E-tolls: critics disappointed with panel's report

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For the most part, e-toll critics are disappointed with the advisory panel's findings and recommendations.
For the most part, e-toll critics are disappointed with the advisory panel's findings and recommendations.

Organisations opposed to Gauteng's e-tolling system have expressed disappointment with the e-tolls advisory panel's findings and recommendations that were released by premier David Makhura yesterday.

Makhura appointed the panel in July last year to assess the socio-economic impact of e-tolling on the province, in response to the public outcry about the system.

Releasing the panel's report to the public yesterday, Makhura noted e-tolling, in its "current form", has to be reviewed, as it is "unaffordable and inequitable, and places a disproportionate burden on low and middle income households".

The panel recommends a hybrid funding model be adopted, which would include a contribution by motorists, as well as additional sources of revenue, such as contributions from government.

However, the state will next month announce what the future holds for e-tolling, after national and provincial government, as well as the affected municipalities, consider all the recommendations and their implications in a process led by deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa. This will be followed by a consultative meeting with all the stakeholders that made submissions.

"Having concluded the consultation processes, government will make an announcement on the recommendations thereafter," says Makhura.

But e-toll opponents are far from satisfied with the advisory panel's findings and recommendations, with many still calling for the entire e-tolling system to be scrapped.

Fuel levy

Justice Project SA (JPSA) says although it is clear the fuel levy as a funding alternative has not been entirely ignored for future phases of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), "it is equally clear that the 'hybrid model' of funding for the current GFIP seeks to retain e-tolling as a prominent component".

This, says the organisation, is despite its gross inefficiencies and enormous unpopularity among the citizens of Gauteng.

"It is notable that it has been recommended that phase one of the GFIP should be provincially sourced. Given the fact that a provincial fuel levy has been advised against by the panel, this can only mean it is being proposed that funding of the current GFIP should largely continue to be sought from e-tolling, albeit with a proposed reduced monthly cap on e-toll fees and a 'ring-fence' increase in motor vehicle licensing fees.," says JPSA chairperson Howard Dembovsky.

"Although it may be believed by the panel and provincial government that a reduced e-tolls cap will lead to a buy-in on e-tolling by motorists, JPSA believes this will have little effect on the current feelings citizens of Gauteng have towards ring-fencing of our major routes around Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni, and there remains little real chance of public acceptance of e-tolling."

'Irrational system'

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) says it is concerned and disappointed the e-toll system has not been rejected in its entirety by the panel. "Instead, we sense there is a view to try and keep the irrational and inefficient system in place, even if partially so, to fund the bonds of the freeway upgrade.

"This proposal of a reduced or partial funding of the debt through the use of e-tolls merely exacerbates the problem, by pushing up the collection costs as a percentage of the revenue generated, making the plan more irrational."

Outa also says the most efficient funding system available - the national fuel levy - appears to have been downplayed or overlooked as a meaningful part of the solution. "Furthermore, the recent massive reductions in the fuel price have provided government with an ideal opportunity to hold back 10c per litre into the fuel levy, which would raise the necessary R2.2 billion per annum to service the GFIP bonds."

Outa says it is aware the panel's recommendations and the future plan to engage with stakeholders in February, prior to a final report and recommendations being submitted to national government, could be a case of 'testing the waters' by the premier and possibly even government. "What the authorities need to do is ask whether they believe the report's recommendations are recognising the will of the people."

Scrap e-tolling

Similarly, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) is disappointed the Gauteng e-toll review panel has not recommended the complete scrapping of e-tolls.

"Despite conceding 'the e-toll system in its current form is unaffordable and inequitable and places a disproportionate burden on low and middle income households and is also administratively cumbersome', the panel shies away from the obvious conclusion from this - that the system, which has been overwhelmingly rejected by the people of Gauteng, should be abandoned."

Cosatu says the "most shocking" comment by the panel is its assertion that "there is general acceptance of the user-pay principle", when the evidence is overwhelming that the majority of Gauteng residents reject this view.

"While all motorists accept that road improvements need to be paid for, the overwhelming view is that roads are a vital public service - just like education and healthcare - and should, therefore, be funded by society as a whole through progressive taxation. They are not commodities just for people who can afford to pay for them, especially as they have already been paying for these services through their taxes," says Cosatu.

Cosatu says it welcomes the Gauteng premier's decision to convene a meeting of stakeholders in February. It notes it will use this forum to argue for government to accept the "inevitable logic of the panel's report, which is that e-tolls have been a disaster - deeply unpopular and unsustainable - which will inevitably have to be replaced, and the sooner the better".

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