OUTA Supports DA’s call for e-toll referendum

On 5 March 2013, the DA’s Mr Ian Ollis spelled out their concerns and called for a referendum on the e-toll saga.

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05/03/2013 10:37:57

OUTA Supports DA’s call for e-toll referendum

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) takes note of the DA’s concerns and supports the call for a referendum. OUTA has always maintained that the decision to subject Gauteng’s freeway upgrade to an elaborate an inefficient e-toll process, is irrational, as there are far more efficient and less costly methods of revenue generation from society for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) infrastructure investment.

Below is the press release from the DA regarding their concerns and a call for a referendum on the e-toll matter:

DA calls for referendum on e-tolling

5 March 2013

The following is an extract of a speech to be delivered by Ian Ollis MP, DA Shadow Minister of Transport, during the Second Reading Debate of the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill.

After 16 years of underinvestment by this government in road infrastructure, we cannot expect motorists to make up the cash shortfall caused by the funding crisis that now besets SANRAL. We have long called for ring-fenced fuel levies that should only be used for road maintenance. Unfortunately the ruling party hates hearing advice from the opposition and therefore spent the fuel levies on bailing out SAA, (R11 billion) building freeways to Nkandla (hundreds of millions of rands) and jetfuel for Minister Sisulu (we lost count). Now, as Minister Gordhan is finding out, the money has run out and somebody has to pay for the roads!

The Democratic Alliance will today demand that a referendum be conducted in Gauteng to offer voters a choice as to whether they want the e-toll system to pay for the Gauteng freeway upgrades or whether they would prefer a fuel levy to pay for them.

Government has bungled the entire process of developing the e-toll system and left the public feeling ripped off. The first lesson they should learn is not to take the public for granted. There was some public participation during the planning of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), but at one meeting, for example, only 14 people were present. This shows how little people understood the implications of this project early on. Voters have become tired of a form of public participation that is a one-way conversation – “We’ll tell you what we are going to do”.

As Mr Speaker, the Honourable Sisulu, stated in his parliamentary budget speech last year, “The quality and effectiveness of public participation cannot rest on simply providing a space and an opportunity for submitting comments.” Unless you have a robust public participation process and engage in two-way conversation, you run the risk of street marches, legal action, and widespread protest down the line. You cannot dispense with it quickly and hope no one notices that you have fudged the process.

The second lesson to be learned is that we must not assume that what is affordable in so-called “Western countries” is affordable in South Africa. Open-road tolling is mostly used in Western, urban and First World environments. We have many toll roads in South Africa – the problem is that people have balked at the costs involved in this specific case. Except for the few super-wealthy, South Africans are not earning the same as Germans, Americans or Australians. If an individual earns R6 000 a month and drives a second-hand car to work, that individual could be required to pay an extra R550 a month for toll fees. That’s a big chunk out of your salary.

The third lesson that should be learnt from the e-toll saga is that politicians cannot abdicate responsibilities to officials or civil servants to “get on with it”. That leads to a lack of understanding and accountability.

The DA has consistently kept the public informed of the flaws and limitations in the e-toll by means of the TollFreeGP-campaign and by encouraging the formation of the OUTA consortium to take the e-toll to court. We have consistently opposed the funding model and gross lack of public participation.

While doing so, we have also worked on the detail of the legislation.  If the ANC uses its majority to ram the legislation through, then we have at least built into it many controls that will put the public in the best possible position under the circumstances.

In the process of legislating this Section 75 Bill we have secured a number of concessions and amendments to protect the public.

I'll list them now:

  • The Bill will now require the Transport Minister to send his draft toll fees to Parliament for our input before they are finally gazetted, allowing at least some oversight over toll fees for the first time in South Africa.

  • SANRAL and the Transport Department must perform both socio-economic and traffic impact studies, which will show the impact of any new toll roads on surrounding towns and cities. This would have prevented the degeneration of the roads in towns like Parys, for example.

  • The Department will be required to table mitigating measures that will be put in place to prevent any negative socio-economic or traffic impacts on surrounding cities.

  • These studies will have to be published in the Government Gazette and on the SANRAL website, so that they cannot be hidden from the public or the opposition.

  • SANRAL will have to publish not only the cheapest e-toll rates on billboards, but also the higher rates that people will need to pay if they do not register or purchase an e-tag.

  • When this bill goes to the NCOP, its supporters will be requested to obtain input from those provinces that have a Metro where e-tolls could be implemented in future, as SANRAL clearly has other metro cities in its sights.

Speaker, today we are faced with the vote on this piece of e-toll empowering legislation. The Minister of Transport announced on 22 February that after the vote today he would urgently publish revised e-toll tariffs and then implement them within 14 days. The DA believes that he has misunderstood the process of creating legislation in Parliament. However, this bill will not become law today, Minister Martins! It will first have to go to the NCOP for further amendments. Then it comes back to the National Assembly for a final reading and only then will it go to the President for his assent. Your memorandum to this Bill says that you cannot implement the e-toll without this legislation, so why are you jumping the gun?

Also, the OUTA court case has not yet been finally heard and the court may rule that the public participation was inadequate and should be done over. This will jeopardise the legality of implementing the e-toll before the case is heard.

This leaves plenty of time for the Independent Electoral Commission to conduct a Referendum in Gauteng on whether the e-toll funding model is acceptable to the public or whether they would prefer a fuel levy.

The DA is against the E-toll funding model for the following reasons:

  • It is the world’s most expensive toll collection system (up to R11 billion over eight years according to our calculations);

  • far too much of the profits will go to Austria and not to pay for the roads in South Africa; and

  • there are many more efficient funding models available, such as fuel levies or license fees.

We have calculated that a fuel levy of 10 to 14 cents per liter would cover all costs for the Gauteng freeways. Yet Minister Gordhan announced last week that there would be a new fuel levy on 3 April, stating that: “This included an increase in the general fuel levy of 15 cents a liter… “ The question Mr Gordan fails to answer is why he isn’t using this fuel levy to pay for the Gauteng freeways instead of the e-toll. The public, Mr Gordhan, are not just cash cows that you can keep on milking. Gauteng motorists will now have to pay a 23 cent fuel levy, as well as a new e-toll fee of up to R550 per month per motor car.

In the 19 years that the ANC have been in power, they have never conducted a single referendum and it’s high time we actually consulted Gauteng’s voters on the e-toll. We therefore call on Premier Mokonyane in conjunction with the IEC and this government to hold a referendum in Gauteng on the e-toll in April or May, prior to the implementation of the Bill.

Speaker, under a DA government there would be no e-toll in Gauteng, and I will not be purchasing any e-tag this year. The DA will today be voting “No” to the e-toll Bill if it is put to the vote, and will call for a full division on this vote.

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