Although the jury is still out and the final decision has yet to be made, eTolls do look set to become part of South Africa's makeup. While many assume that this is a Gauteng fight, if the toll road initiative is successfully implemented in that province, you can bet your boots that other major roadways around the country will be also soon be transformed into pay as you go highways.
Toll roads have formed part of our transport network for years, but, until fairly recently, motorists who either couldn't afford to pay or simply refused to fork out money for a road that they believed they had already paid for in the form of road taxes, could take an alternate route. These days, given the state of many of our outlying road systems, this is no longer a viable option. In the Gauteng scenario, given the sheer volume of traffic, it is highly unlikely that the alternate route roads will be able to cope with the increase in the number of motorists that are undoubtedly going to choose the 'freeway'.
Sadly, many simply cannot afford to use toll roads and are going to have to put up with the inconvenience of using roads that were never designed to cope with Gauteng traffic as it is today. There are other problems too. What about those who live on the alternate routes? One can only imagine how the increased volumes of traffic are going to affect their lives. Once relatively quiet areas are undoubtedly going to be transformed into grid locked nightmares for both those who are forced to travel on these roads and those who have to use those same roads because they live there.
Will property values in these areas slump, or will they increase, given that it will prove more affordable for road users to go about their daily business? And what about commercial opportunities - could the increased traffic volumes in these areas boost local business? One almost wishes that government had done its homework before stepping blindly into the unknown. eTolls were never going to be just about getting motorists to part with their hard earned cash, there are many other implications that have seemingly escaped those in power. Simply put, there is no way to gauge any of the above until we actually see what effect the eToll has on traffic volumes and flow in outlying areas.
Is this all just a bit of a storm in a teacup? Estate agents will probably say it is and that property values in the affected areas are set to soar as the demand for property where homeowners do not have to pay to go to work grows. Although living on an alternate route may seem like a bonus, there are drawbacks. Noise levels, inconvenience and the danger of having an overused roadway at the end of your driveway all come in to play. It goes without saying that many bought in these areas because they didn't want to live in a place where it would take them half an hour to get out of their driveways in the morning.
Government may well have overplayed its hand this time by basically forcing the eToll initiative on an already financially taxed population. The method in which eTolls are collected could backfire horribly. If figures published in the media are correct, there are thousands of people who are simply going to use the roadways and ignore the demands for payment.
The state says it has no choice and that its citizens have to repay the billions it cost to upgrade the various roadways. It would seem that the government assumed its people would quietly accept the latest way for it to fill its coffers and were, initially at least, somewhat taken aback by the negative response. And this after government had announced that the taxi industry would not pay to drive on the roads. Will they win the fight in the end? Probably. Will South Africans eventually accept their lot and pay their way? Unlikely.