Adios e-tolls?

Still adamant the system will be a success, Sanral is not going to let e-tolls go down without a fight.

Read time 3min 20sec

If government thought Gautengers were going to go gently into the night on the issue of e-tolls, it was sorely mistaken. Just last week, I drove under a giant banner cast across a bridge on the N1 that read "No E-toll GP".

But then I don't need to be sounding any sirens for our authorities, given that the province's new premier, David Makhura, has announced there will be a review of the contentious system, which is only seven months old - haai shame.

While we don't really know at this stage exactly what the "review" will entail, the good premier's announcement has been welcomed with a big nose-thumbed "We told you so" - with glee from Gauteng motorists to the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral).

Particularly pleased with the news, which it hopes spells the end of e-tolls altogether, anti-toll trumpeter Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) reckons a fuel levy will probably replace e-tolling as the ANC "back-pedals" on its decision to introduce open road tolling across Gauteng.

Outa chairman and avid e-toll hater Wayne Duvenage says the governing party is apparently wary of going into the 2016 municipal elections without tackling e-tolling, a "mistake" he says has contributed to its electoral decline in the country's economic heartland.

Hater of many things, but especially of e-tolls, the Congress of SA Trade Unions has also had a somewhat smug look about it since Friday. The union says Makhura's State of the Province Address announcement clearly shows government has doubts about its self-proclaimed "world-class" e-toll system.

Tenacious fighter

But Sanral has fought the notion of a fuel levy tooth and nail for months - if not years - saying it would be unfair and that e-tolling was the only reasonable solution to the R20 billion dent the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project left in government's coffers.

And boy is Sanral a fighter. Despite possibly the biggest and widest spread outcry over a government decision SA has ever seen (complete with a burning wheelchair and anthrax-laced hate mail), giant glitches in its billing system and gaping IT security holes, Sanral has stuck to its guns and remained adamant that "the system will succeed".

The premier's announcement has been welcomed with a big nose-thumbed "We told you so".

Incidentally, the roads agency hasn't commented on Makhura's proclamation.

Where the cat never has Sanral's tongue, is when it comes to peddling the many "benefits" of e-tolling, including the propensity of the system to drive down travel costs and ease traffic congestion. Confident, tenacious and a comedian.

And it seems the roads agency's humour and unrelenting optimism have filtered through to its customer care centre officials too.

Highveld 94.7 DJ Darren Simpson recently called the centre after having received an e-toll bill for R434 893.19 - on one motor vehicle.

Asked if the Sanral employee thought this was possible, he confidently replied that it was, of course - in fact there were motorists out there with even steeper bills.

In order for a single motorist to have racked up a bill of that size in the period since e-tolls went live on 3 December, the vehicle would have had to travel 17 056km per day. That would mean it would have to travel the 100km Johannesburg e-toll ring road 170 times a day - every day for over 100 days - at 710km/h. Sure, seems likely.

Despite everything pointing to dismal defeat, I suspect Sanral will defend its system to the death. Rage against the dying of the gantry lights.

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