Why open-road tolling won't work

By Time of article published Jul 22, 2010

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The South African National Road Agency's planned, state-of-the-art, free-flow tolling system is being hailed as a miracle cure for traffic congestion and the horrific condition of Gauteng's roads but is it really all it's cracked up to be?

The open road tolling system is, in theory, a good one. Bucketloads of revenue will stream in and be used to improve road infrastructure and service debt already incurred by upgrading freeways.

But I fear its execution hasn't been properly thought through.

Law-abiding Gauteng residents who drive legally registered, roadworthy cars fitted with expensive new radio frequency-tagged number plates will contribute millions of rands a day just by passing under 42 new tolling gantries spanning 185km of Gauteng's freeway network.

Cost is still undetermined but Sanral says it will probably be 50c/km - and that's only phase one!

But, and this a very big but, what about the others? The people with fraudulently licensed cars, those in stolen cars, borrowed cars, rental cars, fleet cars, cars without number plates or with false number plates, obstructed number plates, number plates from other provinces or neighbouring countries?

Sanral has said that its gantry cameras will work with Gauteng's proposed and now twice-delayed, "intelligent", radio frequency chip-embedded number-plates to identify vehicles and those responsible for them but first, they don't exist yet and second, what about the majority of southern African vehicles that will continue to operate without them?

It also claims the cameras are capable of capturing data from any number plate regardless of its origins but in this country number plates are easily manipulated and often bear no relationship to the car that's wearing them.

Correctly linking a vehicle to its owner or, more importantly, the person driving it under a toll gantry, based only on a set of digits on a plastic plate, will be almost impossible.

But even if Sanral can identify who's responsible for every toll - about two million a day - how does it propose to collect the money? Drivers are intended to set up pre-paid accounts or links to credit cards but I suspect that only a very small percentage will do so.

Sanral says it will add up transactions and post invoices monthly to those without pre-arranged accounts - using the same postal service that's so inefficient Metro police are now offering half-price specials to speeders who pay their fines promptly.

You read right, you can now get discounts on speeding fines in South Africa.

DEMERIT POINTS

So here's the scenario: Sanral knows who's driving each car, knows who is responsible for paying the tolls and knows where to find all these people. But what about habitual non-payers? According to Sanral, the whole shebang will be linked to Aarto and drivers who don't pay up will have demerit points taken off their licence.

That's if the points demerit system, which has been operating on a pilot basis since 2008, ever gets off the ground. It's been delayed several times due to problems with the system - and who exactly will be penalised? Owner or driver?

No matter, because there's a back-up plan, we're told. When a non-paying vehicle enters the tolled freeway network special route patrollers (a fancy name for speed cops) will be alerted to stop them.

Now the integrity of our traffic officials is another story altogether but where there's smoke there's fire and it doesn't take a scientist to figure that bribery will be a lucrative option for crooked cops looking to bolster take-home pay and crooked drivers looking to avoid daily toll expenses.

ANOTHER POSTPONEMENT?

This clumsy, hugely expensive system will rely on support from structures already showing cracks, some of which have started to crumble.

Open-road tolling is under construction to go live in April 2011. Call me a cynic, but I foresee another postponement... - INL Motoring

Is open-road tolling going to be an equitable revenue raiser or a breeding ground for corruption? Have your say in our comment box below.

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