Future upgrades, new developments and freeway links under the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) are being threatened by the public’s noncompliance with the e-tolling system, Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) CEO Coenie Vermaak says.
Should the development of the second and third phase of the project not kick off “desperately” soon, Gauteng’s road network will be in a similar position to what is was about ten years ago, with freeway congestion expected to slow vehicles to less than 30 km/h.
“Before the end of the decade, we will be back at the levels we were in 2008. If we do not resolve this, we are going to get stuck again,” Vermaak warns, highlighting the increased number of vehicles on Gauteng’s open toll roads.
The average road network speed will drop from 47 km/h to 29 km/h in the “best performing scenario”, while “doing nothing” or failing to construct new freeway links and upgrade the current infrastructure will push the network speeds to below 10 km/h.
“If we do not build new roads by 2037, it will take five to six hours to [drive] from Johannesburg to Pretoria,” he says, adding that the economic impact of congestion will exceed R6-billion to R7-billion a year.
With an increase in population of 18-million by 2037, and higher incomes allowing for higher car ownership, congestion will become a major economic inhibitor for the province.
South Africa’s vehicle ownership doubled since 1994 to 12-million registered users – 39% of which were Gauteng based.
In the last five years, 570 000 vehicles were added to the vehicle parc in Gauteng, equating to 220 vehicles a day.
By 2037, it is expected there will be 3.1-million motorised trips during an average peak hour in South Africa’s most populous province.
In addition, the road maintenance backlog is increasing each year, with the national fiscus unable to support the full spectrum of roads funding, leaving the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) reliant on tolls and other methods of revenue generation to finance its ever-expanding roads portfolio.
The continued deterioration of quality and reliable public transport and the resultant decreased use are compounding the challenge.
“The GFIP is the solution to the traffic congestion in Gauteng,” Vermaak says.
“It was designed to ensure that Gauteng’s road transport infrastructure can support our planned growth trajectory.”
Implemented under the first phase of the GFIP, e-tolls are levied on Gauteng freeways as a method of payment for the almost 200 km of freeway and infrastructure upgrades to relieve congestion on highways and alternative routes.
Phase 1 comprised the upgrade of 201 km of freeways, while Phase 2 will include 158 km of new routes. Future upgrades of 423 km are planned.
Phase 2 will see the construction of a freeway link between the R21 from Boksburg at OR Tambo International Airport to the N2/M3 freeway to alleviate congestion at the Gillooly’s interchange.
A parallel freeway to the N1 between Pretoria and Johannesburg is planned, along with a freeway linking Soweto to Roodepoort.
This would save millions of travel hours, ensure improved incident management, unlock development opportunities, link impoverished communities to economic hubs and facilitate investment into new economic development hubs, Vermaak outlined in a presentation to media during a tour of ETC’s Centurion facilities.
However, Sanral has not been able to get Phase 2 off the ground, owing to the lack of funding, as the nonpayment of e-tolls in Gauteng persists.
Vermaak highlights new Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s support of the user-pay principle and his view that there is no other way of funding the roads network.
“If we want a road transport infrastructure that works‚ we need to pay our tolls. Government remains committed to the user- pay principle because it is the most efficient and effective way to ensure that the direct benefits of services are paid for by those who use them. We need to restore a culture of payment in this country to ensure the sustainability of our services and to give confidence to those institutions who invest in our bonds,” the Minister said during his maiden Budget speech in October.
The user-pay principle is embedded in every democracy, Vermaak says, pointing out that citizens pay for water and electricity, besides others.
“The more you use, the more you pay,” he states, assuring that the e-toll system is a fair and balanced solution.
Harder to Beat the System
“The one thing we also need to understand is that government has already invested this money [in the GFIP]. It started with an investment of R22.5-billion. Because of a lack of income, [interest has] now ballooned to R40-billion and will by next year increase to R45-billion,” Vermaak says.
“E-tolling is a fair and legal system and this has been proved in the courts. Enforcement remains critical.”
The ETC is embarking on a comprehensive debt recovery strategy, along with court action for nonpayment.
By December, ETC will have 16 000 cases of noncompliance in court.
He adds that the group is working to install the requirement that people settle their e-toll accounts prior to being able to renew their vehicle licences.
Making it difficult for road users to avoid paying is part of ETC’s key areas of focus moving forward to regain ground lost over the last few years.
ETC is also engaging stakeholders on a deeper level and rebuilding trust, while moving to educate citizens and share information to empower them.
The group also aims to make it easier for road users to comply, with its systems being upgraded to allow for easy access and engagement and a more customercentric approach.
Further, ETC is seeking and developing alternative ways of leveraging the asset and implementing additional income generators, including offering e-tag value-added services.
“ETC aims to create financial stability for the project through the introduction of value- added services and revenue streams that will improve the benefits for road users that are e-toll compliant,” Vermaak says.
These include the first phase of the Sanral mobile application, launched in October, along with other innovations in development, such as a parking solution, access management solution and exploratory engagements with insurance companies, public transport providers and other governmental departments to find synergy and provide holistic benefits.
“We have a system here that is not replicated anywhere else in the world. It is one of the largest electronic toll collection systems for open road tolling in the world,” he says of the system that effectively manages the transport demand in the province.
ETC currently monitors Gauteng’s freeways 24/7 for any blockages or obstructions through a dedicated in-house team and a network of 4 000 cameras.
Sanral’s emergency, tow and support vehicles are generally dispatched within 8 minutes to the obstruction or scene.
This is in addition to the state-of-the-art gantry system, which, equipped with speeds of 480 Gb/s and storage of upwards of 5 Pb, records 550 000 transactions an hour, 155 a second and 2.7-million transactions a day in Gauteng alone.
Each transaction generated comprises detection under a gantry, front image capture, dedicated short range communication where the tag is read, the classification of vehicles, a top image taken and rear image capture.
A dedicated transaction clearing house processes each transaction to seek out any discrepancies, such as cloned, false, unclear or no licence plates, before allocating fees and issuing statements, or, in the case of nonpayment within the stipulated period, diverting the transaction to the violation processing centre.
The licence plates are scanned through optical character recognition or through the fitted electronic tag equipped with radio frequency identification technology, which, combined, ensure tighter security.