Outa critical of govt's e-toll silence

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Outa says it is amused at how long government is taking to come back to society with its latest e-toll plans.
Outa says it is amused at how long government is taking to come back to society with its latest e-toll plans.

As government remains mum on the way forward for Gauteng's contentious e-tolls, motorists and lobby groups are growing increasingly restless with the lack of news from the task team deliberating the future of the system.

Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) chairman Wayne Duvenage says the organisation has been "rather amused at how long they are taking to come back to society with their latest plans".

If pundits were hopeful of getting a progress update from transport minister Dipuo Peters during her budget vote speech in Parliament on Tuesday, they were left disappointed, as Peters made no mention of the ongoing e-toll saga.

Instead, the minister revealed the Department of Transport (DOT) had set aside R12.5 billion for the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral), but this would go towards its non-toll roads, which make up 85% of SA's 21 403km road network.

The Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project - the multibillion-rand project e-tolling was introduced to fund - was not touched on during the speech.

Meanwhile, the e-toll review panel's findings, which were presented to Gauteng premier David Makhura at the start of the year, are still the subject of consultation among the powers that be. These include the DOT, National Treasury, the Presidency and Sanral, with an announcement expected to be made soon.

Earlier this year, the panel, which was appointed by Makhura in 2014 to study the socio-economic impact of e-tolling on the province, recommended a hybrid funding model be adopted. This was to include a contribution by motorists, as well as additional sources of revenue, such as contributions from government.

A final model and a way forward for e-tolling was supposed to have been presented by government in February, but that deadline lapsed with no news on the progress of the deliberations.

Not impressed

However, the lack of news and information on e-tolls has not impressed Outa, which has been increasingly critical of government's silence on the issue.

Duvenage says after deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa - who was appointed to steer the e-tolling process - received Makhura's panel report and recommendations, an internal body was established to resolve the e-toll issues.

While the internal body consists of representatives of the national and provincial government, as well as Sanral, Duvenage notes no one from Outa, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, or any other opponents to the system were invited. "I guess they have our views in the report," he adds.

Duvenage says Outa's attempts to get answers from government have been met with silence. "Outa wrote to the deputy president to express our frustration and a need to meet. We got acknowledgement from his office that they received the letter and would revert.

"After two weeks of not hearing [anything], we wrote an open letter to the president, plus the board of Sanral, the minister of transport, etc. Still no response."

Duvenage adds Outa is aware of government's plan to lower tariffs and take some gantries away (around poorer areas) to entice the people to tag up, plus add some funding from other sources, but says the plan is unlikely to succeed.

"Our opinion is e-tolling will and can never be supported while the current expensive contracts with Kapsch exist, as lowering the cost makes the repayment impossible.

"All that will happen is the bulk of what they collect will service the collection process. Secondly, while there is still a massive odious debt on the road construction, which we have calculated at around R7.1 billion, the public cannot be expected to pay. The current e-tolling scheme must now be set aside, before we can move forward. We look forward to hearing the solutions that the authorities have planned for us."

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