Warnings of food and goods price hikes, protests, impending fuel hikes, party electioneering and an apparently smooth switch-on marked the start of e-tolls yesterday.
E-tolling went live with very few glitches – a result, many motorists said, of schools being closed and less traffic on the roads.
A handful of anti-toll protesters gathered at the intersection of Witkoppen and Rivonia roads. Motorists hooted in support.
Protester Annette Deppe, a DA ward councillor, said the day that President Jacob Zuma pays back the cost of upgrading his Nkandla home would be the day she paid e-tolls.
The system went live ahead of today’s fuel price hike, adding to motorists’ woes.
Battling consumers will have to tighten their belts this festive season, with the first in a series of fuel price hikes kicking in today.
On Friday, the Department of Energy announced a 17c increase in the price of petrol and a 10c hike for diesel. The price of unleaded petrol inland will increase to R13.19 a litre and to R12.82 at the coast.
THE REAL EFFECT
The real effect of e-tolls may be felt only in a few months when retailers begin to increase the prices of their goods.
The e-toll tariffs for Class B heavy goods vehicles (3000kg to 9000kg) is capped at R1750 a month, while Class C (heavy articulated trucks) is capped at R3500.
Economist Mike Schussler said e-tolls would lead to an inflationary increase of 0.2 percent next year.
“On its own it doesn’t sound too bad, but when you add it to the increased costs of everything else (electricity, water, school fees and petrol), consumers will have to give up something,” he said.
The chief executive of Karan Beef, Arnold Pretorius, said the tolls would cost his company a lot. “It’s difficult for us to tell how much at this stage, but we will be trying to avoid those roads.”
He said they would plan deliveries to be as economical as possible, but ultimately they would have to pass on the extra cost to the customer because the profit margin for beef was very small.
RAM Hand-to-Hand Couriers director Graeme Lazarus said e-tolls would lead to an increased cost to their customers.
“We have no alternative but to follow the rules of the country,” he said. “Every truck has an e-tag fitted.”
Tamra Veley, spokeswoman for Pick n Pay, said the retailer was “very concerned about the impact of e-tolls on consumers”, and they would do everything they could to absorb costs.
SA National Consumer Union vice-chairman Cliff Johnston said: “Any administered price increase, such as petrol and tolls, creates expectations and can be a trigger for retailers to raise prices, often by much more than the actual cost impact.
The National Consumer Forum’s Thami Bolani said the e-tolls might affect how people vote in next year’s elections.
He also expects goods to cost more. “That is why businesses have been quick to buy e-tags. They did not want to get involved in this battle because they don’t want their businesses to be affected by this. They will simply pass the costs on to consumers,” said Bolani.
DA national spokesman Mmusi Maimane – also the party’s candidate for Gauteng premier – launched an electioneering anti-e-tolls banner flown behind a plane: “Fight etolls. Vote DA”.
The ANC spokesman, Jackson Mthembu, said: “The ANC calls upon motorists in their numbers to register for their e-toll accounts so as to take advantage of the benefits of being registered. The ANC further calls for restraint from all members of society against mobilising for lawlessness.”
Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance chairman Wayne Duvenage said that in other countries where tolling had failed, they began with compliance levels of about 90 percent, but South Africa’s levels were not even close to that.
The SA National Roads Agency Limited remains confident that the system will work. -The Star