E-toll texts branded 'unlawful, extortion'
The SA National Roads Agency has come under fire for using "unlawful, extortionist tactics" to force frustrated motorists to pay "exorbitant" e-tolling bills.
As outrage mounts, various organisations are urging motorists to complain to the National Consumer Commission.
Motorists have started receiving SMSes from Sanral demanding payment. But these messages lack detail and proof of authenticity.
Motorists without e-tags have been shocked to learn that if they do not pay within seven days of passing under a gantry a triple toll is levied.
Justice Project SA chairman Howard Dembovsky said Sanral was in contravention of the Consumer Protection Act, which states that the price stipulated is the price that must be paid.
"I recommend that everybody complain like crazy to the Consumer Commission . This is simply extortion and blackmail," he said.
The chairman of the National Consumer Forum, Thami Bolani, said Sanral was setting a bad precedent.
"The government is trying to use illegal ways to force this thing [e-tolling] on consumers," he said.
Motorists' complaints about Sanral include:
- The SMSes demanding payment do not contain the name or registration number of the recipient's vehicle;
- The amount given on the SMS increases after only a week;
- Some of the recipients of the SMSes are yet to receive invoices;
- When invoices are received, the amount that has to be paid is less than 10% of the amount cited in the SMS;
- Other motorists receive e-mails threatening that they will be stopped by members of Sanral's toll road enforcement unit if they do not pay up;
- A motorist can receive as many as four different billing amounts;
- Call-centre agents urge motorists to pay the higher amounts before invoices are received;
- Motorists are told to pay now and query later; and
- Some bills sent by e-mail refer to vehicles that have been written off.
According to Sanral, a road-user has seven days after passing a gantry pass in which to pay the toll. If payment is not made within seven days, the default is referred to the violations processing centre.
The motorist then becomes an "alternate user". As a result, discounts are no longer applicable and the alternative toll tariffs are applied.
"The alternate-user tariff, which is three times the standard tariff, then applies," said Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona.
He said the SMSes were part of a debt collection process for transactions older than seven days.
Sheeda Kalideen, a Durban accountant, said her daughter used her car in Johannesburg and travelled between the city and Pretoria about three times a week.
Kalideen first received an SMS demanding payment of R418.02. The amount later increased to R1144.50 but, when the invoice finally arrived in the post, the total she owed was just R62.
"This is ridiculous. These people's accounting system is not right," said Kalideen.
Another SMS demanded that a motorist settle a R943.60 bill. But he later received an invoice detailing when and which gantries his vehicle had gone under. The total amount due was R113.67.
"I was told I had to register to pay. Then I was told I had to settle the larger amount first, that I had received via SMS, and they would reimburse me the difference. It is ludicrous," he said.
Thembi Maseko, of Witbank, Mpumalanga, visited Gauteng on Christmas Eve. Six days later she received an SMS saying she owed Sanral R480.70.
"[They] do not have a case against me. They cannot bill me [using] an SMS. I need a printout [showing how they arrived at that figure].
"They cannot threaten me because I have not shown any signs that I'm not willing to pay. Let them prove that I have used their road," Maseko said.
Bolani said: "Our feeling is that consumers should not take the SMSes seriously. They should wait until they get an official invoice proving that they used the freeway.
"If they want to query that, they should be allowed to do so and be able to pay the exact amount that is due. Demanding the higher amount by Sanral is unscrupulous."
Wayne Duvenage, spokesman for the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance , said: "We predicted this and said there would be a lot of problems because Sanral's system is unworkable, technically cumbersome and administratively burdensome."