Ah yes, the e-toll fiasco continues, and this time, they’re attempting to flat out swindle South African motorists into complying. Before we get to SANRAL’s latest, most deluded plan to date, here’s a quick recap of what’s been going on just this year.
The South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) and the Electronic Toll Collection Company (ETC) have tried pretty much every trick in the book to get motorists to pay their e-toll bills – even stooping so low as to threaten, bully and terrorize – but to no avail.
Back in March, the ETC announced that it would summons defaulting Gauteng motorists to court and threaten them with blacklisting if they refuse to pay their e-toll bills. The incensed South African public stood firm, and the plan backfired in the most spectacular way.
Buckling under the pressure of public outrage, SANRAL quickly announced that it would no longer be issuing any summonses for the non-payment of e-toll bills, at all.
Then, instead of fixing our pothole-cratered roads, and despite clear public disdain and opposition, the Department of Transport transferred R5.7 billion from its medium-term budget to SANRAL, in order to cover the rising debt incurred.
Last year, R3 billion was reallocated from PRASA to SANRAL, and then, just earlier this month, the government proposed a bill to relocate even further funds (meant to save the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa from certain destruction) to once again bail the e-toll system out of trouble.
As most of you know, PRASA, which controls the major Metrorail and Shosholoza Meyl rail systems, is in dire need of improvement. Both poor and urban commuters rely on these trains.
This recent bill has not yet been finalised however, and the call has gone out to finally forsake the failed e-toll experiment, and use the money to rebuild the sorely-needed rail system instead.
For some reason, though, the government just won’t let the e-toll debacle go. Sigh. Let’s take a look at their latest plan.
The ETC has devised a plan, to both pay off South Africa’s mounting e-toll debt and also get Gauteng road users to comply with the system.
The plan proposed is to work out an annual historic write-off for drivers, in return for their compliance. This means that for every year a motorist agrees to comply, and pay their e-toll bills, SANRAL will write-off 20% of historic debt. After five years of compliance, in theory, a newly compliant road user would then be debt free.
The ETC went on to sweeten the deal by saying that it would consider providing compliant road users with a reduction in future rates. A reward then, for being good and supporting a system that nobody ever agreed upon.
Anti-e-tolling civil action group, OUTA, is having none of it, and has labelled the proposal both delusional and desperate.
Back in 2015, SANRAL tried to entice motorists with a similar deal, offering a 60% discount along with a payment plan to defaulters within the first two years of operation. This plan failed almost too spectacularly for words, and raised less than 2% of the outstanding e-toll debt at the time.
According to head of OUTA, Wayne Duvenage;
Duvenage went on to state that offers of this nature signify the ETCs ignorance of the intellect and will of the public.
Just recently, Gauteng Premier, David Makhura, made it quite clear that the ANC in Gauteng wants the failed e-toll system to be scrapped entirely, and alternative solutions to be found to finance the debt and fund the roads.
Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, however, has maintained that the user-pays principle used by e-tolling is the only fair system, that it is already in place, and that everybody should just accept it and comply.
The reality of the situation is that Austrian group, Kapsch Trafficom – which built the e-tolling network and which owns the ETC – is waiting for their money. Over R47 billion as it currently stands, to be exact, leaving the SA government in a difficult position.
The system certainly needs to be scrapped, but scrapping it would require immediate settlement of this bill. SANRAL has a legitimate debt to be paid, which needs to be honoured.
It may not be the problem of the average Gauteng motorist, but another stark reality is that it is already the problem of the South African taxpayer. Motorists will refuse to pay the e-toll bills, but the taxpayer will still foot the bill by way of continuous bail-outs, and reallocation of funds that could be put to far better use in repairing our roads or upgrading our rail system.
According to recent research, 77.5% of all gravel roads in our country are in terrible shape. This translates into a R243.7 billion functional maintenance backlog, as well as a R281.2 billion technical needs maintenance backlog.
It is also suggested that R115 billion is required to upgrade high volume gravel roads in South Africa (mostly provincial), and that the upgrading of all gravel roads in South Africa would cost a staggering R1.7 trillion.
This backlog, while almost impossible to fix any time soon, simply has to be prioritised over the long-term, along with the implementation of additional, alternative road maintenance funding.
We will pay for the e-tolls, one way or another, and the longer we take the faster our roads and rails will degrade.