A big game changer to ensure higher compliance on Gauteng’s open-road toll network (GORT) is to find a solution for the historic debt accumulated within the system, says Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) CEO Coenie Vermaak.
He says research done within ETC has shown that a number of people are willing to start paying e-tolls, but that they are overwhelmed with the “R30 000 to R40 000 bill they have outstanding. It seems easier to try and hope it will go away".
Should ETC be able to address the issue of historic debt on the GORT, it is possible, within the next three to four years, to increase toll compliance from the current 30% to the level required to deploy Phase 2 of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).
ETC was established in 2010 to provide the technology for e-tolling on Gauteng’s freeways, as well as to manage toll collection on behalf of government’s South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral). ETC is owned by Austria-based firm, Kapsch.
E-tolls are levied on Gauteng freeways as a method of payment for the almost 200 km of freeway upgrades, initiated in 2008, in what was called GFIP Phase 1.
Nonpayment of e-tolls in Gauteng has persisted since its implementation in 2013, in a long-running show of public disobedience.
The ANC government, which approved the toll scheme, has been a reluctant supporter in recent years, faced with a backlash that may hurt the party at the next round of elections.
Vermaak says ETC has made “certain innovative proposals” to government and Sanral on dealing with historic debt.
“We hope to convince government within the next six months to come up with a really workable solution that will allow people to settle their historic debt.”
However, Vermaak also acknowledges that “a lot of people have been complaint and that you need to be fair to them. We can’t just tell the 70% who are non-compliant that we’ll write off their debt. We have to reward people who have been compliant through this process”.
He adds that the new Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) amendment bill, currently in development, would require people to settle their e-toll accounts before they are allowed to renew their vehicle licences.
“That enforcement will help.
“My view around enforcement is that it is really critical, but you can’t just use a stick. You can’t only use punitive and negative means to convince people to comply. It takes a lot of energy and the return on investment is very low. We also need to educate and inform.”
ETC currently has 12 000 cases of noncompliance in court.
E-tolling is a fair and legal system and this has been proved in the courts, notes Vermaak.
“The one thing we also need to understand is that government has already invested this money [in GFIP]. It started with an investment of R22.5-billion. Because of a lack of income that has now ballooned to R40-billion.
“That money is spent – it’s gone. The reality is that if we shut down open-road tolling, the funding that Sanral raised on the open market will become payable immediately. That means we as citizens will sit with a R40-billion bill to pay. That is the equivalent of another 1% increase in VAT.”
* Vermaak addressed the Intelligent Transport Society South Africa’s annual general meeting, held in Pretoria.