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E-tolls: a year down the line

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E-toll opponents say government was warned a year ago not to go live with e-tolling in Gauteng.
E-toll opponents say government was warned a year ago not to go live with e-tolling in Gauteng.

While today marks the first anniversary of e-tolling in Gauteng, it could well also be the last, as pundits are confident the system will most likely be scrapped sometime early next year.

Gauteng premier David Makhura is studying the final report of the e-toll advisory panel, which submitted the document to Makhura on Sunday. This followed weeks of presentations by different stakeholders and organisations, including business, civil society, as well as national government and the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral).

Makhura established the 15-member panel in July to study the socio-economic impact of e-tolls on the province. While the premier has refused to comment on the contents of the report, saying it will be released to the public in January, most e-toll critics expect the system to be scrapped in the near future.

Since its inception, 12 months ago, the system has seen much opposition from various quarters, achieving a compliance rate of about 35%, as opposed to the 95% Sanral initially hoped to achieve.

Commenting on the first anniversary of the e-tolling system, Justice Project SA (JPSA) chairperson Howard Dembovsky says: "Amid the repeated threats of dire and life-altering/ending consequences levelled at motorists for not complying with these unjust laws enacted to compel compliance, ordinary folk got angry, dug their heels in and didn't run off to register with Sanral."

Good on paper

Dembovsky notes compliance remains very low and, essentially, very few outside the realms of big business and government departments have registered with and are paying Sanral. "The 'user-pays principle' is effectively the 'some users pay principle' and the uncollected revenues are building by the day, just like was predicted," Dembovsky says.

"It's also a shame that what looks good on paper and what happens in reality doesn't always equate to the same thing. The policy of e-tolling, just like Marxism, looks great on paper but fails to take the human factor into account. Funnily enough, both share a common 'enemy', which they like to call 'bourgeois society' and it would appear the pro-e-tolling lobby's belief that anti-e-toll sentiment was merely an attempt to protect privilege has backfired because, in actual fact, e-tolling affects everyone with a motor vehicle - not just the rich."

Dembovsky says now that the panel has delivered on its mandate to provide the premier with its report and recommendations, the ball is firmly in the court of Makhura and the Gauteng provincial government to do "something constructive with it".

"But this too has not come without criticism and people simply can't wait to get their hands on that report. Some have even launched renewed criticism - labelling Makhura's decision to study and discuss the report with his provincial government before releasing it publicly as representing 'secrecy' and lending credence to their view that the entire process was a self-serving sham."

Dembovsky adds it is hard to blame people for distrusting anything surrounding e-tolling, given the history of the dictatorial railroading of it into existence and the repeated misinformation from Sanral.

"One thing is for certain though - e-tolling has failed to raise the money to pay the investors in this scheme and, ultimately, no matter what the political ramifications of this happen to be, a realistic financial solution to the problem has to be forthcoming. If that solution results in an increase or decrease in votes, it will depend on what political solution is or is not reached."

Unheeded warnings

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) says the Department of Transport's decision to launch the e-toll scheme was taken against the wishes and warnings of critics and the public at large.

The organisation adds it, along with the Catholic Church, the Congress of SA Trade Unions, the JPSA and numerous other organisations, worked tirelessly to convince the authorities to change their minds, as Outa predicted the e-toll system would suffer from its glaring impracticalities, inefficiencies and the inaccuracies of an error-riddled eNatis system.

Furthermore, it says, without the public's acceptance, low compliance would eventually render the system unworkable and unenforceable. "For these reasons, we were disappointed, but unperturbed, when the minister of transport and the Sanral entourage announced the system's launch date of 3December," says Outa spokesperson John Clarke.

"This was a case of self-deception that would come at great cost to Sanral and society at large, as the system had all the signs of failure."

Outa says it recounts the past year as being a "hectic" period for Sanral. "We can only hope sanity will prevail on the e-toll fiasco, very early in 2015," says Outa chairman Wayne Duvenage.

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