Following the President’s passing of the eToll bill into law, OUTA is surprised at this decision, bearing in mind that recent reports indicate the Presidency was going to take some time to consider the questions relating to the correct tagging of the bill before signing it into law. In addition, we await the outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the OUTA appeal as well as the recent recommendation by the Presidential Commission which reviewed State Owned Entities, stating that ‘funding for social infrastructure, including roads, should rely less on user pays and more on taxation’.
With this regulatory box ticked, Sanral may now proceed to launch their highly unpopular eToll scheme in Gauteng. With Sanral’s current dire financial situation and their claim of readiness, one must assume that Sanral will start to toll within two weeks – a claim they have made on a number of occasions in the past. They would be wise to await the outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling on OUTA’s appeal in the next few weeks, but even if that rules in their favour, Sanrals biggest hurdle has yet to come, that being the public’s buy-in and acceptance of its cumbersome and irrational plan.
Despite their claims to the contrary, Sanral did not conduct a meaningful public engagement process prior to their decision to toll and this is borne out in the widespread condemnation and rejection of the scheme. In addition to the shockingly poor participation process in 2007, other matters have come to the fore which have further irked the public and advanced the levels of intolerance of eTolling. The public are now aware of the high profits (in excess of R650m per annum) that will be earned by the European based Kapsch TrafficCom, funded by Gauteng motorists. We now also know that – due to construction company collusion – the roads cost more than they ought to have. In addition, the enforcement of eTolls will now be conducted through the criminal procedures act (CPA) which makes this matter more difficult.
No matter how elegant policies may look on paper, it is not by the ticking of regulatory boxes that determine the governability of matters of this nature and magnitude. The success of a policy depends on the support and buy-in of society not on the abstract reasoning of transport economists. There are numerous examples where tolling has failed in other parts of the world, due to its rejection and lack of support by the road users. This generally happens when the costs are too high, coupled with other factors such as a lack of transparency, low trust in the Government’s intentions and too many loopholes which make the system unenforceable. All these factors come into play in this specific eToll plan, which we believe will ultimately be its downfall.
Government would be wise to reconsider the merits of this unworkable and unpopular scheme. We have an election looming. Let the people decide.