The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) is investigating whether the latest messages sent by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) to motorists with outstanding e-toll bills were unlawful in terms of the communications framework governing South Africa.
Outa chairperson Wayne Duvenhage on Friday said the roads agency was sending “intimidating” unsolicited SMSs with no opt-out option to motorists to scare them into paying up for the use of tolled Gauteng freeways.
However, Outa believed Sanral and its agents were transgressing Section 45 of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act by sending unsolicited communications to persons without giving them the option to opt-out or being able to confirm where they obtained their personal details.
Outa tasked its legal team to investigate the three-part message, which allegedly included the user’s current outstanding e-toll balance and an indication of the discount if settled immediately, attached to a statement pointing out that “failure to settle the outstanding e-toll will result in a loss of this discount, vehicle listing and collection action being commenced against you for the full amount due”.
Further, there was no qualification within the messages that the debt belonged to a specific person or vehicle registration number.
“When enquiring with the Sanral call centre about what exactly vehicle listing and collection action means, we received no clear indication from three different staff members,” Duvenage said.
Sanral's message campaign emerged as proposed amendments to the Administrative Adjudication of Traffic Offences Act, which compel offenders to pay fines and e-tolls, were gazetted for public comment in December.
The roads agency told Engineering News Online that it had “stepped up” its collection activity for those who refused to pay e-tolls and had been sending messages to motorists regarding deadlines and potential action. However, it said the messages were not threatening and had merit.
"Ongoing campaigns are tailored to meet requirements in terms of focus areas and or levels of response. These messages should not be disregarded and, given the response rates, it is evident that motorists are hearing the messages and committing themselves to action," Sanral added.
With the discount period ending in less than three months, Sanral said it would be “irresponsible” not to communicate with motorists as they would forfeit the discount and potentially face costly and punitive actions.
“All government agencies have a responsibility to collect outstanding public monies. Sanral is no different and it will continue to ensure that it fulfils this mandate by communicating to all account holders who have outstanding e-tolls, that there are real consequences to continued delinquency. These outstanding funds must be collected and the problem facing those that owe money will not disappear,” the firm warned.