E-tolling and highway upgrades at the expense of Gauteng motorists

South Africa’s High Court has heard “tolling can’t be undone” from a lawyer representing the South African National Roads Agency SOC (SANRAL) in the ongoing e-toll row.

Lawyer David Unterhalter believes Gauteng motorists benefitted from SANRAL’s freeway improvement project and therefore should pay for it. He added: “People drive on the upgraded roads everyday. We are going to fund it through tolls – it has been decided.”

Mike Maritz, from the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance, suggested SANRAL should “go back to the drawing board”. However, Unterhalter responded by saying that was impossible.

“Civil society knew what was happening and informed their members. It is perfectly clear they knew what was at stake,” says Unterhalter. He said further that the civil society organisations representing Gauteng motorists did nothing until the tariffs were announced last year even though they had known about the plans since the project began in 2008.

Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) is a system that electronically identifies vehicles by means of an “e-tag” and the vehicle license plate number, which affects the payment of the fee.

This means no cash payments take place because the transactions are done electronically. The “Boom-down” Electronic Toll Collection and Open Road Tolling are the two variations of ETC used in South Africa.

HumanIPO reported on Monday the e-tolling bill debate had been delayed until February because of opposition and last week SANRAL said allegations of e-tolling fraud were false.

The High Court in Pretoria is in the process of hearing a full review on the e-tolling project despite the Constitutional Court abandoning an interim order to halt the e-tolling of Gauteng freeways.

On April 28 the High Court ordered the hearing must be complete before e-tolling is implemented.

According to Unterhalter, Sanral risked their financial integrity by embarking on an upgrade to the highways. “It causes the financial standing of my client to be scrutinised by potential investors.” He added the scrutiny is prejudice to both Sanral and South African people because they (the people) are beneficiaries of the upgrade.

The proposed difficulties about the collection of the money is not a matter of concern, claims Unterhalter. He said there are ways to collect the money because the vehicle owner would be held responsible.

The ANC Youth League (ANCYL) announced today (Wednesday) their organisation planned marches in protest against the e-tolling of Gauteng freeways.

“We therefore support the COSATU`s call to engage in public demonstrations, clearly cognisant of the farce that is the public hearing processes and the so called review of the collection system. Young people must swell the ranks of the downtrodden who will on Friday participate in legal and protected marches to several government departments involved in the e-tolling disgrace. On the 6 December 2012 we too must bring freeways around Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane to a standstill,” said ANCYL spokesperson Khusela Sangoni-Khawe.

“Our movement cannot tolerate the privatization of our highways – public assets. The ANC Youth League has long said that the e-tolls are an added financial burden on already destitute young people and workers alike,” says the ANCYL.

The ANCYL further stated that “they further constitute a shift of the burden of the delivery of infrastructure from the government, which collects billions in revenue for such projects, to the people who can barely afford the ever-rising cost of living. Until government provides a safe, reliable and integrated public transport system, government cannot even begin to speak of a user-choice principle for the tolled rolls.”

“The prospect of reduced tariffs will also not be welcomed. As reports are also coming to the fore that more than fifteen percent of the money that is collected funds the collection system alone, ensuring that certain individuals get rich on the back of the suffering of our people. We have no doubt therefore that this dreaded system will only exacerbate the social problems that the country is already faced with,” said the youth league.

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