Cabinet had decided that the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) should proceed with the implementation of the electronic-tolling (e-tolling) system on Gauteng’s upgraded highways, Transport Minister Ben Martins said at a briefing on Friday, where a Sanral executive indicated that the controversial system could go live before year-end.
Cabinet’s endorsement followed a recommendation by its inter-Ministerial committee on the appropriateness of using e-tolling to partly pay for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP). The committee was led by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.
On Friday, the Department of Transport (DoT) gazetted the draft toll tariffs and regulations of South Africa’s first multilane, free-flow toll system using electronic toll collection. This marked the beginning of a 30-day period for public comment, which would conclude in a judicial review on November 26.
GFIP project manager Alex van Niekerk told media that although the e-tolling system could be implemented before the end of the year, it depended on the duration of the public comment process.
He argued that only 0.2% of light vehicles, 4.7% of nonarticulated trucks and 10% of articulated trucks were expected to reach the frequent-user cap of R550 a month.
The tariffs remained at 30c/km for light vehicles and 18c/km for motorcycles that are fitted with e-tags, as outlined in February. However, motorists would pay double that rate if they did not register. The base tariff for light vehicles remained 58c/km against an initial base rate of 66c/km.
Additionally, nonartiulated trucks would still have to pay 75c/km and articulated trucks R1.51/km.
Transport director-general George Mahlalela stated that the final tariffs would be published at least 14 days before the official implementation of the e-tolling systems.
Registered public transport operators and users would remain exempt from e-tolling, while deliberations with representatives of the country’s disabled community were under way. Van Niekerk revealed that these discussions were at an advanced stage.
Martins acknowledged ongoing opposition to the scheme, but said that many of the stakeholders consulted since May had agreed that the user-pay principle was the best route to follow. The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) were not among those offering support for the principle, however.
“We believe these to be fair and reasonable terms and tariffs that offer convenience, safety and value for money for those using the improved freeways in Gauteng,” Martins said.
He added that although some stakeholders advocated the use of the fuel levy as an alternative tolling system, this would mean that all car owners in the country would pay, irrespective if they travel on Gauteng’s roads or not.
“This would ultimately have a direct impact on the cost of transportation of goods and services throughout the country and lead to inflationary pressures. In South Africa, taxes generated through the fuel levy are not sufficient to address infrastructure requirements,” the Minister noted.
He said: “It is our conviction that the GFIP is an important contributor to keeping South Africa's economic hub moving,” adding that it provided road users with a smoother and safer journey.
Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) criticised the DoT and Sanral for “putting a spin” on the fact that the tariffs had been lowered, when the Government Gazette 35263 of April 13 contained the identical tariffs rates.
Outa, meanwhile, has suggested that motorists refrain from buying e-tags until the finalization of the judicial review, while Cosatu has threatened protest action.
Meanwhile, the National Treasury’s transport director Marrissa Moore offered assurances that Sanral had sufficient funds to stay afloat, despite the delays to implementation.
“The allocations made at the beginning of the year as an adjusted appropriation will see them [Sanral] have sufficient cash to carry them through the year, even with the delayed start [of the e-tolling system].”
She added that the road agency’s debt repayment period did not have to be extended.
“In the process of lowering the tariffs, we have increased the repayment period and total debt has gone up to R58-billion.”
Moore said Sanral would not require additional government funding for the GFIP beyond the R5.7-billion announced in February.