E-toll tags 'violate CPA'

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E-tolling, and specifically the registration of e-tags, goes directly against the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) that protects consumers from unfair, unreasonable and unjust practices.

Cliff Johnston, vice-chairman of the SA National Consumer Union (Sancu), says certain clauses in the terms and conditions of contracts that users must sign when registering their e-tags definitely go against the CPA.

He specifically mentions the clause that says the SA National Roads Agency's (Sanral's) information is correct unless a driver can prove otherwise, which is particularly salient in the case of fraudulent plates being used by criminals.

Prove glitches

“My car could be sitting in my garage, but if my plates have been fraudulently duplicated how do I prove that the toll fees incurred are not mine? It goes against consumer rights. That is totally wrong and unreasonable,” says Johnston.

In December, ITWeb reported that road users must be able to prove they were not driving in cases where they receive incorrect bills for the controversial system.

In light of Johannesburg's notorious billing system for utilities, which, among other issues, overcharges residents, there have been several concerns around billing for e-tolling and what measures motorists can take if they are incorrectly charged.

In response to a parliamentary question, transport minister Sibusiso Ndebele said: “If the road user can prove that he/she was not the driver of the vehicle with the applicable nomination form, the transactions will be moved to the correct driver, or if the vehicle in the images is not his/hers, a representation can be made.”

Think first

Sancu was on the verge of putting in a complaint to the National Consumer Commission, but when the commencement of e-tolling was postponed it decided to take the complaint to the new Sanral board.

Sanral last week announced e-tolling would not begin in February as planned, since it still needs to consider stakeholder comments and petitions on the matter.

“Basically, we feel Sanral has not thought this out properly,” says Johnston. He adds that as a result, the agency is trying to tie in users of the system, via these terms and conditions.

“There's something very, very wrong. It has not been thought through. We think the new board has seen this and hopefully realises the amount of complaints they're going to have will not be worth it.”

Battling on

The Democratic Alliance (DA) yesterday lodged a complaint against the Gauteng toll collection system with the National Consumer Tribunal, according to DA Gauteng transport spokesperson Neil Campbell.

“We have taken this step as we do not believe the battle against the tolls is over even though the February implementation date has been delayed.

“This battle's hardening up and I still think we're going to win.”

He adds that the complaint is regarding the system infringing the CPA. Campbell says the system is unfair and unreasonable on several grounds.

These include that users give access to their bank account or credit card for unknown amounts; the high possibility of error or fraud in that an excess of 10% of licence plates are cloned or fraudulent; the lack of clarity on how disputed amounts that are already deducted will be refunded; and the undisclosed administration fees, for example R5 charged for statements sent in the post and 20c for each SMS notifying the account balance.

The spokesperson also notes that the motivation for identification of vehicles by e-tag, as opposed to licence plate number only, is unclear.

“The exemption of a certain class of road users, namely minibus taxis and busses, prima facie constitutes an unfair discrimination on the basis of economic status, a component of 'social origin', which is a prohibited ground identified by section 9 (3) of the Constitution.

“In terms of section 9 (5) of the Constitution, the exemption is presumed to be unfair and is liable to be declared invalid unless it is shown to be justifiable in terms of section 36.”

Need to know

Johnston also thinks certain clauses in the registration terms and conditions violate the Financial Services Act.

“As far as I know, they cannot demand information from you that they don't need.”

He refers to the clause that grants Sanral irrevocable authority to obtain information from any institution where the user may have an account, including the Credit Bureau.

“For example, if you want a prepaid account, there is no reason for them to ask for your bank details, because you're going to pay cash. It's certainly unreasonable.”

He also says there must be many drivers on the road, who, for whatever reason, don't have bank accounts. “Are they then not allowed to use the Gauteng e-toll roads?”

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