E-toll imminence sparks outcry
The announcement by government on Friday, that Gauteng is likely to see e-tolls being implemented before year-end, has sparked an outcry from the public and interested parties alike.
The Department of Transport (DOT) and SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) on Friday said the Gauteng e-tolling system would start taking effect in December. Implementation, says transport minister Ben Martins, will follow the 30-day consultation period on new tariffs gazetted on Thursday, and it provides a further 28 days for the department to deliberate and gazette final tariffs.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) says it is "deeply disappointed" that Martins is proceeding with the e-tolls, and has urged the public not to buy e-tags - pending the outcome of the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance's (Outa's) legal case and the consequent e-toll judicial review on 26 November.
"We believe that the huge economic irrationality of the expensive and complex e-toll collection system will be laid bare at the court hearing," says the opposition party.
The DA goes on to say that the recently gazetted amounts are not lower than those announced earlier this year - "and the monthly caps can easily be raised later once the system is implemented".
DA Gauteng transport spokesperson Neil Campbell says the public must make their views known in the current consultation process, and demand the e-toll contract be made public "so that we know the real cost".
The Justice Project of SA (JPSA) says it is "shocked" by the announcements and claims by the DOT and Sanral last week. It says they are misleading the public by positioning the gazetted tariffs as being lower than those announced last year.
JPSA national chairperson Howard Dembovsky says: "Government Gazette 35263, of 13 April 2012, contained the identical tariffs contained in Government Gazette 35263, of 25 October 2012. The comparisons between the 2011 announced tariff of 66c/km now being referred to as being 30c/km discounted rates are misleading, since it is in fact 58c/km for class B vehicles (motor cars, etc) and this has not changed at all since finance minister Pravin Gordhan announced this in his budget speech in February 2012. The 'capped amount' has not changed since then either."
With regards to the judicial review of e-tolling next month, Dembovsky says "it would appear Cabinet knows something that we don't with respect to what the outcome will be, before it even comes before the court".
The organisation also raised questions as to the bearing of the public process that kicked off last week. "We would like to know how the 'public consultation process' referred to today now miraculously differs in any way from the previous 'consultations' that took place, since it is clear that those processes were mere window dressing for a pre-determined outcome and there is nothing to suggest that the latest round will be any different."
Business Unity SA (BUSA) has taken a softer stance and says that, while it appreciates the consultative process undertaken by the government, it believes there are still "some difficulties to be ironed out" before e-tolling can be implemented.
"There remains widespread criticism of the impact e-tolling will have on the regional and national economy, and it is important to use the time available to ensure that confidence is built in the final decisions before they are implemented."
BUSA says it, therefore, welcomes the 30-day consultation process and is hopeful the November hearings will present further opportunities to affect the decision-making process.
Meanwhile, members of the public have taken to various social media platforms to air their continued discontent around e-tolling. Some of the posts on micro-blogging site Twitter read:
"Even at 5c I'm still never gonna pay for #etolls."
"Dear SA Government, I reject your idea of #eTolls. Regards, All South African Citizens."
"I'm not getting any tags for the bloody #eTolls." (sic)
"If zuma is above the law ... so is each & every South African! This is our country, not any political party - we must fight for it #etolls." (sic)