E-tolling goes to court, NCC
The Democratic Alliance (DA) will challenge the fairness of the controversial e-tolling system at the National Consumer Commission (NCC) this week.
The official opposition party says this hearing will help bolster the legal case against the tolls that was lodged by the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA). OUTA's application to interdict the decision to toll Gauteng's freeways was lodged with the North Gauteng High Court, in Pretoria, on Friday.
DA Gauteng transport spokesperson Neil Campbell will represent the political party at the NCC hearing on Thursday.
He says the issues to be raised include concerns with the registration process; and the SA National Roads Agency's (Sanral's) requirement that registered drivers prove their innocence in the case of fraudulent plates rather than the usual onus on the prosecuting authority to prove guilt. “This, despite at least 10% of Gauteng number plates being false or cloned.”
Other issues to be raised by Campbell are that the charges for all normal business operations carried out by Sanral, like account provision and legal costs, are to be paid for by motorists; pre-payment of money before using a tolled road; Sanral's assumption that all motorists have access to the Internet for the fine print of the contract; and the discrimination against different categories of motorists based on economic status.
“The DA is convinced that many of the conditions Sanral seeks to apply to motorists fall foul of the Consumer Protection Act,” adds the spokesperson.
“The calls to oppose e-tolling of Gauteng's Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) are loud, filled with anger and a growing resentment toward this unnecessary burden. It is a sad day when a nation's government develops a tense and threatening relationship with its people, when trying to force an unjust and unpopular decision into being, as is the case with this e-tolling project,” says OUTA.
OUTA was formed recently for business, organisations and like-minded people to co-ordinate their efforts and consider a legal challenge to the e-tolling matter.
“Our investigation has unpacked a number of issues and transgressions that highlight a disregard for protecting the interests of the public. Challenging the actions of one's government in court is a most unpleasant stance to take, and in this case, it is our last and very necessary resort.”
The association says its opposition to e-tolling must not be confused with the GFIP. “We congratulate Sanral on a job well done in the upgrading of our freeways. We also know and accept that we, the taxpayers, will have to pay for the GFIP.”
However, the association's issue is with the e-tolling plan as a means of generating funds to pay for the GFIP. Its court application to halt tolling is undertaken largely on the grounds that the system is grossly expensive.
“It makes no sense to pay between 30% and 50% in administration and operating costs to collect the revenue for the GFIP, when existing revenue collection mechanisms will cost virtually nothing to apply.”
OUTA also says it is fundamentally wrong to apply an additional tax or toll against citizens along their daily commuter routes; the e-toll project is unfairly punitive to Gauteng citizens who contribute significantly more in taxes than the value and spending they receive in return; research on the impact of the system was insufficient; there was dismal public consultation; no viable public transport alternative; and the 'user pays principle', as declared by Sanral as a motive to toll the GFIP, is flawed.
“The productivity and efficiency of Gauteng's economy, of which its freeways are integral, has significant benefits for the entire economy and wellbeing of all in South Africa.”
OUTA believes the funding of the road infrastructure will be best conducted through a hybrid model, which incorporates the national treasury as well as the fuel levy, vehicle licence fees and long-distance toll roads.
The QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA) has joined OUTA in the application to halt the e-tolls, and the South African Disability Alliance has unanimously agreed to support QASA's position.
People with mobility impairment in SA, especially wheelchair users, have not been consulted since inception of this programme, says QASA. “There is no alternative accessible and affordable, safe public transport for wheelchair users in Johannesburg and Pretoria, and this is the case throughout South Africa.
“Most wheelchair users do not have their own vehicles. They rely on the goodwill of the community and family in order to get around within the city. There is no solution to exempt this constituency from paying the toll and QASA is calling for the removal of the system.”