Johannesburg. Over R1 billion. That’s the whopping amount Gauteng motorists have refused to pay to the South African National Roads Agency Ltd in what has been branded the biggest defiance campaign of its kind in local history.
This figure emerged yesterday in a parliamentary reply on e-tolling by Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters to the DA’s transport spokesman Manny de Freitas.
She said the unaudited amount owed by non-registered users for under 90 days amounted to R995 million as of May 31, while overdue payments of more than three months amounted to R157 million.
“Considering the system only came online in December, the level of overdue payments acts as yet another indicator that motorists on SA’s roads continue to reject the system,” De Freitas said, urging Parliament not to allow the contested system to continue.
Peters noted that the amounts were based on the “alternative (sic) user tariff”, not the gazetted e-tag tariff. This is lower than the alternate user tariff – the latter is 5.8 times higher.
In her response, Peters also said there were 1.13 million unaudited registered and active accounts on the network of the controversial system.
In March, it emerged that Sanral had racked up half a billion rand in e-toll debt because of unpaid fees since the system rolled out in December. Wayne Duvenage, chairman of the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance, told the Saturday Star the R1bn in overdue accounts made sense.
LESS THAN 40 PERCENT PAYING UP
“We anticipate that they still don’t have even 40 percent of road users paying and that billion in six months describes that…
“The chances of people paying after 90 days is slim. All they are doing really is collecting the money to pay for the collection process – nothing is going into the tarmac.”
Outa believes there are only about 700 000 e-tag users on the freeways, which are used by around 2.5 million motorists.
“The system is failing. When Sanral says they’re meeting their targets, all you have to say is their original target was 93 percent compliance, and if they are now achieving their targets, this is an adjusted target… I think the defiance campaign is bigger and better than we anticipated.”
Sanral’s spokesman Vusi Mona did not respond by the time of publication.
Howard Dembovsky, the chairman of the Justice Project SA, said he was not shocked by the R1bn figure.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to have figured that one out in the beginning. They are telling everybody what a wonderful system this is and how incredibly easy and efficient it is, but they cannot collect their money.
“I think we could actually take that figure and publish it right now as a referendum of what Gauteng people say about e-tolls. If I could, I would like to ask the minister a rhetorical question in Parliament: ‘How much is unpaid on the fuel levy?’ Nothing. One system you can dodge, the other you can’t. But let’s go with the system we can dodge.
“If you’re issuing a lot of invoices and not collecting your money, that’s a problem. It might be impolite… but I’m sticking my tongue out and saying we told you so.”
The minister’s reply revealed Sanral’s “lies” over the number of registered e-tag users, which Sanral had claimed in adverts was 1.2 million, Dembovsky added.
“The figure of 1.13 million is nowhere near the 1.2 million they were claiming they had. The Advertising Standards Authority found Sanral to be falsely advertising. Now it’s been confirmed, despite their protestations that they were lying.”
Duvenhage predicted a review panel appointed by Gauteng Premier David Makhura to probe the impact of e-tolling would hurt Sanral even more. “The mindset of the average road user now is, ‘I haven’t got a tag, there’s a review and the possibility this thing will be called off, therefore I’m not going to get an e-tag’.”
A lot of people were now “de-tagging”, he claimed. “It’s a mess.”
Earlier this month, Peters instructed Sanral not to prosecute non-payers, and announced several relief measures including extending the payment period from seven to 51 days and discounts for motorists who buy e-tags, a 48 percent e-tag holder discount and a time-of-day discount.
Cosatu branded this as a desperate attempt to respond to the imminent collapse of the collection system and this week urged cash-strapped motorists to burn their e-toll bills.