making?”

“It is also wrong to assume that because the gantries are built, there is no turning back. To press on with tolling our urban roads will be throwing good money after bad. There is a far more viable alternative and SAVRALA, along with a number of other business associations, will now seriously consider a joint legal challenge against this process. Initial consultations have revealed significant transgressions of the law and the constitutional rights of the public in this regard.”

Economic analyst Roelof Botha, adjunct faculty at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, at the University of Pretoria, caused controversy this week, when he said e-tolling is actually progressive since it will make the rich poorer as opposed to making the poor poorer, which is what an increase on the fuel levy would do.


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