Durban - The South African National Roads Agency Ltd has defended asking armed traffic officers to stop motorists for a survey in Durban last week, saying the results would be used to determine future upgrades on the N2.
However, Sanral did not rule out additional tolls being used to fund such upgrades.
This despite the KwaZulu-Natal government indicating that it was against any more tolls in the province.
Hundreds of motorists were flagged down by Road Traffic Inspectorate officers last week at the on-ramp of the N2, just off the M7, to be surveyed.
Surprised motorists were asked where they were travelling to and from, the purpose of the trip, how frequently they used the road, and even what their monthly household income was, raising the spectre of more toll roads in the province.
The research continued elsewhere along the N2 on Wednesday with staff of Mikras Traffic Monitoring KZN seen observing traffic near Isipingo.
However, unlike before, RTI officers were not seen and it did not appear that drivers were being interviewed.
The use of RTI officers, and the manner in which the earlier survey was conducted, with drivers not being told why they were being surveyed and for what purpose, was criticised by policing and research experts.
Policing expert Dr Jean Steyn a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said that RTI stopping people for a survey was a misuse of its legal powers. He said there needed to be reasonable grounds or suspicion of a crime, or authorisation to conduct a roadblock.
Retired professor and ethics expert Graham Lindegger said surveys should follow strict guidelines, including explaining what it was for, and a free choice to not do the survey.
RTI officers stopping motorists during their journey might be interpreted as coercion, making it hard to refuse, he said.
But Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona said the agency did not agree with the criticism.
Asked why drivers were being quizzed on their salaries, Mona said the research was being done “to aid planners in all spheres of government to plan effectively for the future.
“Establishing the social and economic profile of users is an essential part of such a survey”.
The research would be used for the improvement of the national road network over the next decade, he said.
Asked if Sanral was considering further tolls on the N2, Mona said the “funding source” had not been considered yet and explained that the road agency was still in the planning stages of the N2 upgrades.
“All funding sources are always considered for all transportation projects in accordance with government policy and budgeting.
“The final decision rests with National Treasury,” he said. “The actual funding model for each project is established with planning and implementation institutions such as the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission, Treasury and other relevant government departments at project approval and implementation stage.”
Mona confirmed that existing toll plazas in KwaZulu-Natal were being equipped to accept electronic tags.
“Sanral will make known the exact details as to which toll plazas and when this payment method will be available, at an opportune time,” he said.
The e-tolls would not replace the current manual toll plaza system, but would be used as a “tool that toll plazas will use in addition to current methods of payment”.
“Registering an e-tag allows an account holder to use the same e-tag and e-toll account to pay toll fees at any toll plaza equipped to accept e-tags,” said Mona.
More surveys would be done if there was a need, he said, adding that Sanral was sorry that the people conducting the interviews had not disclosed to motorists why they were being surveyed.
Mona said the survey staff needed the assistance of the police to conduct the surveys, which was why RTI had been involved.
Wayne Duvenage, chairman of the Opposition to Urban Tolling Association, said locals were in for a shock as there was a real possibility of e-tolling being extended to KwaZulu-Natal.
“Durban must be very careful, Sanral has learnt from Gauteng; they are going to start small at places such as Mariannhill toll plaza, and say to people. ‘It’s convenient’.
“Once they have the people with e-tags, they are going to roll out in the urban areas.”
Duvenage said locals had not contested Sanral’s decision to erect a toll plaza at the King Shaka International Airport after the Airports Company SA paid for the R260 million road and bridge.
“Sanral came in at no cost and then put up a gantry, with no public engagement, but the people in Durban did not resist it, they all accepted it and kept quiet,” he said.