Government said over the weekend that it would, over the next few weeks, seek ways of reducing the “financial burden of social and economic services to the consumer”, as it embarked on the final round of talks surrounding the e-toll system on Gauteng’s upgraded highways.
This followed the Constitutional Court’s decision last week to set aside the interim interdict preventing the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) from tolling the highways built under the first phase of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).
After widespread public opposition to the e-tolling system, government said in a statement that it had listened to the concerns about the costs and impact of e-tolling on consumers and promised a response next week.
The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) chairperson Wayne Duvenage said that, while the government may be attempting to compromise, the key issue was the current collection method used to bring in the fees paid.
He said that a drop in the per-kilometre rate, for example, from 30c/km to 20c/km would be a start, but he felt that the elimination of about R1.2-billion a year in collection costs – by the agency shifting to a fuel-levy-based revenue collection method, for instance – could further ease financial pressure on the consumer.
Calculating the tolling fees at an average of 35c/km, to balance the payments of tolls from cars and trucks, Duvenage said it was expected that over the next 20 years, Sanral could generate revenue of about R108-billion.
Sanral previously outlined that, over a 24-year period, the GFIP would cost R71.4-billion, comprising R20.6-billion for the repayment of initial capital costs, R10.6-billion for road maintenance, R6.2-billion for violation-processing-centre capital and operating expenditure, R12.2-billion for toll-related capital and operating expenses, R1.7-billion for other operational expenses such as freeway lighting and R20-billion for interest.
Further, Duvenage questioned what might occur in a few years from now, where government might seek to increase the funds brought in by the e-tolling of Gauteng's highways by increasing the toll fees 100%, citing State-owned Eskom’s electricity pricing over the past few years as an example.
He stated that there was currently a feeling of distrust towards Sanral, as it was believed that the agency had not undertaken sufficient public consultation and had failed to be transparent in activities leading to the project.
The government was expected to undertake the second and final round of consultations on the e-tolling project with the different stakeholders, starting with Outa on Tuesday.