The HumanIPO Debate: Should South African e-tolling go ahead?

The South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) may have just won the court case threatening to scupper the Government’s e-tolling project, but with the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) refusing to give up the fight, the argument looks set to run into the new year.

HumanIPO reporters Richard Cutcher and Tom Jackson debate the issues.

The case for: Richard Cutcher

Motorists in Gauteng are already enjoying significantly improved roads thanks to huge investment by the government SANRAL. The idea to fund the upgrades through e-tolling did not appear overnight, but has been planned and publicised since 2008. Why should the people enjoying the new roads not pay for them?

Outa’s argument that Sanral has wasted too much time and money in delivering the project with  constant setbacks does not stand up because the latest delay is the direct result of the legal action taken by themselves. Parliamentary debates, exactly where the discussion should be held, have also had to be postponed while Outa maximises the coverage from a high-profile, expensive and otherwise worthless court case.

The introduction of the tariffs may also make drivers think twice about whether they want to make their journey in a fuel-guzzling car. Driving is increasingly expensive and this could be the shot in the arm people need to begin supporting other modes of transport. No one can argue a reduction in traffic is bad thing.

The case against: Tom Jackson

Gauteng’s e-tolls will be incredibly bad for business. The tolls will push up the cost of everything transported, placing jobs in jeopardy as business costs rise. Some companies may choose to move out of Gauteng altogether. It is also a potential blow to the tourism sector, especially car rental firms, with the average renter forced to pay an extra R32 per day to hire a car.

There will also be indirect costs, as many motorists will choose to use municipal roads instead, increasing congestion and driving up the maintenance costs. Public transport has, of course, been ignored and left to flounder. All this trouble and costs is absurd given the amount of money being spent on e-tolling: R14 million, which is almost as much as the highways themselves.

Motorists are also being asked to pay VAT on the tolls, raising the preposterous situation of being taxed on a tax. Fraud and billing problems are surely inevitable. It seems as though the government has sleepwalked into an expensive and unpopular disaster, which could have been avoided if they had held a proper public consultation on the subject. Instead, they are intent to ram the initiative through, with the lack of transparency that we have come to expect. Much of the information on the costs of the e-toll remains a secret.

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