Government continues to mislead public on e-tolls
Despite the attempts by Government this week to try and put a positive spin on the exercise, the reality today, following the paucity of responses (28 in total) to the SANRAL public engagement adverts in 2007, has been a comprehensive and emphatic rejection of e-tolls by both the hundreds who attend the information sessions last week and the thousands who have submitted their comments to Government. Without question, had SANRAL empowered the public with clear knowledge of their plans and held similar information sessions in 2007, and reported correctly on peoples genuine concerns to the Minister, we may well have saved ourselves an expensive and lengthy e-toll legal battle today.
The lack of appropriate consultation during this GFIP e-toll process was also highlighted in HMKL 3 Investments (Pty) Ltd vs. SANRAL and others last year, when Justice Bam AJ, finding for the applicants against SANRAL, in his judgement (case no: 67270/2010) said (p 21,s 27) “I am satisfied that the facts show prima facie that SANRAL failed to comply with the provisions of section 27 (4) of the Act”. Section 27 (4) sets out clear requirements to be meet before the Minister can approve the declaration of a toll road. While OUTA’s supporters have often cited the lack of pro-active engagement from Government/SANRAL, the lack of appropriate GFIP e-toll consultation has also been put forward by the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) who have ‘raised serious concerns about the e-tolling system and the negative impact it will have on municipal roads’. Furthermore, SALGA complains that “no provision has been made to upgrade the municipal roads network and contribute to the increased operation and maintenance costs”. We also speculate a troublesome response from the South African taxi industry, under the current perception that they have a blanket exemption, which will be challenged once they realise they must first register each vehicle at a fee to qualify for the 100% discount and any breach of the various conditions will render them no different than any other non e-toll payer.
Nevertheless, despite the great depth of factual and legal argument against e-tolling, the Government and SANRAL teams continued last week to try and impress upon the public the merits of e-tolls. At the core of their argument is a contention that the e-toll system returns over R8 for every R1 invested. The tenacity of their core argument remains surprising when the previous Minister of Transport, Sbu Ndebele responding to a question (no. 2598) in the National Assembly last year on 31 October regarding the GFIP benefits clearly said “the projected benefits to road users may, therefore, unfortunately not be forthcoming”. The predominant factor driving these claimed benefits rely on a telephonic survey and canvassing of income levels from respondents. As a research methodology this approach has often been criticised due to both respondents unwillingness to divulge their income levels and the general tendency of respondents, who do respond, to overstate their incomes.
As the GFIP upgrades have now been in place for over two years, why has Government not produced a public report which clearly substantiates the claim of such high speculated returns? While we acknowledge that the upgrades were needed, we dispute the level of economic benefits claimed and the inefficient proposal to fund the upgrade by way of e-tolling. Indeed, we continue to call on the GFIP Inter Ministerial Committee to take the public into their confidence and publish their report and findings presented to Cabinet which recommended e-tolling.
Last week the Government GFIP team also presented statistics which claim that 78.5% of GFIP Class A road users, analysed in June, would pay less than R100 and only 0.20% would reach R550 in e-tolls.
What the statistics failed to demonstrate, amongst many, was the impact of either the R100 or R550 on the actual driver’s disposable income. Many households, financially stressed with the increasing costs of electricity, municipal rates, basic food stuffs etc and unable to use public transport and/or alternative routes, are therefore captive to the GFIP and may well only have a disposable income of the same R100 or R550. The Governments claim during the GFIP information sessions last week, of protecting the poor from e-toll fees, was again clearly rejected by the public in attendance, by various civil groups and is consistently highlighted in several recent statements from COSATU.
As OUTA heads to court again next Monday, 26 November for the start of the e-toll judicial review, much legislative shuffling continues within Government even this week in particular, to address the glaring legal gaps to enforce the non-payment of e-tolls. This despite claims by both SANRAL and Government, at various intervals during the year, that they were ready to launch in a few weeks! We still maintain that SANRAL is not ready to implement!
Government’s persistence to try and drive the flawed e-toll model with spurious claims can be rebutted by all road users by continuing to support the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) and its supporters through ongoing submissions to Government/SANRAL rejecting e-tolls and by financially contributing to OUTA’s legal fees.