Johannesburg - Moves are afoot to possibly scrap the use of e-tolls to fund the cost of building highways in the province in the future.
And although the idea has not yet been completely canned, initial indications are that the Gauteng government has heeded the dissatisfaction of motorists.
Gauteng Transport MEC Ismail Vadi told The Sunday Independent this week that they were taking a “second look at the matter”.
“We have had long discussions in the ANC Gauteng and in government. Phase one is done and we are working towards settling the debt. There is still dissatisfaction with the funding model. We are taking a second look at the matter,” said Vadi.
Just over 35 percent of road users who drive through gantries are paying their bills.
According to Transport Minister Dipuo Peters, less than 10 percent of the R543 million invoice that was transferred to the SA National Roads Agency Limited’s violations processing centre was recovered.
Vadi said that while there was a need to expand and upgrade our road infrastructure and expand our road network “for future infrastructure funding, we are looking at what our other options are”.
“E-tolls still remain a valid option but there are also discussions about a provincial fuel levy or a provincial tax or shadow tolling.”
He said the government would not scrap the e-tolls as it still considers them an important infrastructure.
Vadi’s statements come as Sanral’s publicised figures of having sold 1.2 million tags are undergoing independent auditing.
“There will be no review of phase one of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project. Those are fantastic highways which have done wonders in easing traffic congestion but for phase two we will look at our options.”
Vadi is the only MEC who was retained in the same portfolio.
It means that things such as the Integrated Transport Master Plan 25 (ITMP25) – one of the brainchildren of his last term as transport MEC – are still on the table.
The ITMP25 is an ambitious 25-year transport plan which proposes a redesign in the public transport system.
In this plan rail will become the most important form of public transport in the long term, followed by the BRT system, then secondary buses and taxis within the municipalities.
“It was formally approved as the policy document of the Department of Transport and now the plan is to break down the 25-year plan into five-year workable units to look at what we focus on in this administration,” said Vadi.
His immediate game changer, as he calls it, is to get public transport on a better footing.
In Joburg the first two phases of the Rea Vaya have already been rolled out. Tshwane is in the construction phase of its A Re Yeng bus system while Ekurhuleni is still lagging behind and has just launched its project.
The first real roll-out in Ekurhuleni will only be evident in 18 to 24 months, said Vadi.
“It is a vast BRT network and it will give us a great footprint in public transport.”
He said the department had learnt many lessons from the first bus rapid transport system in Joburg, which experienced several delays.
One of the most important was that effort must be made to get a buy-in from the taxi and bus industries as there is a better chance to avoid conflict.
“The second phase launched with no problems and the indications are that up to 30 000 people are using the system, said Vadi.
Negotiations are under way on the next phase, 1C – Joburg Sandton, Alex – a route that has been plagued by taxi-related violence for many years.
Vadi is in no way oblivious to the violence that has gripped the industry but he believes there should be significant change in the way the taxi industry operates.
“They provide a vital service – 55 percent of commuters use the taxi industry. It may have been higher in the past but there is a declining ridership. They need to consider their business model.
“They need to professionalise and operate on scheduled times and shorter distances. We see a growing but more structured role for them,” he said.
Vadi’s aim is to start engagement with the industry in the next two years. The only challenge, he says, is that there are 180 taxi associations, showing how fragmented the industry is.
“I can’t negotiate with 180 taxi associations.”
In line with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (Prasa) rolling stock fleet renewal programme, Gauteng is also placing a strong emphasis on revitalising the Metrorail service – a system that the bulk of the working people in the province use.
Although Vadi was hoping to have the rolling stock purchased at the beginning of next year, Prasa has recently indicated that the rolling stock will only be purchased at the end of next year.
“It has not happened fast enough. I am a bit concerned about that and will be meeting with Prasa to get a sense of urgency. There are a lot of challenges.”
The Metrorail network is outdated and suffers from many problems said Vadi, including cable theft.
There was also the future expansion of the Gautrain by a east-west line.
“The department is currently busy with a pre-feasibility study. Once that is approved, the funding will need to be secured. We are hoping to get this in this administration,” said Vadi.
Like the first Gautrain project, it will take 10 years to complete.
But Vadi pointed out that it was not a given that the train would be a Gautrain.
“The feasibility study may establish that a medium-speed train like the Gautrain is not needed and what is needed is a light-speed train. But the feasibility study will reveal that. The outcome is expected in the next 12 months.”
The good news for Gautrain users is that service hours are being extended – from 5am to 9pm and although fares during peak hours are on the increase, passengers using the train during off peak hours will see their fares reduced by 30 percent.
Vadi also hopes schools will start using the Gautrain on excursions. By far his most ambitious programme is Airport City, which he is planning around the OR Tambo Airport.
A draft master plan is already in the making at the Ekurhuleni municipality, which will see a new city in a 25km radius around the airport.
The key nodal points for the city would be Tembisa, Rhodesfield,and Kempton Park going on to Alberton and nearly reaching Joburg.
“If I told you 40 years ago, Midrand would be a new city, you would have laughed at me. But look at the pace of development between Midrand, Centurion, Pretoria and Johannesburg now.
“There is a lot of business and residential development. It’s not inconceivable if you put in the infrastructure, the development will follow that path.”
According to Vadi, if the last century was about highways, the next one is about airport cities.
The way he sees it is that the current plans will lay the foundation for the province’s 25-year project.