OUTA (Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance) found yesterday’s wide ranging remarks from the Deputy President Kgalema Motlante on e-tolling interesting on several fronts.
In particular, as reported in Buanews, were the indications, based on estimates from Moodys, that SANRAL could be losing monthly between R270m and R500m. One would have thought that SANRAL itself could have given more detail about the nature and extent of their monthly commitments without the Government relying on estimates from a rating agency. Indeed much greater transparency about Gauteng’s Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) costs and operating model, along with funding obligations and the effect on SANRAL’s debt of the R5.8billion transfer by Treasury earlier this year during the Budget speech, might well give more confidence to both road users and rating agencies.
In addition, today was a lost opportunity for the Government to clarify in more detail the definition of user-pay, how and where it will be applied. The user-pay examples of water, electricity and telephone payments are applied nationally and with consistent applications, unlike the proposed e-Tolling of GFIP which is applied to 185 kilometers while many of the Provincial roads upgraded by the three year R23billion S’hamba Sonke – Moving Together program remain un-tolled. It could equally be argued that the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) system contradicts the user pay methodology by allowing citizens to receive proper medical attention irrespective of income levels. While the economically vulnerable must be protected, the user pay policy requires greater debate in terms of understanding and application within a developing society like South Africa.
From the outset, OUTA has consistently made a distinction between long-haul tolling and the aggressive urban tolling contemplated for GFIP which takes aim at frequent commuters irrespective of income levels. It must also be remembered that the economic reports suggesting that the ‘rich’ will pay for the use of GFIP is strongly contested by both OUTA and COSATU who continue to oppose the introduction of e-Tolling.
We also noted from Thursday’s statement that the Cabinet initially ‘had looked at a number of measures and had found that e-tolling was the best option’. This statement conflicts with the economic analysis report of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, which was prepared by the Graduate School of Business of University of Cape Town for SANRAL in 2010, wherein it was stated that “To pay for roads through taxation, or through a fuel levy, is simply cheaper than imposing a toll on the roads, even if it’s done through an open road tolling system. The costs of collection are lower, because they don’t include the costs of toll collection”. This is an issue that OUTA has continuously highlighted, whereby its case is based largely on the irrationality of the high collection costs to be borne by the road user.
There also appears to be a concerning disconnect between the Cabinets view of safe, reliable and accessible public transport and alternate roads in Gauteng to the reality on the ground. This was borne out clearly at the recently held Gauteng City Region Public Transport Indaba on Monday, 28 May 2012, where speaker after speaker was adamant about the complete lack of safe, reliable and integrated public transport available to Gauteng citizens.
Although not yet formally approached by the Cabinet Task team, OUTA remains very willing to meet with the Deputy President to discuss a way forward for the most efficient funding mechanism for all national roads and not just GFIP .
OUTA remains adamant and concerned about the government’s intentions to introduce this most wasteful and inefficient funding mechanism. Of greater concern is the civil disobedience that will arise if eTolling is ever introduced and this is the kind of reaction we do not need, when it comes to credit and investor ratings for our country. It is OUTA’s hope that a suitable GFIP and national roads funding option can be identified before more money is spent in court.