E-tolls are wrong for SA
Having filed its replying affidavit on Monday, the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) is now even more adamant that the decision to toll the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) was a poor decision taken by the authorities. “Since having access to the ETC contract, for which we had to sign a confidentiality agreement, our expert transport economist’s assessment of the numbers and efficiency of e-tolls has revealed that the plan suffers from oversights and is a most inefficient manner in which to fund the R17bn freeway upgrade” says Wayne Duvenage, Chairperson of OUTA.
We expect the IMC to announce their e-toll plans sometime this weekend or next week, wherein we envisage they will further reduce the e-toll tariffs as well as the capped maximum charge, as they go on the charm offensive to woo the public into believing this is the best option. We also believe their announcement will include the acceptance of e-tolling by a few entities that were originally opposed to the plan.
OUTA firmly opposes the application of e-tolling under the veil of ‘user pay’. Given the structure of our economy and the need to support those who lack many of the basic services, it is important that we apply the most cost efficient and effective funding methods.
The reality however is that you can’t be “half pregnant” on e-ttlls. You either e-toll or you don’t. A lesser amount of the wrong method doesn’t make it any more right. According to Clif Johnston of the SA National Consumer Union “The cost of collection and the bureaucratic burden it will place on society are independent of the actual amount charged per kilometre (km). Indeed, as the toll rate per km falls, the collection costs become an increasingly larger percentage of the amount collected”.
“This is the ultimate tragedy of the plan” says Johnson, “being that the road user will still have to foot the bill of more than R1,1bn per annum to cover the electronic toll collection process, regardless of how much they reduce the toll rate and cross subsidise the revenue required with fuel levies and/or the national fiscus mechanisms”.
Gary Ronald, CEO of the AA says “we are concerned about why the contracts still remain confidential. The public, who are ultimately expected to pay the fees, should be given full view of the entire contract. Until now, all we have seen are few tables from the authorities which vary substantially in the costs and projected revenues, casting serious doubt regarding the authenticity and accuracy of these figures”.
Duvenage says “The e-toll plans are a most inequitable and inefficient ‘user pays’ process and the 8:1 Benefit to Cost ratio for users is a gross over exaggeration and has failed under expert examination. We continue to emphasise that, as per Government’s own documents, transfers from the fiscus and receipts from a fuel levy remain the most cost efficient way of raising funds. What’s more, these methods are included in government policy for revenue generation toward road infrastructure development. Adding to the injustice is a lack of the (planned) upgrading of public transport in Gauteng, which will eventually offer both road users and the general public a reliable, safe and efficient alternative to owing a private vehicle”.
Michael Tatalias, CEO of the SA Tourism Services Association (SATSA) says that “forcing e-tolling onto the citizens of SA is a gross injustice and implies that citizen’s intellect is being taken for granted by the authorities, that they are unable to detect when a planned revenue/tax collection system is a waste of their hard earned money and time. COSATU’s warnings to government were expected and reflects the strong disquiet within both Gauteng and nationally at the prospect of a national e-tolling roll out. It is clear that Government should not err by discounting the extent of dissatisfaction with the GFIP e-tolling plan”.
Ari Seiris, CEO of the QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA), continues to be concerned for his supporters who were not consulted during the planning of e-tolling and are largely unable to use alternative public transport due to its lack of accessibility, convenience and reliability. Whilst a solution is currently being sought for people with disabilities, the last proposed tariff structure and policy makes no accommodation for those without transport but who rely on the generosity of many private individuals to transport them around Gauteng, often using the network of highways.
OUTA has always said it is willing to pay for the GFIP and other national transport infrastructure projects which benefit the country as they are both much needed and long overdue but not via e-tolling. OUTA remains confident that the November judicial review of the decision to implement e-tolling will be a strong challenge against the unjust plan.