Showdown looms over e-tolling

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IOL mot jun27 jesse etoll pic a

AP

Public protests such as this have given way to passive resistance against e-tolls, where motorists simply don't pay. Now Sanral looks ready to fight back with its presence at recent police roadblocks. Picture: Themba Hadebe

Johannesburg - There is no denying that Sanral and its e-tolling project have gone down in Gauteng like a bad bobotie, and that the very sight of the organisation’s orange-liveried vans set up on various highway on-ramps has sparked public outrage. But what is the full story behind these sporadic roadblocks? What are they doing there, and are they legal?

The short answer is yes. Sanral and its affiliate Gauteng Traffic Police are fully entitled to set up shop anywhere alongside its network of tolled highways to question drivers suspected of operating unroadworthy or improperly licensed vehicles. Sanral’s official reason for being at these roadblocks is to provide the Gauteng Traffic Police with vehicles that have Automatic Number Plate Recognition equipment installed in them.

It is, however, illegal for Sanral and police officers to quiz road users’ reluctance to buy e-tags.

Despite numerous accounts of these bullying tactics in recent media, Sanral has vociferously denied claims that this is happening. Interestingly, Howard Dembovsky of Justice Project South Africa – one of e-tolling’s most outspoken critics – has said that since the start of these roadblocks, not one person has been prepared to stand behind their claims and provide a sworn statement that they were asked questions relating to e-tolls.

The facts are simple. It is not illegal to drive on e-tolled highways without an e-tag. While registered e-tag users will help streamline Sanral’s collection process, its 49 gantries set up along the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project network are capable of snapping photos of your number plate, and so long as it’s properly registered on the eNaTIS system, send out respective toll invoices via the post.

It is, however, illegal to ignore toll payment. While the legal implications of prosecution remain a point of conjecture, failing to pay any toll, including e-tolls is a criminal offence.

IOL mot jun27 jesse etoll pic b

The presence of Sanral's orange-liveried vans at roadblocks has sparked public confusion.

Reuters

If Sanral wishes to prosecute, it can.

But, understand that it will first need to issue a summons and correctly serve it in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act. Sanral can issue a summons at a roadblock, but it cannot force outstanding payments at the roadblock. Failure to appear in court on a summons will result your being held in contempt of court and a warrant will be issued for your arrest, and if caught in a Sanral roadblock under these circumstances you can be arrested on the spot.

But, until now, not a single summons has been issued, according to both Sanral and the Justice Project South Africa . This could be because Sanral is taking a soft approach to the initial roll out of the e-toll system (it has offered various grace periods and discount programmes), or because it expects stiff opposition from the general public when it does.

Either way, Dembovsky and the Justice Project South Africa predict a showdown in the near future as Sanral will either need to show its teeth, or risk ongoing reputation as a pushover.

Which brings us back to those controversial Sanral vans parked at highway on-ramps.

Even if they’re currently going about legitimate business pertaining to roadworthiness and licence discs, it’s also a sure-fire intimidatory tactic that could be signalling an imminent bite that follows years of bark. - The Star

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