Although the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) has been positive in many respects, it has garnered criticism from all sectors thanks to the proposed tolls which were put forward at the beginning of 2011.
It was initially proposed that light motor vehicles featuring ‘e-tags’ would pay 49c per kilometre; taxi drivers would pay 16c per kilometre and bikers 30c per kilometre. Those vehicles without e-tags would be charged 66c per kilometre. 42 toll gates have been established along the improved routes, raising fears that the tolls would result in a steep increase in the cost of living for all road users, especially workers who have no other alternative due to the lack of a “proper” public transport system.
Following outraged public response to the proposed tolls, reduced tariffs were subsequently introduced. As per the ‘new’ tolls, light motor vehicles would pay 40c per kilometre, ‘medium’ vehicles R1 per kilometre; ‘longer’ vehicles R2 per kilometre and bikers 24c per kilometre. Taxis and buses would be exempted entirely. Gauteng’s e-tolling was due to begin in February.
However, objections to the tolls have continued, prompting Ndebele to announce the moratorium. In a statement released on the matter, Ndebele explained that “consultative processes should be allowed to take place to offer concerned parties the opportunity to share their views on toll road programmes.”
He explained that while the first phase of the GFIP had delivered good infrastructure, it was an expensive exercise that had drawn sharp views from the public. “Good infrastructure is a necessity for a better future for our country but this requirement must not leave our people even poorer,’ Ndebele added. It is hoped that the consultations, which are due to take place on 11 November, will yield a solution to the debacle.
Plans to establish a similar toll road setup on Cape Town’s N1 and N2 have also met with resistance. Cormac Cullinan, an attorney representing South Coast residents opposed to the Wild Coast toll road was delighted to hear of the minister’s move, citing the proposed toll road as a waste of taxpayers’ money and a threat to the area’s biodiversity. Ted Holden, chairman of the Upper South Coast Anti-Toll Focus Group said over half a million local residents were opposed to the construction of the toll road.
Promising as the forthcoming consultations may seem, issues remain as evidenced by labour union Cosatu’s reaction to Ndebele’s announcement. The union has asked Ndebele to shed light on whether the moratorium applied to scrapping the GFIP or whether it only applies to future toll roads.
Cosatu has warned that there will be no solution if those lodging objections at the upcoming talks are told the current tolling project will go ahead anyway and they can only raise issues about future tolling plans. Cosatu added that it would insist that e-tolling had never been properly debated and that road users already pay taxes and fuel levies every time they buy petrol.
“If there is no change in policy from government and the negotiations deadlock we shall be planning marches, demonstrations, pickets and stay-aways and take strike action if the tolls are not scrapped,” stated Cosatu in October.