Freeways are not free: Ndebele

18 August 2011 - 15:42 By Sapa

If the public wants freeways then it has to pay for them, says Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele.

"If there is an outcry and people say they won't pay tolls, then we can't put the freeway in," he said at a press conference in Cape Town on Thursday.

"Freeways are not free."

Ndebele said the "user-pay principle" was accepted throughout the world, but in South Africa people were willingly prepared to pay only in the telecommunications sector.

"In the areas of electricity, water and transport, which improve their lives, such willingness is lacking," he said.

Cabinet approved revised tariffs for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project earlier in August.

The rates are 24c a kilometre for motorcycles, 40c/km for light motor vehicles and 200c/km for longer vehicles. Qualifying taxis and commuter buses are exempt.

Ndebele said it was time to repay the R20 billion loaned to upgrade the Ben Schoeman highway between Johannesburg and Pretoria.

"It has paid for quite a good infrastructure. It is a done deal. That horse has bolted. Now we have to pay for it."

Ndebele said that after years of underspending, the government was making "steady progress" towards ensuring that rail was the backbone of South Africa's public transport system.

"As of 1 April 2011, government is spending R30.2bn over the next three years for rail upgrades across the country, with R19.5bn earmarked for capital spending to upgrade existing infrastructure, signalling systems and rolling stock," Ndebele said.

The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) was embarking on "a bold programme" to invest in new rail rolling stock worth an estimated R100bn over 18 years.

This would significantly improve the country's commuter rail transport, Ndebele said.

He said eThekwini was about to complete its full rapid transport plan, which included roads and rail.

Rustenburg too had finalised operational planning and officially launched the Rustenburg Rapid Transport Project on 21 July.

Both Tshwane and Polokwane were reviewing their operational plans, he said.

The Gautrain was also proving to be a success. Around three million passengers had already used the train between Sandton and the airport since its launch in June 2010.

The final stage of the train to Park Station, in Johannesburg, would be ready by the end of November.