The cabinet has approved legislation that smoothes the way for the implementation of the controversial e-tolling system on what the government calls the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).
According to a cabinet statement released yesterday, after the Wednesday meeting, the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill of 2012 has been approved by the cabinet and it will now be tabled for submission to Parliament by Transport Minister Ben Martins.
Transport ministry spokesman Tiyani Rikhotso declined to comment, saying the tolling matter had been referred to a committee chaired by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. “We are not in a position to comment on any matter relating to e-tolling.”
He referred queries to Jimmy Manyi, the cabinet spokesman, who was not available for comment.
But Manyi said in a cabinet statement that the bill had been “necessitated by the development of the GFIP, as well as future plans for the development of road infrastructure”.
Wayne Duvenage, the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance leader, said he had not seen the legislation but it did appear to be “sending a clear message that (the government) would like e-tolling to happen”.
He noted that the inter-ministerial committee headed by Motlanthe had held talks with various stakeholders – including the opposition to the tolling system – “but all this talking appears to be in vain”.
It did not appear from the legislation that the government was seeking “an amicable” solution. “It does seem that they are keen to continue with e-tolling,” he added.
Implementation of e-tolling, however, is subject to a court review which was set yesterday for November 26 in the North Gauteng High Court.
The opposition, an alliance of business and public participants, had stopped the implementation of e-tolling on the highways around Johannesburg by means of an urgent interdict in April.
DA transport spokesman Ian Ollis, whose constituency is in Midrand, said MPs did not have a copy of the legislation yet, but it appeared that the government was seeking to legalise the electronic toll collection system, and it was creating “empowering legislation to enable them to collect money and go after people who don’t pay”.
He understood that the thinking in the Transport Department was to decriminalise non-payment of tolling and turn non-payment of the toll fees “into a civil matter”. This would make it easier to collect the money rather than becoming bogged down in court cases.
Manyi said that apart from the physical infrastructure, the GFIP would result in the operation of a road network involving the utilisation of intelligent transport systems.
“An important component of the network is the electronic toll collection system. This is essential to enable the implementation of the system,” Manyi added.
Ollis said he believed the legislation was also trying to decriminalise traffic fines ”because once again it is easier for the authorities to collect the money if they become civil matters”. The traffic authorities had been asking for this system for some time, he said.
Meanwhile, Duvenage said the alliance’s legal teams had met the deputy judge president of the North Gauteng High Court and an e-toll review would be heard on November 26.
He said SA National Roads Agency Limited’s (Sanral’s) plan to subject the citizens of South Africa “to an elaborate and expensive e-tolling process to pay for the GFIP” had been met with fierce opposition from the public earlier this year.
The tolling was to have started on April 30.
“The merits of (the opposition alliance’s) case is structured around the unreasonableness of the high costs involved, along with the irrationality for the plan, combined with a number of legislative and procedural transgressions by Sanral and the government departments of transport and environmental affairs,” he said.
The Treasury is appealing the April interdict in the constitutional court on August 15.