Foreign drivers to escape e-tolling

Farzana Rasool
By Farzana Rasool, ITWeb IT in Government Editor.
Johannesburg, 02 Aug 2011

There is no system in place to bill foreign drivers with foreign vehicles for using Gauteng highways through the new e-toll system, says SA National Roads Agency (Sanral).

This comes after the agency recently said motorists would face being double billed if their licence plates are fraudulently duplicated. In such cases, the problem will only resolve after the fraud has been perpetrated and the motorist follows up the issue with Sanral.

Commentators argue that this means there are too many holes in the system, in regard to billing especially, and these have yet to be addressed.

Alex van Niekerk, senior project manager for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project at Sanral, says the percentage of foreign drivers in foreign vehicles is minimal. “But we want them to pay because they can't use our roads for free.”

He adds that it is mostly commercial vehicles or fleets that come in from neighbouring countries, and these are easy to target and set up as key accounts with e-tags.

“The very infrequent visitor, that is more difficult. In the longer term plan, we are looking at it, but that is still under development.”

Van Niekerk explains that there is no solution for this as yet, but Sanral will find ways to make it as easy as possible.

Many holes

Democratic Alliance spokesperson for transport Neil Campbell says it is a problematic situation.

“Foreign people are going to escape e-tolling and so it's not a user-pay system, despite what they [Sanral] say.”

National chairman of Justice Protect SA Howard Dembovsky agrees, saying it is a question that needs to be answered.

“There are lots of things they haven't thought about with this system and this is just one of them. It's not like we're in the EU [European Union] where we share vehicle databases. One would think they would make provision for this.”

This issue has raised concerns that the use of foreign licence plates could become more prevalent as a means to escape the system.

However, Campbell says it would not be economically viable for the average person to get foreign vehicles or foreign plates put on their vehicles just to avoid e-tolling fees.

Complain first

For the controversial e-tolling project, a vehicle's details will be captured as it passes the gantries, either via an e-tag, which can be purchased by drivers and fitted on their windscreens, or by having their licence plates flashed by overhead cameras on the gantries.

This information is then linked to details on traffic management system eNatis so the appropriate person can be billed the toll fee.

Van Niekerk previously said this means drivers will be double-billed by e-tolling in the case of criminals duplicating their licence plates and, for this reason, Sanral encourages vehicle owners to get the e-tags.

He said if fraudulent plates are being used and a driver with legitimate plates is being double charged, Sanral will be able to resolve the problem, but only once a driver complains about being billed for tariffs they did not incur.

No word

Despite setting the end of July as the deadline for a decision on the controversial Gauteng e-tolling fees, the Department of Transport does not have an answer yet.

Tariffs initially gazetted for the system in April were suspended due to public outrage over how high they were.

Transport minister Sibusiso Ndebele subsequently set up a steering committee to host consultations on the matter. The steering committee in June recommended new tariffs that offer slight reductions on the initial fees.

It suggested a reduction from 66c/km, for light motor vehicles without e-tags, 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.