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Motorists have been urged to apply for a refund on their e-tags, a move that could see Sanral having to pay back R25 million to customers.
The South African National Consumer Union made the call on Thursday, soon after the roads agency took another financial hit when the rating agency Moody’s downgraded its credit rating last Friday for the second month in a row.
The agency is also R20 billion in debt over the cost of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project. The debt was to be partly serviced by the e-toll system, and Moody’s estimated that Sanral’s debt could grow by R100 million for every month the e-tolling is delayed.
Sancu’s Cliff Johnston said: “As far as we can see, the issue of whether the e-toll project will get started or not will not be resolved in the near future.”
The most recent official figures showed about half a million motorists had registered for the system.
If 500 000 customers requested a refund at R50 an e-tag, Sanral would have to pay out R25 million.
Johnston urged e-tag users to apply for a refund as soon as possible as Sanral’s terms and conditions stated that it could take up to two months before the customer was refunded.
Johnston said Sanral was meant to have invested the e-tag money separately and have it available for refunds as it was considered a deposit in terms of the Consumer Protection Act.
Sanral was “sitting” on customers’ money at the moment, he said.
The roads agency had a legal obligation to meet all refund requests.
He said Sancu’s advice to those who already had e-toll accounts was to return their e-tags and close their accounts now so as not to delay the refunds any further.
Unused e-tags run the risk of being misplaced.
Sanral would charge the account holder R150 for every e-tag not returned when closing the account, he said.
At the time of going to print, Sanral had not responded to questions e-mailed to its press office.
However, an employee at the e-tag outlet in the Menlyn shopping centre said it was “easy” to return an e-tag. All motorists had to do was to hand in their e-tags at their nearest e-tag outlet along with their account number, he said.
“We will refund you within 60 days. We don’t do cash refunds. The money will be deposited into your account.”
Sanral has appealed to customers to keep their e-tags.
“We’d like to encourage you to keep your e-toll account open until the final decision has been reached in court,” the Sanral website said after the high court’s decision.
One customer agreed reluctantly.
“As much as I don’t want to pay for the tolls, it’s not worth returning it on a whim that this will go away,” said Brad Smith, a registered e-tag customer.
Sanral, whose chief executive, Nazir Alli, resigned earlier this week, did not respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance, which took the e-toll matter to court, is asking for donations to cover its legal fees.
The total cost of the case is now at R3.9 million, nearly four times what the alliance had estimated initially.
Wayne Duvenage, the alliance’s chairman, said: “It was a far bigger task than expected; it became a huge case.”
Eventually a legal team worked ‘day and night’ for weeks to meet deadlines. This increased costs. The alliance’s legal team needed to start receiving payment by July, he said.
South African Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association members had already donated R800 000, which means the alliance is short of R3.1 million. - Pretoria News