According to reports, subsequent to the SANRAL media roundtable held 31 July 2013, SANRAL claims they ‘have been ready to start tolling for more than two years’. “We completely reject this claim,” says OUTA Chairperson, Wayne Duvenage. “If SANRAL were so efficient and their funding predicament was so serious, why are we still seeing a flurry of legislative amendments taking place over the past year? The regulatory environment forms part of the framework of readiness. Clearly they have failed themselves. We recall that SANRAL argued in the Constitutional Court in August 2012, they could and would launch eTolls within two weeks of the interdict being set aside. Almost a year has passed, and they are still beating about the bush.”
OUTA is also of the opinion that SANRAL has a significant problem with eToll payment enforcement, which is critical to the success of their plan. They have yet to publish the step-by-step enforcement process and OUTA believes that SANRAL have not yet figured out the details themselves, hoping that if and when they launch, they can intimidate or coerce enough people to buy into their eTag plan, before they have to implement court proceedings.
SANRAL is also disingenuous in their claims they are ‘merely an implementer of Government policy’. This statement downplays the enormous role performed by them as the primary agent who advised the Government for years on the eToll methodology and process. It was SANRAL that commissioned research from the Graduate School of Business (University of Cape Town) that proposed the cost benefit ratios,which formed a key motivation for eTolls (which was later disregarded by Government themselves in Parliament by Minister Sbu Ndebele on 28 October 2011). It was SANRAL who provided the misleading and inaccurate information on the costs of eTolling (R395m / annum)and other analysis presented to the Minister of Transport at the time, Mr Jeff Radebe. How they can now stand back and imply they are only trying to implement government policy, when they were highly instrumental in guiding and setting that policy, is simply absurd and outrageously misleading.
SANRAL also appears to operate in a universe disconnected from reality. They seek to continually dismiss their protractors, despite the fact that it includes people and entities from across the broad spectrum of society such as the COSATU, SA Local Government Association, national consumer groups, the Black Management Forum, virtually all opposition political parties, the Catholic Church and other religious bodies and the growing number of business groups and general public who have clearly rejected the eToll plan.
No matter how SANRAL wants to couch it, a collection cost of compliant users at 17% is grossly out of line with international benchmarks, which are in single digits, including defaulter costs. What makes this worse is their omission of the cost impact of the non-compliant road user in their total cost of collection, wherein they assume these will be recovered by the higher rates applied to those who don’t pay. If they don’t pay, they don’t pay.
Most important of all, SANRAL suggests that based on their data, 82.8% of road users will pay less than R100. What SANRAL have not answered is the impact of this R100 alone on households who are under such financial strain with increasing fuel, electricity, rates and basic food prices. In addition, SANRAL downplaysthe likely economic impact on households who would have to commute to work on the fully implemented eToll network. Road users are also fully aware that the rate of today is not the rate of tomorrow and that regardless of the rate, their money is being used to finance off-shore listed companies, which could in turn be used to fund more roads, schools, clinics and other social infrastructure here in South Africa.
Mr Vusi Mona, the Sanral Spokesperson stated in a press release on 31 July that “If you are one of those paying the maximum amount [R450 cap], you will have traveled through 301 gantries and done an average of 2 760 km during the month on the e-tolled roads. That is, of course, if you are fitted with an e-tag and have an up-to-date registered account.” Yet when using Sanral’s own eToll calculator on their web site and taking an average of three different commuter routes at eTag rates during standard commuter times, we are able to rack up far less kms (ave 1598 km), through almost half the number of gantries (average of 163) to reach the R450 cap (R443) at an average of 28c / km. Once again, the public receive false and misleading information from SANRAL, and are then expected to believe SANRAL’s average spend data and statistics.
SANRAL, as an agent of Government, has the opportunity to advise the Government on an alternative funding method through use of the Fuel Levy and other taxes, which is also within existing policy, in order to alleviate their financial plight. Indeed, recommendations from their own research has revealed the fuel levy to be the least cost (i.e. most efficient) to the road user. SANRAL therefore have an obligation to recommend that Government sit down with the various social partners and stakeholders to constructively rework the plan to fund the GFIP.Borrowed funds from the banks will simply be digging their financial hole deeper.
“Of one thing we are certain,” says Duvenage, “SANRAL most certainly cannot sit back and continue to produce misleading statements, or ‘hope’ the public will come around to accepting eTolls. Hope doesn’t drive change, action does, and until this grossly inefficient plan that enriches overseas investors at the expense of Gauteng road users is scrapped, they have no hope of changing in the hearts and minds of the majority of South African citizens about it.