e toll van

Roy Cokayne

Trade union federation Cosatu and the government are on a collision course over e-tolling.

Patrick Craven, Cosatu’s national spokesman, yesterday urged the Transport Department to take note of the mass opposition to tolls and communicate a recommendation to the cabinet to immediately halt the Gauteng open tolls “for good”.

Craven said Cosatu continued to urge motorists not to register with the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) or buy e-tags, and warned “our members remain mobilised for a campaign of mass action if e-tolling is not scrapped”.

His comments follow Cosatu sending its submission on e-tolling to transport director-general Trevor Mphahlele yesterday.

Craven stressed that Cosatu had consistently been opposed in principle to the introduction of open road tolling in Gauteng, and the likely introduction of the same system in other parts of the country.

He expressed the hope the public comment process would not be a formality but the start of a genuine broad public debate, not just on the level of tariffs but the broader implications of e-tolling, which remained deeply unpopular and would have a huge impact on the people of the province and country.

“The government must take the submissions from the public very seriously and keep an open mind.”

Craven said Cosatu was opposed to e-tolls because they would add to the burdens of the poor, perpetuate exclusion, represented a form of privatisation, the cost of collection was massive, public transport was totally inadequate and the supplementation of e-tolling income with income from fines was “an abuse of the rule of law”.

He said the tolls would put a direct burden on the poor of Gauteng, who would be forced to pay to travel on highways that were previously free of charge. “It will not just affect the people of Gauteng, as the government has now conceded that e-tolling will replace the existing toll-gates throughout the country. It is not true that only the middle class use our highways,” he said.

Craven said “user-pay” meant you could not use the best roads if you could not afford to pay, and toll roads would become a move back to the kind of social and economic inequality in access to basic services the country was starting to move away from in health and education through the National Health Insurance and no-fee schools.

“We have consistently argued that taxation must be the main source of funding for road infrastructure. If additional revenues have to be raised by government, then this must be done through a progressive tax system where the more you earn the more you pay.”

Craven said a third of the country’s population used private cars to get to and from work, not from choice but because the public transport system was expensive, unsafe and unreliable.

He said the introduction of a tolling system that brought in the private sector to operate tolled roads was a form of privatisation and the commodification of what ought to be an essential public service.

“All the evidence indicates the revenues from the tolls are going to be enormous and the loans will be paid off quickly, leaving the private operator to milk the public.”

He said Sanral conceded that the cost of collection would consume 17 percent of the money collected in tolls, which meant tolls were a grossly inefficient way of raising the money for road improvements.

“Even if the government makes further cuts in the level of tolls, the collection costs will become an increasingly larger percentage of the amount collected,” he said.