Confusion as Sanral issues new e-tolls tender

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Even though the verdict is still out on the future of e-tolls, the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) has issued a tender for the controversial e-tolling system.

In the tender document, Sanral invites proposals for the operations and maintenance of the open road tolling (ORT) system in the Gauteng province.

Sanral indicates the contract period shall be for a duration of 72 months (or six years) in total, including the design-build and operation service periods.

Furthermore, the roads agency will host a compulsory tenderer’s clarification meeting on 4 August at the Gauteng Open Road Tolling Central Operations Centre in Samrand, it states.

Sanral’s move to issue the ORT system tender comes as the public awaits transport minister Fikile Mbalula’s final pronouncement on the matter, with reports indicating this is only likely to materialise in October.

Wayne Duvenage, CEO of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), tells ITWeb it doesn’t make sense to issue a tender for operators to manage the e-toll system, when there’s been no announcement on the way forward in terms of funding the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).

Outa has been staunchly against e-tolls from the onset.

Duvenage notes Mbalula has, on a number of occasions, said Cabinet has decided on the matter and will make the announcement.

“If an alternative is being evaluated and to be announced, then e-toll payments will dry up completely. Thus, the question that has to be asked (and probably will be answered at the tender meeting of 4 August), what would the new tenderer/operator be tendering to manage.”

Opposition from all sides

Despite widespread public resistance, Sanral introduced e-tolling on the Gauteng freeway system on 3 December 2013.

Sanral previously contracted the Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) company to collect e-toll payments on its behalf. However, the task was fraught with challenges, egged on by ongoing resistance from motorists.

A report by Moneyweb last month revealed “an average 17.7% e-toll payment compliance rate on GFIP in the first six months of 2022”.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula. (Source: Twitter)
Transport minister Fikile Mbalula. (Source: Twitter)

There has also been push back from the Gauteng region of the Department of Roads and Transport, with the provincial government saying it wants to see the implementation of e-tolls in Gauteng halted.

In 2018, trade union Cosatu and the Gauteng ANC embarked on protest action against the e-tolling system.

The road ahead

Responding to whether the Sanral tender is a foreshadowing of what's to come, Duvenage says this may be the case.

However, he does not believe the tenderer will be tendering to manage the billing and collection system as well as the national transaction clearing house, which is already in existence, as a repurposed operation to enable the e-tag system to be used for billing across a number of applications, such as the long-distance and other “boomed” toll plazas, parking garages, etc.

“The operator will not be managing the collection of payment from the (non-boomed, drive-now-pay-later) e-toll gantries, as it was originally set up for on the Gauteng freeway network.”

The Outa CEO also doesn’t believe organisations will be lining up to tender for the new contract.

“I have no doubt that Sanral will have engaged or alerted a number of potential operators to put them in the picture as to why they should arrive for the tender briefing session, despite the confusion or lack of clarity related to the future of e-tolls. No doubt the exiting operator (ETC) and others who operate in the tolling space will be interested.

“We look forward to discovering more about this tender and the implications thereof. We believe government and Sanral have resigned themselves to the fact that e-tolling in the current format is not viable or enforceable in South Africa, and this will not be pursued as a funding mechanism for urban roads any time in the future,” says Duvenage.

“As with everyone else, we await Cabinet’s decision on the e-toll saga, as this failed scheme has dragged on for far too long now. Furthermore, had our proposal of a ring-fenced 10c addition to the fuel levy been applied in 2008 to fund the upgrade when the upgrading of the freeway began, the ‘overpriced” bonds would have been settled by now.

“To now come at this very late stage and try to resurrect this idea will be far too costly, and secondly, with an already overprice cost of petrol, will not be the right decision to make.”

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13 Aug
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