Today’s judgement by Judge Louis Vorster represents a very sad day for South Africa’s democracy, as it demonstrates that Government is able to railroad proper public engagement process and thereby make decisions which may not be in the best interest of society. This judgement now endorses Government’s decision to toll Gauteng’s freeways, despite the fact that the e-Toll decision has been overwhelmingly rejected by Gauteng motorists and society at large.
The outcome also sends a clear message about the lack of importance of citizen input and will now have the impact of society feeling powerless against the state and its ‘bulldozer’ tactics of driving its own agendas and policies, even if these are not good for society. We believe this decision will also have a significantly negative impact on South Africa’s global reputation and will diminish our global competitiveness.
OUTA has never been that naïve to suggest that society should not pay for infrastructural development. The Gauteng Freeway improvements were needed and have been a most welcome development which citizens know they will have to pay for. What is not welcome however, are the high costs related to the collection process, along with other inefficiencies that will make the system too onerous and costly for society to bear. Some eighteen months have past since SANRAL’s first planned implementation date of April 2011 and today, they are still not ready to launch.
While today’s court ruling may not have been in our favour, OUTA’s efforts have not been in vain. Our court challenge has further empowered society with knowledge of the wasteful expenditure, high costs and inefficient processes related to eTolling. It is ultimately society’s sentiment and their action going forward that will be SANRAL’s biggest hurdle to contend with. While our plea is that all resistance to eTolling remains peaceful and within the law, unfortunately, this decision will anger society to the extent that it will act as an invitation for civil disobedience.
The public’s rights and freedom of movement will be curtailed by eTolling. Taxis are not public transport, they are private enterprises. The notion that taxis are entitled to free passage because they carry the poor, implies that the poor do not own vehicles and that motorists who cannot afford the toll fees should be shunned off the freeways and onto the shocking potholed back roads. This decision remains exclusionary and is an infringement on citizen’s rights.
Public transport is totally inadequate and lacking in Gauteng. Millions of citizens are captive to the use of their own vehicles and the freeways to commute to and from work. Without alternatives, this decision is will further anger the public who will ultimately do what they can to resist the system.
We urge society to see though the statements and marketing antics of SANRAL and judge for themselves as to what their eToll costs will be. Averages and statistics do not paint the full picture. We know that SANRAL will publish further a charm offensive to announcement lower rates and a reduction of the maximum monthly limits to ‘soften the cost to society’. We also know that Gauteng motorists are not fooled by lower rates as it is the costs of collection that will not be lower and this is the element which remains a waste of road user’s money. They also know all too well that these rates can be increased significantly over time.
SANRAL’s has and will continue to persuade the public that hundreds of thousands of motorists are purchasing eTags, yet the bulk of these have been taken up by Government and municipal fleets, along with other fleet management entities such as banks and leasing organisations. The overwhelming majority of motorists have not purchased tags and we believe that significant numbers will adopt a “no e-Tag” approach, knowing that their legal action of passive resistance will provide sufficient burden to ensure the e-Toll system does not succeed over time.
While we sincerely ask that SANRAL and the Government reconsider their decision to toll our urban freeways, we know that they will now surge ahead with this inefficient plan, pushing aside the clear messages and resounding rejection of e-Tolls displayed during the three public hearings in November, along with the thousands of submissions made to the Department of Transport throughout November.
We call on Gauteng motorists to act legally as they display their resistance to the eToll process. One such legal action is to notpurchase an e-Tag which will be a compelling action against the system. We also urge the Government to be cognizant of the fact that around the world, tolling systems that have not garnered the support of the public generally fail to be successful. It is in this vain that we trust the authorities will hear the people and that serious consideration will still be given to set the eToll decision aside.
OUTA wishes to thank its founding supporters, businesses and the public at large for their support during this trying campaign. It certainly is not over. We are studying the judgement and considering the strengths and merits of a possible appeal, along with other factors, where after we will make our decisions on the way forward.