April reveal for e-toll talks

Farzana Rasool
By Farzana Rasool, ITWeb IT in Government Editor.
Johannesburg, 06 Apr 2011

Gauteng e-tolling system consultations resulted in calls for a Sanral watchdog and a fuel levy as opposed to the controversial toll system.

The e-tolling steering committee yesterday engaged with labour and the political fraternity.

Included among the stakeholders that had been invited to make presentations during yesterday's consultations were Afriforum, the Democratic Alliance (DA), the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the South African Communist Party and the South African Roads Federation.

E-tolling is an open road, multi-lane toll infrastructure that allows for tolls to be charged without drivers having to stop. There are no physical booths.

The toll tariffs were initially gazetted at 66c/km for standard light motor vehicles, and R3.96/km for heavy vehicles. However, large-scale public outrage resulted in the fees being suspended and consultation processes were started by the Department of Transport.

The steering committee was appointed by transport minister Sibusiso Ndebele to review the toll tariff structure and explore options to reduce the impact of the e-tolling cost on road users. It is headed by transport DG George Mahlalela.

World's highest

The DOT says DA spokesperson for transport in Gauteng Neil Campbell indicated, at the consultation, that the DA was not opposed to the principle of tolling except that, in its view, the programme was imposed on the motorist and the commuter.

He appealed to the steering committee to think of the ordinary member of society who is going to be affected by the tariffs.

“The main worry that emerged was for the poor man on the street, who has to face ever-increasing electricity, water, rates and taxes and petrol prices,” Campbell told ITWeb.

Economist Mike Schussler made a presentation on behalf of Afriforum and the Road Freight Association, and indicated the possible socio-economic impact the toll tariffs will have on motorists and commuters, according to the department.

Afriforum said the toll fees in their current form were expensive, reflecting the need for the possible establishment of a regulating body.

Campbell says Schussler made the point that the e-toll fees gazetted by the DOT are the highest in the world and the entire R20 billion Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, that e-tolling was set up to fund, would be paid off by 2020.

Independent watchdog

“Eventually, the DG said two main points were crystallising from the public consultations,” said Campbell.

He said the first is that there should be some kind of independent body serving as a watchdog over Sanral, since Sanral should not be in control of the e-toll system on its own.

The second point that continues to emerge is that instead of toll fees there should be a fuel levy and this levy should be implemented countrywide.

“The DG did not elaborate on this, but said there would be a feedback meeting on 18 April once the report has been compiled.”

Procedural concerns

After the business sector's consultations with the steering committee, Business Unity SA raised concerns over the consultation procedure.

“At a minimum, the mooted inclusion of business in the composition of the steering committee did not transpire,” it notes.

Campbell says the political fraternity was supposed to meet with the steering committee on Monday, but political parties were not made aware of this.

“Only the Freedom Front found out and so only they pitched up.” He says this is why political parties had to attend the labour consultations yesterday.

April reveal

Mahlalela reiterated that the submissions made by labour, political formations and other stakeholders were valuable and would be treated with the critical consideration they deserve.

He said the steering committee would consult with other stakeholders today, following which all the presentations and inputs would be consolidated into a single report.

Upon this consolidation, all the stakeholders would be re-invited to be given feedback, says the DOT.

A consolidated report will also be presented to the transport minister and Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane by the steering committee before the end of April.

Testing controversy

In the meeting with the business fraternity, some of the concerns raised were about how the tariffs were arrived at; why they seem expensive; why the freeway improvement project should be tolled at all; the need for proper planning and alternative means of transport; and seeking and finding alternative sources of funding, according to the transport department.

The estimated monthly revenue from e-tolling, based on current traffic flow and the proposed fee of 66c/km, is R300 million per month.

Live testing of the e-tolling system has begun, but the final implementation date is unclear.