Opinion: Time for big e-toll showdown

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IOL mot apr19 gantry INLSA Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

With less than two weeks to go before the Gauteng e-tolls are scheduled to start operating on April 30, it’s clear the war has moved into an intense and decisive stage.

And let’s not mince words: it is a war being waged between the motorist and the SA National Roads Agency – and by extension the government.

PUNITIVE MEASURES

When it was announced a few days ago that motorists who don’t register e-toll accounts would pay punitive new rates up to six times higher than e-tag users, it set up The Big Showdown. At this point the situation’s like two gunslingers facing off outside a saloon, hands trembling at their holsters, waiting for the other to blink first.

If Sanral was hoping that it would bully motorists into buying e-tags to avoid the proposed R1.75 per kilometre rate, it failed, and has again underestimated the widespread public anger at how the e-toll situation’s been handled. There’s certainly been no big rush to buy e-tags and motorists are standing their ground, emboldened by the challenges to the system being mounted by various political parties, trade unions and consumer bodies.

These include the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) which lodged an application for a court interdict to prevent the tolling, with the application to be heard this coming Tuesday.

Lobby group AfriForum and at least one other organisation are also preparing legal action, whilst trade union Cosatu has announced further mass action following the march held last month.

If Sanral (which has been nicknamed Scamral) thought Gauteng motorists would meekly lie down and let themselves be overcharged for using roads, it has been sent a strong message: this gunslinger’s still standing.

Upgrading Gauteng’s freeways is justified and yes, it has to be paid for, but government has to date not satisfactorily explained why this expensive means was chosen (with millions controversially being paid to the Austrian company that built the toll gates), instead of funding it through a dedicated fuel levy in Gauteng which would still conform to the “user-pays” principle that government so vehemently touts.

SANRAL CLEARLY DESPERATE

By trying to hike the rates non-tagged users must pay, Sanral is clearly desperate and realises the mammoth task it faces in trying to bill four million Gauteng freeway users just from taking photographs of their number plates as they pass through the toll gates. Even if Sanral somehow gets the manpower and systems in place to crunch such big numbers, some freeway users will simply be impossible to track down because their vehicles have false registration plates.

My crystal ball says e-tolling will still go ahead as I believe it’s too late to stop the process. But my money’s on it not happening on April 30 as planned, and I think non e-tag holders will end up paying a lot less than currently envisaged. -Star Motoring



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