‘Confusion’ as e-tolls scheme comes to an end

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 10 Apr 2024
The e-tolls tag beeps will stop after midnight on 11 April 2024.
The e-tolls tag beeps will stop after midnight on 11 April 2024.

Civic body the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) says government has sent confusing messages about the e-tolls switch-off.

The organisation was responding to transport minister, Sindisiwe Chikunga, who today published in the Government Gazette a notice concerning the withdrawal of the toll declaration of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), popularly known as e- tolls.

Chikunga held a media briefing held on Wednesday jointly by South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) chair Themba Mhambi, Sanral CEO Reginal Demana, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi, and Gauteng Transport MEC Kedibone Tlabela.

“This declaration will be effective on 11 April 2024 at 23h59, which means that from 12 April 2024, road users will no longer be charged for the use of the e-toll network.

“It is important to note that while these roads are no longer going to be tolled, the benefits of improved roads remain and that the gantries that have been installed for use on this scheme will continue to be used for other functions, such as fighting crime,” Chikunga said on Wednesday in Centurion.

The minister explained that the obligation to pay e-toll remains until midnight on 11 April 2024.

“Road users will not be required to do anything when e-tolling is cancelled. Importantly, ‘current valid accounts’ can still be used for payments at toll plazas and other value-added services (ie parking). This is critical for the ongoing, long-term benefit of interoperability.

Transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga. (Photograph source: GCIS)
Transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga. (Photograph source: GCIS)

“The tag beeps will stop after midnight on 11 April 2024. The gantry lights and cameras will remain on for road safety purposes. The e-toll website will be updated with respect to the cancellation, including mobility/tag account functionality for services, ie interoperability and parking, etc.

“The e-toll stores will remain open as the tag can still be used for interoperability, account queries and other potential transport related services that will be determined in due course. The e-toll branding will be removed in phases,” the minister said.

According to Chikunga, e-toll invoices will be rolled up until the last day and issued up until this period.

In a statement, OUTA which has been fighting for the scrapping of e-tolls over the years, says a day before the e-tolls will be switched off, the government still doesn’t seem to have a grip on the GFIP finances and why Gauteng motorists objected to the scheme in the first place, or how to force those objectors to pay their outstanding debts that (Sanral) still wants to collect.

OUTA notes that the gantries will be switched off at midnight on Thursday 11 April 2024, however, the authorities made it very clear that the historic e-toll debt remains in place.

According to OUTA, information from the briefing was confusing and some key issues were not clarified.

The organisation says Chikunga believes that Gauteng motorists objected to e-tolls because they didn’t really understand the electronic tolling system.

“This statement, on its own, signifies that the minister really has not grasped the fundamental reasons as to why there was wide-scale objection to the scheme. The minister emphasised that the user must pay for these Gauteng freeways upgrades, but then indicates that this toll money was also to be used to fund non-toll roads. This is a gross contradiction of the ‘user-pays’ principle of Sanral’s tolling scheme in South Africa,” OUTA says.

Furthermore, it adds, there are many other urban and inter-city freeway upgrades throughout the country that are not subjected to tolling.

“Where is the consistency in their application of their so-called user-pays principle?” it says.

The civic organisation adds that Sanral officials confirmed that the GFIP roads were upgraded as part of South Africa’s international undertakings made to get the Soccer World Cup in 2010, however, the minister couldn’t explain why other cities didn’t toll their upgraded infrastructure.

“In reality, the Gauteng freeways needed to be upgraded regardless of whether we hosted the Soccer World Cup event or not, due to congestion a few years before that.

“The minister said at the briefing that ‘motorists are still obligated to pay’, however, she admitted that they were still having discussions on how to enforce this. The reality on this issue is the Sanral board decided to stop pursuing the debt by way of filing summonses against e-toll defaulters in March 2019.”

The organisation points out that this was their only mechanism left for them to chase this debt, as all their previous threats of withholding licences and seeking bad credit ratings had come to naught. No amount of posting e-toll bills to defaulters has worked to date, it adds.

“We are astounded by minister Chikunga’s comments that they are still deliberating on the outstanding e-toll debt matter,” says Wayne Duvenage, OUTA CEO.

“Quite frankly, in our opinion, there is no outstanding e-toll debt from motorists. This is also reflected as such in Sanral’s financial statements, whereby all past e-toll debts they couldn’t pursue were written off years ago.”

“With no further options for pursuing this debt, the bulk of which has already prescribed, this notion of trying to squeeze unpaid e-toll bills from the wallets of millions of motorists is a fallacy and illusion that Sanral is simply unable to accept.”

OUTA states that there was a confusing response at the briefing to the question of whether e-toll debtors can use e-tags at other toll plazas.

Sanral emphasised that the e-tags can be used at all plazas, and that historic e-toll debt would not be absorbed into future e-tag accounts, however, it was unclear how this would work, it notes.