A toll gate on the N1 North just before the Beyers Naude offramp in Gauteng. Photo: Dumisani Sibeko

Big business has again rejected the controversial Gauteng e-tolling system in its current form, asking the government for more transparency on the calculation of the project’s administrative costs.

And in addition, Business Unity SA (Busa) has urged the government to use lessons from the e-tolling saga to establish a basis for future investigations or an independent commission of inquiry.

At its meeting with the inter-ministerial committee on the Gauteng freeway project, chaired by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe yesterday, Busa proposed “shadow tolling” – through the fuel levy as an alternative to e-tolls.

“This is not dissimilar to the proposal of the general fuel levy, except that the money is not specifically ring-fenced for road and transport infrastructure,” said Busa.

“It also presents a short-term and interim solution.”

The “shadow tolling” proposal was one of the two options presented by Busa as an alternative funding option.

While it acknowledged that the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project and road improvements were worthy projects that had to be paid for, Busa called for more debate on applicability of the user-pay principle to individual projects.

Busa said the Gauteng e-tolling’s current model was problematic, with inefficient and expensive ways of collecting the tax, and its external effects were significant and would extend to other areas of the country.

It estimated that administrative costs on the current five-year R8.3 billion tender would reach R33.4bn over 20 years. In comparison with other toll systems in SA and international e-tolling systems, the administrative costs “would appear to be double or even triple the average”.

Motlanthe said following the decision of the Pretoria High Court to halt the project, the government had decided to engage in further consultation. “… it is necessary that we remind ourselves of the rationale for this project,” he said. “So the key question is how to reduce congestion and make road transit more efficient.”

Motlanthe said, having considered various options for decongestion and funding, the government had come to the conclusion that the user-pay model was most equitable.

He said part of the decongestion strategy was ensuring that there were alternative roads and reliable public transport for those who opted not to use the toll roads.

But Busa argued that alternative roads were poorly maintained and unable to support the existent demands on the system.

In addition, there were limited public transport options available to commuters and these were often unsafe, unreliable or prohibitively costly.

Brenda Madumise, vice president of Busa, called for the return to regulatory impact assessment – a global framework used to assess costs and benefits of proposed projects.

Next week the committee will meet the Road Freight and Car Hire Associations as well as the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance. - The Saturday Star