Tell us about your favourites and win
To find out the real difference, don’t trust Sanral – do the sums for yourself, says Brendan Seery.
Johannesburg - Now that the president has given the go-ahead for e-tolling, the SA National Roads Agency Ltd (Sanral) and its cronies are going all out to convince the public that electronic collection is so much better than applying a fuel levy to pay for Gauteng’s improved highways.
Sanral is running a campaign to trash the fuel levy idea, much of which is misleading or inaccurate. At the same time, it accuses critics of spreading misinformation and getting their facts wrong.
So, let’s play the numbers game – something few people have done.
Let’s compare the real-world impact of a fuel levy versus e-tolling on the pockets of ordinary motorists.
The latest Sanral ads cite research done last year by economist Mike Schussler on behalf of the Road Freight Association. Schussler calculated that the industry would be better off paying the toll fees than a fuel levy.
He said a levy would cost an additional R700 million, whereas toll fees would cost R400m.
Schussler’s research apparently related to a national fuel levy. Given that Gauteng accounts for 60 percent of the country’s economic activity and that, reasonably, freight operators would pay 60 percent of that national levy in Gauteng, a Gauteng-only levy would cost them R420m. This brings the real difference between a fuel levy and e-tolling a lot closer than Sanral would have you believe.
The government’s budget revenue for 2013/14 is R985.7 billion (according to economist Kevin Lings, who analysed the annual budget earlier this year for Stanlib). Of that amount, the fuel levy accounts for 5.2 percent or about R51.2bn.
The fuel levy is currently R2.12 a litre for petrol and R1.97 for diesel. Raising that by 10 percent, roughly 20c per litre (much higher than the level Schussler calculated would be necessary), will bring in an additional R5bn a year, if applied nationally.
If applied only in Gauteng (in a “user pays” scenario), the fuel levy would still generate an extra R3.1bn (60 percent of the national figure). Assuming a generous 5 percent loss to administration expenses, a Gauteng-only extra fuel levy of 20c a litre will still generate R2.95bn in revenue, more than enough to pay off the exorbitant R20bn cost of the roads in 10 years.
Remember that this money could be applied directly to the debt owed, rather than being sent abroad to pay for the cost of collection of the tolls.
Now, how will e-tolling affect you and how might you be affected through a fuel levy of 20c a litre? At first glance, Sanral’s e-toll charges (with an e-tag) look reasonable: about 15c a kilometre after discounts.
That compares fabulously well with the outrageous charges on the N3. For example, you will pay R50 to travel between Villiers and Warden – a saving of 9km over the alternative route. But when you look at the e-tolls in direct comparison to the fuel levy, Sanral’s Gauteng charges don’t seem too reasonable at all.
Using the example of someone who commutes from Joburg to Pretoria to work (N1 14th Avenue to N1 Lynnwood in Pretoria), e-tolling will cost R450 a month, because that is the cap for light vehicles.
(You can calculate your own costs by using Sanral’s website – www.sanral.co.za/e-toll/.)
Travelling that route, 130km a day return, five days a week, 20 days a month, a typical light car will use 208 litres of fuel at an average 8 litres/100km. Paying 20c a litre extra as a fuel levy, the motorist will therefore pay an extra R41.60 on the fuel used to make those journeys.
That’s a difference of over R400. The e-toll will cost you 10 times what a fuel levy would. You would have to adjust the fuel levy upwards to more than double the current levy to make e-tolling cheaper.
That’s something Sanral probably doesn’t want you to think about.
* Brendan Seery is executive editor at the Saturday Star.