E-toll system on brink of collapse?
Following the announcement of Mr Ben Theron’s resignation, the Chief Operations Officer of the Electronic Tolling Company, OUTA is not at all surprised at this latest turn of events, the second of two senior executive resignations within a few months at this critical time in the “life of e-tolls in South Africa”.
“Judging by the steady stream of complaints expressed by frustrated motorists, not only to OUTA’s website but to many other social media platforms, the picture of a system on the brink of collapse or most certainly in a chaotic situation has emerged and it appears to be getting worse by the day” says the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) spokesperson, John Clarke. “The complexity of the system was always going to be a challenge to even the most sophisticated and experienced managers and staff, because Intelligent Transportation Systems require more than mere cognitive intelligence in understanding high tech computer and financial systems, but its success depends on the majority of users having an attitude of cooperation and enthusiasm for it to work effectively, and overcome problems”.
In response to the Presidency’s press statement of today that “e-tolls are part of a broader infrastructure plan”, OUTA treats this as typical spin aimed at trying to rationalise an ill-conceived scheme retrospectively. However, trying to link e-tolls to all the other necessary and good developments happening in Gauteng’s transport space is a farce. Upgrading these “alternative routes” mentioned was a normal and necessary overdue requirement anyway, to keep pace with the pressure placed on them and their role in supporting traffic flow to the areas they serve. Whether GFIP came along or not, these other “alternative” routes required the current upgrades anyway and in any event, these upgrades are still not viable alternatives for GFIP.
A statement from the Presidency drawing linkages between e-tolling and other initiatives to address congestion and is not going to suddenly solve the underlying problems of lack of integration and jurisdictional disputes. The fact that BRT and other integrated public transport requirements are being addressed are matters that also required attention to alleviate years of poor public transport infrastructural requirements. The freeway upgrade was a requirement for a growing urban economy, but was not integrated at the outset with a visionary plan for a safe and affordable public transport system. The exemption of minibus taxis, and the ongoing failure to solve Joburg’s traffic lights problem would never have occurred had there been a comprehensive vision.
Wayne Duvenage, the Chairperson of OUTA says “The decision to toll as a means of extracting funds from society was wrong and urgently needs to be revised. From the outset of the plan, OUTA’s supporters have reflected on a system that was impractical, inefficient and irrational and which in turn would not garner the willing and committed support of society in order to make it work. This is precisely what we are seeing now and the extent and veracity of the complaints we are seeing has nothing to do with teething problems. These are the signs of a system which is teetering on the verge of collapse and the authorities are taking a risk by forcing it onto an unrelenting and angry public.”
Finally, OUTA raises serious concern at the disrespect that SANRAL has shown to the citizens of this country. The threatening SMS and e-mail communications that spell out enforcement through prosecutions and road policing interventions, along with Mr Vusi Mona’s (SANRAL spokesperson) recent derogatory statements which insinuate that a perfectly legitimate question from the public is one that comes from a position of having a low IQ, is indicative of a State Owned Entity that is aggressive, arrogant and out of touch with the people it intends to serve and who’s support it needs.
The e-toll decision has gone from bad to worse ever since it was announced and our research shows that in this climate of public rejection, low compliance and shocking maladministration, the system will not achieve its revenue targets and their reactions are simply alienating society from its Government. We urgently call on the Minister of Transport to intervene, suspend the system and call on interested stakeholders to seek the more sensible and efficient solutions to this fiasco, failing which a credit rating downgrade is sure to be on the cards for SANRAL and this situation will do South Africa no favours.