Time to comment on e-tolling tariffs

15 October 2013

Phumla WilliamsThe tolling of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) is not just about building roads and paying for them; it is about investing in our future and building a better country. Last week’s gazetting of the e-toll regulations and the decision by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) to dismiss the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) against the SA National Road Agency Ltd (Sanral) has brought us a step closer to building a better country.

Importantly, the use of the courts and the respect accorded to court decisions demonstrates that we are a maturing democracy. The SCA ruling confirms that the decision to implement the e-tolling on Gauteng’s freeways is lawful and that all procedures including the public consultation process had been followed.

The government believes this latest development will now allow the people of Gauteng and South Africans in general to focus on the benefits we have already gained - and still stand to gain - from improvements to the freeways in the economic hub of Southern Africa.

The government has taken into consideration the concerns and adverse effects this might have on the poor; as a result the tariffs were revisited. This process has led to the reduction of e-toll tariffs in response to public comment; the poor have been taken care of through the exemption of public transport operators from paying toll fees; a monthly payment cap has been introduced, and a rebate system exists for transport companies.

Also, the Department of Transport anticipates that 82 per cent of road users (Class A2 or motor vehicle users) will pay a maximum of R100 per month in their day to day commuting if they are registered as e-tag users. Last week the Department published the proposed e-tolling tariffs in the Government Gazette and the public has 30 days to comment. The four sets of regulations published relate to the conditions of tolling, exemption from tolling, e-toll road signage, and e-toll specifications.

According to the Department of Transport spokesman Tiyani Rikhotso, “the Minister of Transport will consider the input before making a final determination on the tariffs that motorists will pay on the tolled road network”.

We call on the public to participate in this consultative process to ensure that their views are taken into account. The latest e-toll tariffs are up for comment and are a testament of a caring government; we have more than once reduced the toll tariffs since the first announcement in February 2011. The original tariff for the various classes of e-tag vehicles published in February 2011 was drastically cut after government heard the voice of the people during the public participation meetings.

The user-pay principle was adopted as government policy as stated in the White Paper on Transport in 1996 as it offered an equitable method for motorists to pay only for the section of road used. It ensures that South Africans who do not use the Gauteng freeway will not be expected to finance the construction or upgrading of the road. The argument that funding the roads through the e-tolling was “unreasonable” misses the point and it was dismissed by the Pretoria High Court which had earlier ruled:

“The premise of the unreasonableness argument is that funding by way of tolling is unreasonable because there are better funding alternatives available, particularly fuel levies. But that premise is fatally flawed. Sanral has to make its decision within the framework of Government policy.”

In moving forward we must be mindful that there needs to be a shared responsibility between Government and citizens to support, finance and develop the country’s infrastructure. The upgrades are already assisting in contributing to the economic development of the country. The main benefit of the GFIP is that it lowers the cost of motoring due to benefits derived from decreased congestion.

Over the years traffic congestion has steadily increased, with peak hours extending about 15 minutes every year. In addition, increased productivity from less time spent in the movement of goods and services has a direct impact on South Africa’s overall economic growth.

We hope that this latest development will not lead to a situation that compromises the level of South Africa’s economic growth and the standard of living of citizens, especially the poor and unemployed. We should heed Cabinet’s call when it says: “The e-tolling system is one aspect of the GFIP which has enhanced the movement of people and goods and will make the provincial and national economy more efficient into the future”.

The Cabinet has urged South Africans to work together to make the GFIP a success and to appreciate the remarkable growth of modern infrastructure in the country.

Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)