The debate over e-tolling intensified last week with a company claiming the “spin doctors” had cleverly diverted attention away from the need for e-tolling itself to the price per kilometre.

The SA Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association (Savrala), the representative body for the car rental and vehicle leasing industry, expressed “grave concern” about the open road tolling (ORT) administration costs and questioned how the tender evaluation process for ORT could have reconciled and justified such a wide tender price range when determining the successful bidder.

“We are talking about a difference of billions of rand,” said Linda Kotze, the president of Savrala.

In its detailed submissions to the ORT steering committee, Savrala highlighted the vast variance in tender pricing between successful tenderer ETC’s R6.22bn and Areya’s R15.29bn tender. Kotze said at 66c a kilometre, before the toll rates were suspended by the transport minister, Savrala estimated an average car rental customer may have to pay an extra R32 a day in tolls, representing 10 percent of the average car rental daily rate.

Leasing customers could also expect an increase of up to 33 percent in their cents a kilometre costs, she said. Kotze said Savrala maintained its position that the billions earmarked to be spent on the administration costs of ORT could be avoided altogether by using the national fuel levy, which was currently collected at the fuel pump without any need for further intervention.

Wayne Duvenage, the chief executive of Avis Rent a Car, echoed this view, stressing the simplest and least expensive way to fund commuter road infrastructure upgrading was to do this via the fuel levy and this was how the country’s roads and upgrades were funded in the past.

Avis is among the growing number of South African businesses and organisations that are demanding transparency behind the motives and rationale for the e-tolling system proposed for the Gauteng freeway upgrades.

Duvenage said Avis did not dispute the need for the long overdue Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) but needed answers about the decision to adopt the proposed e-tolling funding mechanism.

He said the public knew virtually nothing about the elaborate, complex and extremely unwieldy electronic tolling process until mid-2010, when they saw the gantries being erected.

“No meaningful consultation or engagement had taken place with either business or the public and the question is: Why not?”

Duvenage believed the public, including those in cities elsewhere in the country, would rather fund this extra tax through the far simpler method of adding a few extra cents to the cost of a litre of petrol.

This would mean there was no need to erect gantries, no need for car tags, no need to top up the tag accounts, no need to police the system and chase thousands of debtors daily, he said.

Based on the minimum of 8 million cars on South Africa’s roads, the average distances travelled and fuel consumption rates, Duvenage estimated it should not cost more than 15c a litre, an increase of less than 0.02 percent in the fuel price, to fund the stated R20 billion in costs of the GFIP.

However, the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) had come up with a figure of R1.60 a litre.

“Let us ask them (Sanral) to show us where they got this number from,” he asked.

Duvenage said questions had been asked about why citizens in Cape Town or Durban should pay this extra 15c a litre.

He said the four-lane highways around these and other large cities, which were not tolled in this manner, were built with tax money. - Roy Cokayne