E-tolls standoff intensifies as Gauteng government says it has made a 'compelling case'

11 March 2021 - 08:29 By Mpumzi Zuzile and Paul Ash
E-toll payment compliance is currently around 15% to 18%, according to OUTA. File photo.
E-toll payment compliance is currently around 15% to 18%, according to OUTA. File photo.
Image: Halden Krog

Belief that funding roads is the responsibility of government and not citizens, combined with poor consultation with motorists, meant the e-toll scheme was likely dead in the water before it started.

The principle of ‘user pays’ is the way our world works,” said public transport consultant Paul Browning. “It’s a perfectly sound way of doing things.”

Public consultation was largely limited to the government placing advertisements in newspapers — “they did the minimum necessary”, said Browning — and the government then dragged its feet getting the scheme going.

Browning noted that one of the e-toll scheme’s greatest obstacles was psychological, as people were used to getting their roads for free.

It’s buried in the psyche of people,” he said.

People were also used to using their cars to get wherever they wanted to go without obstructions.

While conventional toll plazas with booms would have ensured compliance with toll fees, these would have been impractical given the volumes of rush-hour traffic on Gauteng’s freeway.

Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) CEO Wayne Duvenage said while the organisation was not opposed to the user pays principle, it was important to have a system where everybody contributed.

He pointed to an e-toll scheme in Portugal which had started with 80% compliance but this level had gradually declined as more people had begun following the example of the 20% who refused to pay tolls.

Roads are social infrastructure,” said Duvenage. “This is what you pay taxes for.”

E-toll payment compliance was currently around 15% to 18%, he added.

Sanral would also fail to enforce compliance by blocking people from renewing the car licences.

Technically the law is there,” he said. “Practically, they can’t apply it.”

Sanral’s previous attempts to use the Criminal Procedures Act and also issuing summonses to defaulters had also failed.

We are saying to government, ‘You have no option but to pull the plug’.”

This as the stalemate between the Gauteng government and national government with regards to the payment of e-tolls in the province took a turn for the worse when the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) announced at the weekend that motorists with outstanding fees will not be allowed to renew their licences.

The Gauteng government outright rejected e-tolls and its implementation.

The provincial government has written to President Cyril Ramaphosa, raising its concerns on Sanral’s insistence of enforcing the payment of e-tolls.

Sanral says it is owed billions in unpaid e-tolls and this has also affected how it builds new roads in the country.

Sanral CEO Skhumbuzo Macozoma last year revealed that the lockdown has cost the cash-strapped roads agency at least R620m, saying just 20% of users were paying e-tolls.

As a result, Macozoma says Sanral owes more than R40bn on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).

Sanral's board announced last year that there will be no more issuing of summonses for non-payment, but Macozoma said even if e-tolls are scrapped, the agency will continue to pursue users, who owe about R30bn in outstanding payments.

Gauteng MEC for public transport and roads infrastructure Jacob Mamabolo said this week that the provincial government was opposed to the implementation of the GFIP.

“We have made a very comprehensive submission to the president, the minister of finance and that of transport, which we believe can resolve the e-tolls matter once and for all. We have made a compelling case, clearly stating that it is not correct for residents of our province to be burdened with paying for e-tolls,” Mamabolo said.

He said the Gauteng government had been working with the national government to ensure that implementation of e-tolls in Gauteng was halted.

He said he had also written to transport minister Fikile Mbalula in November 2020 registering the provincial government’s rejection of the implementation of proposed Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act (AARTO) regulations as another method of enforcing the e-toll system.

“We reject the proposed AARTO regulations which are another attempt to bring back the e-tolls system in our province. We are of the strongest view that the freeway network that is being tolled services the national economy and the Southern African Development Community as well as the international economy. It is therefore not fair to expect the people of our province to carry the burden.”

Mbalula's spokesperson Ayanda Allie-Paine declined to comment.

“We are awaiting cabinet's announcement on the matter,” Allie-paine said.

Sanral spokesperson Vusi Mona also declined to comment on the e-tolls situation until the cabinet made an announcement.

Mona said that the agency doesn't issue licences, but rather submitted names of all those with outstanding bills to AARTO, and they then halt the renewal of licences.

“The day Sanral engineers start issuing licences, it will be chaotic,” Mona said.

According to Sanral's annual report, the agency had an accumulated loss of R14.85bn — R9.8bn of which was due to e-tolls.

The report further states that the GFIP revenue decreased by R27m from the prior year to R660m.

According to the report, the roads agency has appointed a service provider for the management and collection of e-tolls.

“The operator is paid for services rendered to operate the tolling system and collect the toll on behalf of Sanral. The risk of non-payment remains with Sanral. The agreement with the operator includes performance clauses, as well as a performance guarantee in favour of Sanral,” the report states.

The roads agency refused to state how much the company has collected and how much the service provider has been paid thus far.

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