New alliance against e-tolling

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An alliance has been formed to coordinate the strategies of several organisations against e-tolling, following anger and outrage sparked by the controversial system.

The Southern African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (Savrala) says numerous organisations have been strongly opposing the e-toll programme from various channels, yet a unified platform has been lacking to share and combine the efforts of business.

“The launch of OUTA (Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance) will be this platform and will provide a united front which will lend significant support to the cause.”

The alliance's Web site says: “Citizens know when something is patently wrong. Never in the history of our new South African democracy has there been such a strong unified outrage at an action taken by the authorities. E-tolling of Gauteng's freeways is more than a moral issue. We strongly believe it is unjust with a number of transgressions of our rights and must be challenged.”

It is a concise informative portal and one that also allows organisations to sign up and display their support accordingly, says Savrala. “It will be dynamic and updated regularly. In addition, individuals can lend their support on the 'support us' page, as well as link through to the OUTA Facebook page to express their concerns, comments and views.”

The alliance adds that while there are a number of electronic petitions and Web sites denouncing e-tolling in Gauteng, “and these are all very necessary in their respective efforts”, the OUTA platform is one that will provide clarity around the misleading and ambiguous statements and questions about e-tolling. The Web site will also be the platform that provides updates of the legal challenge when this is lodged.

Government indecision

“It has become painfully obvious, that this is the biggest public uprising against a decision taken by government since the birth of our new democracy 18 years ago,” says Savrala.

It adds that this is with good reason, since government itself is not sure of the benefit of e-tolling for individual drivers. It refers to a study recently made public by economist Roelof Botha, which says for every R1 spent on the tolls, motorists will receive benefit of R8.40.

“This claimed benefit is sourced from the Economic Analysis of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Scheme, prepared in August 2010 by the Graduate School of Business (University of Cape Town) for both the South African National Roads Agency and the Provincial Government of Gauteng. This claimed benefit cost ratio was also presented in last year's GFIP Steering Committee Report.”

The association now points to a question answered by transport minister Sibusiso Ndebele and tabled on 31 October at the National Assembly (Question no 2598):

“As can be seen, the key assumption of the 2007 feasibility study was that the GFIP project would reduce congestion. In my considered view, and in retrospect, the original feasibility study did not sufficiently weigh up international evidence suggesting that freeway expansion often does not - in the medium term - resolve congestion challenges, and often induces greater demand.

“It also failed to consider alternative solutions to congestion - improved public transport provision, moving more freight onto rail and a curb on urban sprawl. The project benefits to road users may, therefore, unfortunately not be forthcoming. This is the subject of further assessments and consultations by the Department of Transport and a Cabinet task team.”

Unconstitutional threats

The Justice Project SA (JPSA) says the statements made this week by Sanral CEO Nazir Alli that motorists who refuse to pay e-toll tariffs will not be able to renew their vehicle licence discs, go against the national road traffic regulations.

“The Department of Transport should be acutely aware of the fact that Regulation 59 of the National Road traffic regulations only allows for withholding licence discs if the person concerned has outstanding licensing fees or licensing penalties or, in the case of traffic fines, if they have failed to appear in court on a summons for a traffic offence and a warrant of arrest has been issued against them. The only exception to this rule is that under AARTO [Administrative Adjudication of Traffic Offences], a licence disc may be withheld if an enforcement order has been issued against the party concerned.”

It adds that government should have taken the trouble to ensure there was some form of workable legislation in place to deal with e-tolling defaulters by now, given that they have been on about the system since 2003.

“Surely nine years should have been more than sufficient time to draft and get Parliament to ratify legislation, instead of now rushing to push something through and/or try to shoehorn non-compliance into existing legislation that does not cater for it?

“There is much to be done on the legislation front in order for the threats to become a reality and government had best just hope that their stance survives the legal challenges of some and organised public outrage of others when they deal with these matters in the authoritarian and insensitive manner that they have adopted thus far.”

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