No smart plates for Jan 2010

Audra Mahlong
By Audra Mahlong, senior journalist
Johannesburg, 16 Nov 2009

The Gauteng Department of Transport is set to spend R32 million to roll out its intelligent number plates - but certain aspects of the project are still outstanding.

Gauteng transport MEC Bheki Nkosi says preparations for the roll-out of new plates will begin in December, despite stating the current number plates are set to run out at the end of this year.

While previously stating the roll out would begin in January, the department now says the manufacturing process will only begin in February 2010. The project is scheduled to run for four years, and is intended to be completed by November 2013.

However, the provincial department notes that regulations governing the new plates are yet to be completed, and dates for the subsequent public hearings have not been set.

The department notes that the process should have started earlier, but “it is only expected to kick-start when the current number plates are exhausted”.

The electronic number plate system will place a number validation label on the rear window of vehicles, along with a bar code that traffic authorities will be able to scan. Number plate manufacturers will also have to be accredited and plates bolted onto vehicles with tamper-proof screws to prevent fraud.

The department states the budget will be allocated to upgrading its IT systems, consultation, number plate research and design, as well as the registration process for approved manufacturers.

IT improvements

A portion of the funding is also set to go towards improving IT systems in the province's Intelligent Transport System. The initiative involves the collection, procession and integration of information through computer and communications technologies.

The system will store information, such as vehicle identity, owner details and track number plate manufacturers.

All plates will be aluminium and will also have an RFID tag that contains a unique identification code programmed into a 2D bar code. The unique code will be used in the encryption of the tag and contain a secure electronic mark. This mark will act as a digital signature and will certify the numbers on the plate, the vehicle it was issued to, and if they were issued by a registered manufacturer.

The system would also have to integrate with the Gauteng proprietary portion of eNatis, GauTis, to provide notification of any offences. Each vehicle owner would be required to produce their personal identification and the vehicle identification documents when ordering the new number plates from the accredited manufacturers.

The changes to the current IT system would mean a “smooth transition, minimising disruptions and confusion” within the industry, says the department.

No more delays?

Initiated in 2006, the project was announced by then transport MEC Ignatius Jacobs in his 2007/8 budget speech. Jacobs then announced a six-month testing of the audit trail of the new number plate would begin in August 2007, and that full-scale implementation was scheduled for 1 January 2008.

In July 2008, Jacobs announced the implementation of the project had been postponed to January 2009, once “extensive consultations” with stakeholders had been completed.

A model plate was presented to the MEC and a member of the Gauteng Portfolio Committee on Public Transport Roads and Works, and industry representatives, in 2008. It was announced the state attorney was also considering proposed regulations, following which the system would be tested for efficiency.

In March 2009, the department confirmed the implementation of the project had yet to begin. In May, the department said the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research was still completing security features for the plate, and no implementation dates had been set.