IT will take toll

Johannesburg, 03 Jul 2007

The SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) will, over the next three years, roll out a multimillion-rand e-tagging solution to revolutionise the collection of tolls on the county's highways.

Sanral toll and traffic manager Alex van Niekerk says the system will be in place by late 2010, early 2011.

It is being introduced as part of a R22 billion improvement to a number of Gauteng highways. This includes the Ben Schoeman, considered the most congested freeway in Africa - and often described as the continent's largest parking area.

"The project will be the country's first open road tolling solution," says Van Niekerk, meaning there will be no physical tollbooths as has been the case up to now.

Dr Paul Vorster, CEO of Intelligent Transport Systems, says the new technology, which he calls multi-lane free-flow tolling, is used in many European countries and has shown good results.

The e-tagging solution will be compatible with all the country's other tollgates, Van Niekerk adds, saying it will use a "one tag, one account" formula. "It builds on the existing system and will aim at providing the public a better service."

Plan by year-end

The Gauteng-wide e-tag tolling system will share its backbone with Sanral's I-traffic system, which manages vehicle flow on the Ben Schoeman, Pretoria's eastern bypass and the Johannesburg ring-road.

Van Niekerk says it is too early to talk specifics on the ICT-side of the upgrade, as it is still the subject of an in-depth study. He says he expects a plan on the table by year-end and tenders to be issued in the new year.

He adds that the transponders, to be used by motorists, will cost about R200 and will work at all tollgates, giving motorists some benefits, including a discount on the toll. He says a similar system is in place in Santiago, Chile, where 90% of motorists voluntarily had transponders fitted.

The Star reports that by 2010, motorists can expect to pay about 30c a kilometre on the highway system and R5 in toll fees to travel from Centurion to Sandton and back. According to the newspaper, the electronic tagging in vehicle licence discs could be rolled out in a year.

Vorster says there are already a number of gantries placed over highways, currently being used for signage, which could be used to insert the e-tag readers. He says one possible model will be for drivers to purchase a tag to fit in the car.

He says this has wider implications in terms of tolling fees, "because more people will be compliant, the cost will be spread, making each person's contribution less".

Robust technology

Vorster says there has been some criticism about the possibility of cellphone interference on the e-tag. "The new technology has become much more robust and accurate, minimising interference, something which has been proven by the implementations in London, Austria and Sweden."

He says the major challenge is that "there will always be people who will try and break the law." He adds that law enforcement will need to take a new track. "One possibility is to use the CCTV cameras that are in place on various roads across the country and add to that the automatic number plate recognition."

This system could be used to identify those without e-tags who repeatedly use the highways. Vorster says this system can be used to build a repeat offender profile and have various consequences in place for them.

Van Niekerk adds that defaulters will be billed and should they fail to pay, the amount due and penalties will be added to their annual vehicle licence fee. That is already being done locally for traffic and speeding fines via the electronic national traffic information system (eNatis).

Every effort will be made to ensure the transponder is as cheap and accessible as possible to the public, Van Niekerk concludes.

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