COMMENT: By Denis Droppa
To tag or not to tag, that is the question. Sanral and Outa are locked in a numbers war, and in the middle are Gauteng motorists wondering which way to turn: capitulate and buy an e-tag so they can use e-tolls at a discounted rate, or hold out – at the risk of expensive bills or possible prosecution – in the hope that the e-toll system will crash?
With the success of the system dependent on a critical mass of motorists buying into it, Outa and Sanral have spent the last three months firing figures at us to support their opposing points of view.
According to Sanral, ever-more motorists are “seeing the light” and registering for e-tags. It claimed on the weekend that between 30 000 and 45 000 people were registering on Sanral’s system each week and the total number of tagged motorists had risen to over 1.2 million.
Outa, for its part, rubbished these claims and cited it as just another desperate attempt by Sanral to try and save a hugely unpopular system that’s bound to fail.
Sanral’s number of 1.2 million e-tags taken up is hogwash, said Outa spokesman John Clarke, and was intended to create the false impression that society is clamouring to become tagged.
“If they are implying that these are fitted in cars making use of the Gauteng Freeways, this is misinformation,” said Clarke.
“We are tired of these tit-for-tat claims and have exposed Sanral’s deliberate misinformation about e-tag sales in the past. For all we know, Sanral’s numbers include tags sitting on shop shelves, storerooms and elsewhere, but they are of no use if not fitted to vehicles travelling on the Gauteng freeways,” he said, adding that Sanral should be asking why so few people are buying e-tags instead of disputing the evidence.
Sanral has been fighting rampant public opposition to e-tolling, which was implemented to pay for improvements to Gauteng’s freeways. While motorists don’t have any fundamental objection to paying for road upgrades as per Sanral’s oft-quoted “user pays” principle, what has them in a froth is that much of those funds go into running an unnecessarily expensive gantry collection system.
In some European countries, toll fees are collected by selling tokens to motorists that they affix to their car windscreens. Get caught driving on a tolled freeway without the token and you are fined: simple, and there’s no necessity for a multi-billion rand gantry infrastructure. Sanral has never explained why such a simpler and much cheaper system couldn’t be adopted locally.
Motorists who haven’t registered for e-tags believe that if they hold out long enough, the logistics of trying to track down and prosecute them is bound to make the e-toll system crash.
ON SHAKY GROUND
The well-publicised e-toll glitches – including the billing of motorists who haven’t visited the province, as well as Sanral’s website being hacked and customer data being stolen – certainly points to the systsem’s integrity being on shaky ground. Sanral for its part claims the system is running smoothly, with only minor teething problems.
“We believe that in spite of the billing challenges emanating from largely unregistered users and the customer service issues at some of our service outlets and call centre, the system is working and motorists are co-operating with us,” said Sanral spokesman Vuyi Mona.
Who to believe in this dastardly discourse of divergent statistics?
Outa has challenged Sanral to allow an independent journalist or auditor to inspect the computer screens in the e-toll operations centre, to see the exact percentage of e-tagged vehicles passing under the gantries. In the interests of transparency we asked Sanral if it would allow a Star Motoring journalist such access, and were refused.
We wonder why that is, if Sanral has nothing to hide.