E-tolling causes outrage

Farzana Rasool
By Farzana Rasool, ITWeb IT in Government Editor.
Johannesburg, 12 Aug 2011

Cabinet's acceptance of slightly reduced e-toll tariffs has been slammed by industry players, political parties and labour.

There have been several mentions of strikes, protests and civil disobedience.

Following the Cabinet announcement, the recommended toll tariffs will be gazetted, after which all relevant costs and discounts, details on the phased e-toll registration, as well as the toll commencement date, will be communicated to the public, says SA National Roads Agency (Sanral).

Becoming Egypt

Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) says it is shocked and angry that the government has approved the toll fees.

“The massive and widespread opposition to the tolls has been totally ignored.” The federation is opposed to the entire principle of charging tolls to drive on public highways.

“If there is no change in policy from government, we shall be planning marches, demonstrations, pickets and stayaways, and taking strike action if the tolls are not scrapped. We are confident that thousands of other Gauteng residents will be joining us in these protests.”

National chairperson of Justice Project SA Howard Dembovsky also foresees unrest over the e-toll project.

“I think that as much as Sanral and the DOT [Department of Transport] may wish that they have appeased and mitigated the risk of taxi drivers rioting, this thing is far from over and I would not be in the least bit surprised if ordinary motorists and transport operators embark on mass action, the likes of which can only be compared to what went down in Egypt.

“Many have warned about civic disobedience (not paying). I am warning that we can expect vandalism and maybe even riots.”

Value for money?

“I am not in the least bit surprised that the so-called reductions are as lame as they are. After all, it is going to take an awful lot of money to maintain these so-called improved freeways that are already falling apart where they have been completed,” says Dembovsky.

He explains that some sections of the recently completed roads are already affected by tar shifting, specifically the N1 South between Beyers Naude and Malibongwe Drive.

“Then let's take the N12 East where at least one fatality per day takes place, due to the fact that since 2008, almost no progress has been made. This section of the GFIP is extremely dangerous.”

Despite the N3 and N12 not being complete, there has been no talk of tolls not being charged on these stretches of freeway. “Isn't it funny that the gantries are complete - but the freeways are nowhere near complete?”

Dembovsky says a person who drives a highly economical vehicle that consumes only 5l/100km (costs around 50c/km in fuel) will now be subject to a 116% (80% with an e-tag) increase in their travelling costs on these freeways.

“So the hardest hit in the pocket will be those who drive economical vehicles that do less damage to the roads and the environment.”

Maintenance misnomer

The Road Freight Association (RFA) welcomes the reduction in tariffs, but says they are still too expensive.

It says it is a misnomer that the savings in maintenance costs as a result of the upgraded roads will outweigh the costs of the tolls.

“Not all the routes travelled by the trucks are well maintained, which results in high maintenance costs once off the toll network. The idea of one good road among many bad roads cannot alone bring a major change to the maintenance costs of trucks.”

Killing SMMEs

The RFA says a container operator picking up containers at City Deep and delivering to an address in the Kya-Sands area will travel approximately 73km (including the return leg) on the network.

“These operators are typically SMME operators and earn total revenue (turnover) of only R1 800 per pickup. With the profit margin being as low as 2% (R0.75/km) and with the proposed toll fee of R2/km, this will lead to the death of an already struggling small business, which will eradicate the SMME market.”

Should business not be in a position to afford these toll tariffs due to the serious cash constraints, truck operators will have no choice but to start looking at retrenchment strategies, downsizing of operations and ultimately closure, it adds.

Business Unity SA (Busa) adds that the e-tolling system will still introduce significant administrative and cost complexity for business that will be felt right across the spectrum, by the tourism industry, by manufacturers and by small business.

While the reductions and the exemptions granted to taxis and commuter busses will to some extent soften the pain to commuters, it undermines the “user-pay” principle, says the organisation.

Going up

Democratic Alliance spokesperson for transport in Gauteng Neil Campbell says the fees are still too high and will add unacceptably to the costs of doing business in the province.

“We are still in the dark about the real costs of operating the e-tolling system, which is possibly as high as R14 billion over eight years. This really seems to be excessive, and will be difficult to implement in a situation where many people are hard to trace and many licence plates are fraudulent.”

He also expressed concern that the toll fees will rise further over the years.

Sufficient reductions?

Cabinet yesterday approved reduced tariffs for e-tolling in Gauteng, which dictates that motorcycles (Class A1) with e-tags will pay 24c/km; light vehicles (Class A2) will pay 40c/km; medium vehicles (Class B) 100c/km; and “longer” vehicles (Class C) 200c/km.

Qualifying commuter taxis (Class A2) and commuter busses (Class B) are completely exempt from the e-toll system.

The reduction for light vehicles without e-tags saw a drop from 66c/km, to 58c/km; and from R3.95 for heavy vehicles without e-tags to R2.95.

The e-tolling project is an open road, multilane toll infrastructure that allows tolls to be charged without drivers having to stop. There are no physical booths.