The long-awaited announcement by government on the future of e-tolls cannot be delayed any further and must provide a clear way forward for Gauteng road users. The Automobile Association (AA) believes any decision which does not end the tolling system in the province is doomed to fail.
Spokesman for the AA, Layton Beard, says because of the uncertainty caused by the long delays in providing a resolution, government has effectively missed a window of opportunity to bring tolls back to the table and can now only look for alternatives to remedy the situation.
“In mid-2019 we released our Road Funding Report (https://aa.co.za/road-funding-report/) which clearly showed that Gauteng motorists have no intention of ever paying for tolls. Nothing has changed, except that more allegations of corruption have been levelled against the system which we believe only hardens people’s views not to pay,” says Beard.
In addition, he says the refusal to pay – the rejection of the system – was also about the manner in which the issue of e-tolls was handled by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL), the entity responsible for e-tolls. It missed several opportunities to soften its approach to gain more popularity for the system but instead it has persisted with a heavy-handed approach which is further widening the gap between itself and the public.
“These approaches are counter-productive. Not only are threats hollow because they operate in an environment where government has not yet given clear directives but they are also alienating the people who are being asked to pay,” says Beard, adding that given SANRAL’s history of dismissing the public’s opinion, on top of this current indifferent approach, the current trend is that fewer people are paying and more are falling out of the system, a trend expected to continue in the weeks ahead.
The findings from the 2019 Road Funding Report indicate that debt is not a factor in people’s decisions and that most people took a principled decision years ago not to pay. It also found that no amount of cajoling or enticement will change their minds.
“When we met the Minister of Transport in August 2019, we explained our findings in detail to him and his team. We trust those consultations – and others with other organisations with the same messages – do not go unheard and that Gauteng motorists are finally given some respite from what has become an untenable situation. Any decision in another direction will, we are sure, not bring the results either SANRAL or the government want,” Beard stresses.
Among the findings of the AA’s report is that the only fair and sensible approach going forward is the immediate suspension of e-tolling in Gauteng and the reimbursement to those who have paid e-tolls since 2013. The Association contends that the ring-fencing of an e-toll levy linked to the General Fuel Levy (GFL) on every litre of fuel is still the only equitable and viable means of funding.
“Government must be bold in taking a firm decision to terminate e-tolls with immediate effect, cancel any outstanding debt, reimburse those who have paid, fund e-tolls through a (nominal) tax on fuel, and do all of that before the end of March. Gauteng motorists have been patient, but it’s unfair to keep them guessing for much longer,” concludes Beard.