E-tolls roll on
Government's controversial Gauteng e-toll system is only a few processes away from implementation, with the passing of the "E-toll Bill" by the National Assembly yesterday.
The Bill, officially known as the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill, was previously positioned by the Department of Transport (DOT) as a formality that was holding e-toll implementation back. Now that the National Assembly has given the Bill the green light, just three more steps stand between the state and e-toll implementation.
According to DOT spokesperson Tiyani Rikhotso, the E-toll Bill will now be passed through Parliament's National Council of Provinces, back to the National Assembly and then to the desk of president Jacob Zuma to be signed into effect. "Once these processes have been completed, [transport minister Ben Martins] will make an announcement as to the date of implementation for e-tolls."
In a representation by Martins during the Second Reading Debate of the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill yesterday, the minister said the e-toll system would essentially translate into "huge savings to the economy" and a reduction in the carbon footprint.
He said the tolling system - already in use in the east of Pretoria on the Platinum toll highway - was essential in that it is a "mechanism for the collection of tolls without disturbing the flow of traffic at least cost".
Martins also said the non-collection of tolls would have dire consequences for the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral), which needs funding for infrastructure development, and for government. "Failure to collect tolls and repay the bonds would have very serious financial implications for Sanral and for the national government, which approved guarantees in respect of most of Sanral roads."
The minister concluded his debate by expressing disappointment with certain factions that have stood opposed to the judiciary's decision to give e-tolls the go ahead. "These are the very same people who cry foul when the majority party in government allegedly questions a judgment.
"There is a difference between commenting on a judgment and questioning the integrity of the judiciary. I urge all to desist from such practice and stop attempting to politicise the judiciary... it is an ill wind that blows."
The E-toll Bill was met with vehement opposition and criticism by most of the opposition parties, with the Democratic Alliance (DA) demanding a referendum be conducted in Gauteng to "offer voters a choice as to whether they want the e-toll system to pay for the Gauteng freeway upgrades, or whether they would prefer a fuel levy to pay for them".
Ian Ollis, DA shadow minister of transport, accused government of "bungling" the process of developing the e-toll system, leaving the public feeling "ripped off".
He said the system was the world's most expensive toll collection system (up to R11 billion over eight years according to the DA's calculations) and that motorists could not be expected to make up the cash shortfall caused by "16 years of underinvestment" by government in road infrastructure and the funding crisis that now besets Sanral.
Ollis concluded by affirming the DA's position on the system. "Under a DA government there would be no e-toll in Gauteng, and I will not be purchasing any e-tag this year."
Meanwhile, after the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance's (Outa's) High Court application to scrap e-tolling was dismissed in December, the alliance applied for leave to appeal the judgement that deemed e-tolls legal. Leave to appeal was granted in January.
Joining the choir of censure since the e-toll debate started in earnest last year, the Congress of South African Trade Unions has carried out extensive protest action, blocking Gauteng's highways and urging motorists not to support the system - and by extension Sanral - or to buy e-tags.
Outa's appeal is set to be taken to the Supreme Court of Appeal, in Bloemfontein, at a date yet to be set.
However, Outa's appeal, says Rikhotso, has no bearing on the implementation of e-tolling, which will go ahead as planned. "The appeal is not an interdict against the implementation of e-tolls. It is just an appeal."