E-toll bill is selective and dangerous, OUTA warns
OUTA is astounded by the Minister of Transport’s address to the NCOP on 21 May, which unconvincingly tries to convey a Government that has consulted and listened to the robust and unrelenting opposition to e-tolls from all sectors of society.
“In a week that has seen SANRAL loose yet another legal e-toll case, in Cape Town, along with an extraordinary denouncement of e-tolls by the Catholic Church and only days before more organised protests by COSATU, one could be mistaken to think that the Minister has been out of the country”, comments Wayne Duvenage, OUTA's chairperson.
The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) has always maintained that society is willing to pay for the much needed road upgrades in Gauteng, but it is opposed to an irrational collection system which will cost almost as much as the GFIP upgrades themselves. The Minister implies that tolling is the only way to pay for road development, as if loans and bonds for the timeous development can’t be funded (as they have been for years) through other treasury revenue mechanisms.
Of further concern to OUTA is the sheer lack of proper consultation with stakeholders before the commencement of the upgrades, along with the single mindedness in the choice of e-tolling, without properly considering other less costly and more equitable “user-pay” funding methodologies, such as direct transfers from the fiscus and the fuel levy. Both of these funding methods meet the principle of user pay, are prudent and extremely cost efficient to administer. “Indeed SANRAL’s own economic report concedes that e-toll is not the most efficient funding choice!” exclaims Duvenage.
Against this context, it is important to note that the Minister refers to funding through ‘the selective use of a user charge’ and concedes that ‘tolling is used selectively’ and then applies this in the “Cash Cow” province of Gauteng, where no reasonable alternative routes or reliable, safe public transport exist.
When referring to the GFIP Steering Committee presentations in 2011, the Minister again conveniently omits to highlight the broad based opposition at the time included business, community, labour, SALGA, all major political opposition parties, ANC Youth League etc, even the Gauteng ANC themselves opposed e-tolls. Similarly, when expectations were raised that the e-toll problem may be addressed during the Inter Ministerial Committee (IMC) discussions, parties including BUSA, OUTA, COSATU and other entities failed to reach agreement with Government. Yet, after the discussions, with no broad based consensus in place, the IMC recommended to Cabinet to proceed with e-tolling - without publishing their rationale or providing feedback to all constituencies it had engaged with - of the reasons for their decision!
Even when the Department of Transport tested the Gauteng public opinion in November 2012 on proposed e-toll tariff’s and exemptions, the public’s resounding response was ‘NO to e-tolling’ and submitted over 11,000 comments, which have yet to be published in summary by Government despite their undertaking to do. “In this regard” Duvenage says “it is clear that Government is quite selective about how they report on the real extent of e-toll opposition and refuse to conduct a referendum to gauge the support from Gauteng road-users.”
In the Minister’s speech, he impresses on the need for the bill’s acceptance “to improve the effectiveness of toll operations and enforcement”. Why is it then, almost six years after the intent to toll was published, is the Minster now appealing for further legislative changes when during all the previous court preceding’s, SANRAL were adamant that they could implement e-tolling within weeks. Duvenage cautions that “the move to criminalise the non-payment of e-tolls and the request to place the payment responsibility on the owner of the vehicle, rather than the user, is outrageous and nothing more than letting the fox into the chicken pen to feed”.
Duvenage adds that “had SANRAL and their principals proactively consulted with the various representative associations, prior to forging ahead, many of their current woes would have been highlighted years ago.” A simple Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA), of how to prosecute non-etoll payment, would have highlighted the prosecution dilemma that the authorities currently face when trying to prosecute through the Criminal Procedures Act (CPA), as the currently unworkable Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act (AARTO) will not be applied throughout all metros. In addition, SANRAL’s request for exemption from the National Credit Act (NCA) on the grounds that it’s system is a pre-paid one is preposterous. Surely all these legislative issues should have been resolved years ago.
Regarding the damage to the ‘credit reputation of SANRAL’, Duvenage says that SANRAL have “single handedly damaged their own reputation and continue to do so for as long as they refuse to consider other alternative funding proposals and recognise the deep extent of opposition which is only likely to escalate the more they try to ram e-tolls through.” Almost ten months after the temporary interdict was set aside, SANRAL have still failed to launch, not of anyone else’s doing but their own. OUTA is concerned that the increasing level of opposition to e-tolls will lead to civil disobedience which, under the current labour market tensions, will have a compounded impact on how the various credit agencies view South Africa as an investment destination”. In such an unfortunate event, SANRAL will have to be held accountable and responsible for the unintended consequences of their poor decision making.
Duvenage continues to call for society to help fund the legal costs of OUTA which requires R4 million to complete the SCA hearings scheduled for later this year. Failure to obtain the necessary funding might well place the legal case at risk.