E-toll or E-rip Off?

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

It has become abundantly clear that Gauteng residents are not just going to sit back and allow e-tolling to become a part of their daily lives. And who can blame them? Faced with increases in property rates, escalating electricity bills and judging by what the Minister for Water and Environmental Affairs recently had to say regarding the amount of money needed to get South Africa’s water affairs in order, a drastic increase in the price of water.

Due to come into effect on April 30, Government it seems, has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to dissenters, shutting out the ever louder voices of those opposed to the tolling initiative. Everything eventually comes out in the wash, however, and the news that the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) recently admitted that it held approximately 50 percent of the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) bonds indicates that the ANC cannot afford to listen to the masses who are objecting.

In an attempt to placate South African citizens, Sanral exempted mini bus taxis and busses from e-tolling, but during a court case in the Pretoria High Court this week, it transpired that the exemption process has not yet been finalised and at this stage both modes of public transport will have to pay the tolls. In another shocking development and what is seen by many as an attempt to intimidate, Sanral announced that the charges for those who did not purchase e-tags and who took more than seven days to pay the tolls would be charged six times the amount of the most discounted tariff. It has also come to light that the amounts charged at the different gantries will differ significantly, with some stretches costing non e-tag users in the region of R6 every time a vehicle passes through.

The system, which affects 185km of the N1, N3, N12 and R21 around Pretoria and Johannesburg, is set to have a devastating effect on those who travel on these roads on a daily basis and large numbers of Gauteng residents have vowed to boycott the e-tag initiative.

Many believe that Sanral has adopted bullying tactics in an effort to force motorists to register for e-tags. The sad truth of the matter is that Sanral has no choice. The administrative responsibilities of managing a business that has to, (by Sanral’s calculations) generate between R10-million and R10.5-million a day is guaranteed to be a logistical nightmare. It has been estimated that between 1.2 and 1.5-million of the 3.5-million vehicles registered in Gauteng would use the toll roads at least once a week. Attempting to invoice on this scale is undoubtedly going to prove to be all but impossible and Sanral has to convince an extremely reluctant public that it is in their best interests to buy an e-Tag and allow the Electronic Tolling Company to automatically deduct the amounts due. Although reports do vary, Sanral recently announced that the numbers of motorists registering for e-tags had increased and approximately 500 000 road users had so far signed up for the initiative.

While the lawyers are locked in a hotly contested legal battle attempting to stop the tolling, the public, if various newspaper reports are to be believed, is becoming angrier. Michael Jackson, an international speaker and editor of the Property Professional Magazine recently blogged: “So bring it on Mr Zuma and your cronies at Sanral: this time public power will be demonstrated against you. In all its might. You have succeeded in only doing one thing with this pernicious e-tolling system; in uniting all South Africans around a single, common issue for the first time since democratic elections were held in 1994. We now all speak with one voice and it says “Iokona baba”. There’s no way to propagandise this rotten fish to make it even vaguely palatable.”

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