SANRAL’s controversial e-tolling plan for Gauteng has taken a new twist with news that the roads agency is attempting to have itself exempted from the National Credit Act. SANRAL is claiming that the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project is a pre-paid tolling scheme under which users do not incur debt.
The SA National Consumer Union (SANCU), disagrees. Its Vice-chairman, Clif Johnston, said SANRAL was apparently prepared to stop at nothing in its quest to ramrod e-tolling through.
“The very architecture of the e-tolling freeway network proves it was designed from the ground up on the basis of ‘use now, pay later’,“ he explained. “This creates consumer debt and automatically brings the scheme within the ambit of the NCA,“ he added. “The option to pay by e-tag doesn’t change the system’s underlying nature.“
Johnston said the e-tolled freeways were designed without booms or gates, specifically allowing any motorist free right of passage whether their vehicle was fitted with an e-tag or not. He said this showed that the system regarded post-paid usage as the norm. Motorists without e-tags would be allowed unrestricted usage which would then be billed and paid for in arrears upon the receipt of an invoice, similar to the model used by cellphone networks for their contract subscribers. He also pointed out that SANRAL had previously explained this process, published tariffs for non-tagged users (subsequently withdrawn) and had said it would implement debt collection process for motorists without e-tags who didn’t pay their tolls. “Invoices after the fact? Debt collection? These are words associated with granting credit and possibly allowing people to run up debt for which they may not be able to settle,“ Johnston said.
Johnston also raised the example of a motorist whose vehicle was fitted with an e-tag but who had not loaded credit onto the tag. “Such a user will have reverted to a post-paid method of payment, which again proves that the e-tolling system’s basic design architecture is post-paid in nature,“ he said. He pointed out that SANRAL could not prevent an e-tag user with a zero balance from driving on an e-tolled Gauteng freeway and nor would it be illegal for the motorist to do so.
“E-tolling is clearly a post-paid system and SANRAL is now attempting -through the current amendment to the Transport and Related Matters bills – to legislate its way out of the maze resulting from its irrational and ill-conceived choice of e-tolling,“ Johnston commented. “SANRAL must not be allowed to trample on consumer rights by circumventing the NCA.