Months after e-tolling of Johannesburg’s highways was due to come into effect, the debate regarding the implementation and fairness of the system is still going strong.
Indeed, on the 7th of March, labour federation Cosatu held protests across the country which were attended by tens of thousands. Some police officials reportedly remarked that the mass action in Johannesburg was the largest to take place in the city since the 1980s.
Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi warned that Cosatu would make the system “ungovernable” if government continued with its plans. “If e-tolls [are] enforced we’ll barricade highways,” vowed Vavi. “The same way we made the Apartheid system ungovernable, we’ll make this system ungovernable if they don’t listen to us.”
In a memorandum of demands handed over to Gauteng Transport Minister Ismail Vadi and Premier Nomvula Mokonyane during the course of the protest, Cosatu states: “All the evidence indicates that the revenues from the e-tolls are going to be enormous and that the loans will be paid off quickly, leaving the private operator to milk the public.”
One of the primary concerns listed in the memorandum is the fact that it will 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.
“This is not a free choice. It is because our public transport system is expensive, unsafe and unreliable,” stated the memorandum. For these and other reasons, Cosatu is demanding the dismantling of the 42 Gauteng motorway gantries and the immediate halting, for good, of the Gauteng tolls.
Despite the mass action and memorandum, Government has stood firm on its decision to implement the new system. Minister in the presidency Collins Chabane told a post-cabinet media briefing the day after the protests: “Government has made a decision and government is going to proceed to implement that decision. At the time when there's a necessity for that decision to be changed, cabinet will look at that, but at the moment, the cabinet decision stands.”
Cosatu rejected his comments. Cosatu Spokesperson Patrick Craven said Cosatu was “very disappointed” and that the federation would continue with its campaign to have the tolls scrapped.
This ‘speed bump’ is but one of many which has characterised the e-tolling debacle. Towards the end of October, the proposed tolling of Gauteng’s freeways was halted following outraged public outcry. The proposed Cape Town toll road project was simultaneously halted. It was announced that “consultative processes should be allowed to take place to offer concerned parties the opportunity to share their views on toll road programmes.” The consultations which took place in November did nothing to change Government’s stance.
That said, the cost of the tolls has decreased somewhat following a R6 billion injection paid by Government towards the system. Pre-subsidy, it was 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.
With effect from the end of April, Government announced that motorcycles with e-tags will pay 20 cents per kilometre and those without, 38 cents. Light motor vehicles will pay 30 cents and 58 cents respectively and non-articulated trucks 75 cents and R1, 45 per kilometre. Articulated trucks with e-tags will pay R1, 51 a kilometre and those without R2, 90. Taxis and buses will be exempt from the tolls.
Cosatu isn’t the only organisation lobbying to have the tolls scrapped. Various other organisations are now considering legal action to halt the project and a number of captains of industry such as FNB’s household and property sector strategist John Loos have voiced their opinion regarding the system. His comments regarding the possible impact on the property industry stemming from the toll system will be explored in depth in a follow up article.
Suffice to say it will be interesting to see how the toll debacle pans out. Whatever the case, it would appear that South Africans are not shying away from making their voices heard.