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E-tolling splits leadership

Read time 4min 40sec

The controversial Gauteng e-tolling system has split the ruling party and continues to come under criticism on numerous points.

Transport minister Sibusiso Ndebele says road maintenance is necessary and an innovative means to pay for this had to be found.

Meanwhile, the ANC Gauteng provincial working committee thinks it's disastrous and the Gauteng portfolio committee on transport thinks the fees are extremely high.

The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) says its hands are tied since only Ndebele can make any changes to the fees.

Amid the debate around necessity versus consequences of e-tolling, there have been questions around the increased cost of the contract for toll implementation and the fact that the tender winner is a mostly foreign-owned consortium.

Escalating costs

Sanral previously said the cost of the contract for implementation of the e-tolling system was R1.16 billion. This figure has now increased to R4.56 billion.

Democratic Alliance spokesperson for transport in Gauteng Neil Campbell says at a meeting yesterday with Sanral, the Gauteng portfolio committee on transport and the Gauteng Department of Roads and Transport, Sanral CEO Nazir Alli explained that the increased cost of the contract is due to the rand losing value since the signing of the contract in 2009.

Alli added that inflation must also be taken into account.

Foreign contract

Sanral awarded the contract for e-tolling implementation to the Electronic Toll Collection consortium. The consortium comprises Swedish-based Kapsch TrafficCom and South African company Traffic Management Technologies (TMT).

TMT held 35% in the joint venture, while the Kapsch group held 65%. However, Kapsch TrafficCom increased its share capital in TMT to 56.81% last year.

“This government has long since lost any idea of the ramifications of its policies on the small-business person and the public, and often seeks out overseas companies rather than looking for local opportunities outside of their close cronies,” says Campbell.

Despite media reports that money from the system will be flowing out of the country due to the consortium being primarily foreign-owned, Alli said this is not the case.

He said the contract was given to a foreign consortium, because the technology required for e-tolling did not exist in SA.

Alli also said most of the money will stay in SA, because there's only direct purchase of technology that is not available in SA with the consortium. Money from the tolls will be used to pay off loans that were taken for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.

ANC against

Campbell says in a recent meeting of the Gauteng portfolio committee on transport there was universal agreement among all party representatives on that committee, including the ANC, that the toll fees are exorbitant.

He says ANC chairperson of the committee Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko also agreed that the fees are too high.

Sanral said the whole e-tolling system is ANC policy and it is just an organ to implement.

It adds that there might be a change to the fees sometime in the future, but Ndebele is the only one who can action that and change anything.

Dumisa Ntuli, communications and research director for the ANC in Gauteng, says the provincial working committee met on Monday to review the e-tolling system.

“They decided the tolling system will have serious social and economic consequences for the province. It will grossly increase the cost of living and business. In the absence of a viable public transport system, e-tolling will have disastrous consequences.”

He says they did not particularly discuss whether the fees are too high, but this will probably be discussed by the Provincial Executive Committee at a meeting this Friday.

Alternatives?

At a media briefing yesterday, Ndebele said the question of roads financing is a challenge SA faces as a country.

For this reason, he said, there will be a summit in March to look at options such as public partnerships, user pays principle, and other potential sources of funding to avoid overburdening the user.

He said congestion on Gauteng roads needed a sustainable approach, which is to increase the number of choice alternatives to the road user.

“As a result of recent interventions by DOT, the user in Gauteng now has more choices. They will be able to choose between the Gautrain, the Gauteng freeway, between Johannesburg and Tshwane, the PRASA Commuter and Business Express and the alternative routes.”

Ndebele said the private car is not the future of public transport. He said all the transport projects mentioned total a cost of about R60 billion. “The question SA must ask is where the cost should be located.

“More than any other in SA, the Gauteng user today faces choices based on cost and the degree of convenience. The [more] varied the choices, the easier the decision.”

He said the situation in Gauteng is the desired end state for the rest of the country.

DOT spokesperson Logan Maistry says the department is committed to further engagement around e-tolling.

“We have been listening to the various views around the system and will engage further on the matter. We don't want to pre-empt the outcome of the summit, but the fees are definitely one of the things that will be considered.”

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