E-tolling is 'commodification of public services'

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The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) will march against the contentious e-tolling system on 7 March.

The union body adds that, during the State of the Nation address, it hopes to hear president Jacob Zuma announce that government is going to completely scrap the Gauteng e-tolling system and quash rumours that it is going to do no more than reduce the price of the tolls.

Media reports have said transport minister Sibusiso Ndebele stated that e-tolling will not be abandoned but only the fees will be made less burdensome. This was denied by Department of Transport spokesperson Logan Maistry.

“The minister said government is looking at various options including the user-pay principle or e-tolling. He never said e-tolling will definitely go ahead. The finance minister [Pravin Gordhan] will soon make an announcement regarding the debt repayment for the GFIP [Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project].”

Public commodity

However, Cosatu says it will go ahead with its march. “We are utterly opposed to the commodification of more and more public services and believe that our roads are a public asset, not a commodity to create massive profits for private companies.

“E-tolling is a system of capitalism and will benefit only those that are financially healthy and not the poor.”

Democratic Alliance (DA) Gauteng education spokesperson Khume Ramulifho says, while the DA is against e-tolling, the march should not disrupt schooling. “We call on Cosatu to hold the protest march after school hours to accommodate teachers, in order to ensure that no school days are lost for learning and teaching in 2012.”

Realistic solution

The delay of the decision on e-tolling negatively affects road construction and maintenance across SA, says Paul Vorster, CEO of the Intelligent Transport Society of SA (ITSSA), of which the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) is a member.

He explains that the problem is now that the funding model for all road construction and maintenance is uncertain and so new projects cannot begin until this decision is made. In the meantime, roads are deteriorating and it's getting more expensive to repair as time passes.

The CEO says ITSSA supports e-tolling as the realistic, practical option to fund the GFIP. He says the fuel levy cannot be raised too far before motorists' income streams are badly affected. “To do nothing was not the solution for Sanral and to incrementally fix the problem was not economically viable either, so they needed a big bang approach.”

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