News Room

Refuse To Pay E-Tolls? Get Ready For Six-Hour Commutes

Author: Jason Snyman
Date: 2018-11-11
They're struggling to get your money. Now, they're coming for your will to live. If you don't pay your e-toll bills, you could soon be dealing with a six-hour commute from Jhb to Pta. Ouch.

That’s right; we’re now being threatened with heavy traffic.

Coenie Vermaak is the CEO of e-tolls collections company, Electronic Toll Collection. In a recent conversation with Moneyweb, Vermaak said that unless Sanral can begin the next phase of its Gauteng freeway upgrade project, commuters between Johannesburg and Pretoria could expect a six-hour drive in the next 20 years.

Vermaak explains that, because Gauteng motorist compliance has been so low (they’re simply not paying the e-tolls), Sanral hasn’t had the funds to maintain and expand road networks.

The e-toll project is allegedly only phase one of Sanral’s plans – with an estimated cost of over R22 billion. Due to non-compliance, the debt has now escalated to over R40 billion.

This means that South Africans will have to service debt repayments to the tune of R1 billion per year to get back on track.

Despite an increase in summonses being sent out, Sanral is still collecting next to nothing from the e-toll system. Between January 2016 and August 2018, R10.2 million has been collected from motorists through legal process, while Electronic Toll Collections spent R4.6 million on legal fees to achieve this.

Insert hysterical laughter here.

Let’s take a closer look at the shenanigans.

From Boycotter to Boss

So! If we don’t start paying our e-tolls, the ETC estimates that we’ll be facing mind-numbing levels of congestion by the year 2037.

At this point, it’s probably worth noting that Vermaak – now CEO of Electronic Toll Collection – was once an active e-toll boycotter. Like pretty much everybody else in SA right now, he believed the e-toll system to be ill-conceived and executed without the proper public engagement.

I was an e-tolls boycotter because I didn’t like being charged another tax for something that I had no decision over,” says Vermaak. “But I was also ignorant. I had not applied my mind to the matter. When I joined here, I didn’t even want my in-laws to know I worked at the toll collections company.

ETC is owned entirely – 100% – by Austrian company, Kapsch Trafficom. Kapsch built the e-tolls in South Africa, and the group’s contract for collecting toll fees is screeching to an end in December 2019. When the contract expires in December 2019, Sanral will put it out for tender in the new year.

This makes the South African e-toll project the company’s biggest liability. It’s easy to understand, then, why it is willing to spend so much money on legal fees in the recent summons blitz just to get a little bit back.

The ETC has been issuing around 4000 summonses a month. According to OUTA, only a quarter of these are even reaching the intended recipients, due to reliance on the Department of Transport’s eNatis (electronic National Administration Traffic Information System) which is an error-riddled fiasco.

It’s Complicated

Sanral has already had to transfer money away from its road maintenance budget and put it into servicing e-toll debt, much to the absolute disgust of the public.

Phase Two of the project – which allegedly involves building 158km of new road to redirect traffic and ease congestion – has now been postponed indefinitely while Sanral scrambles for money.

This phase includes building a new highway from Soshanguve in the north to Sandton, a new access road from Soweto to Joburg, the new PWV 15 route to the east to take pressure off the Gillooly’s interchange, and a ring road around the city.

It would create between 12 000 and 16 000 sorely-needed jobs over a four to seven-year period.

Furthermore, newly-instated Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, has also backed the e-toll system. He has stated that, in order for the road networks to function, the e-tolls have to be paid. Because the project was funded through the issuing of bonds, the government has very little choice but to find the money every year to pay back the interest on these borrowings.

South Africa is already a country of sinking ships, with funding being diverted, relayed, re-allocated and syphoned from one project to another, and it simply isn’t sustainable.

The scrapping of the e-tolls, in particular, could also impact SA’s sovereign status and increase the cost of all government-backed borrowings.

This all puts the average South African in an uncomfortable position. Continue the e-toll boycott and watch it crash and burn (which it really, really deserves) or put your trust in a government with a history of corruption and trust it to do the right thing and save the country.

Even Vermaak concedes that it is a tough ask, convincing non-payers to follow his lead.

Decisions, decisions…

It Gets Political, Too

Unfortunately, the government barely consulted the people of South Africa before forging ahead with idiotic plans, and so, could never have anticipated the levels of ferocious objection that would accompany the e-toll launch in 2013.

The protest hasn’t ceased since. Just last weekend, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and the ANC in Gauteng staged a march against e-tolls in Pretoria.

Opposition political parties have consistently used the failed e-toll project to bludgeon the ANC government over the head. Now, with elections looming in 2019, the e-tolls will inevitably become a key election issue – particularly in Gauteng.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has indicated that the national elections will take place in May 2019. Analysts believe that the e-toll issue will be kept in limbo until the elections, and Vermaak has also stated that, despite the bluster of politicians, the system isn’t going to be going anywhere any time soon.