The public outcry against the tolling of Gauteng’s highways was related to the tariffs, the Pretoria High Court heard on Tuesday.

“I think we should make it clear that the public outcry is not because of tolls, but the tariffs,” Vincent Maleka, senior counsel for the Transport Department said.

He said the SA National Roads Agency Ltd’s (Sanral) notice of intention to toll roads had received the transport minister’s approval.

Maleka was responding to submissions by Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance lawyer Mike Maritz on Monday.

Maritz had argued that the implementation of the tolls was unlawful.

Maleka added that the transport minister had consulted the public and considered the cost of e-tolling when he had approved the upgrade to Gauteng’s highways.

On Tuesday, David Unterhalter, for Sanral, responded to the alliance’s submissions by saying the allegation that the initial notice of the intention to toll roads in Gauteng was “sterile” and “misleading” was inconsistent.

He argued that Sanral did what was required by law.

Unterhalter told the court it had been reported in the media that there would be upgrades to major roads in Gauteng.

“Sanral was not going to simply toll existing roads. Roads were going to be improved.”

Unterhalter argued that all the relevant civil society organisations representing Gauteng motorists knew about e-tolling and the user-pay principle when the project started in 2008, but did nothing until the tariffs were announced last year.

He said e-tolling was inevitable because the upgrades to Gauteng’s highways had been completed, at a huge risk to Sanral.

He asked why it had taken the alliance and the other organisations so long to act.

Unterhalter argued that the application to have e-tolls scratched should be dismissed, saying it was a “conspiracy theory”.

He said the alliance had changed its submissions after the Constitutional Court in September had overturned an interim order, granted by the Pretoria High Court, which had halted the Gauteng e-tolling project, pending the current review.

“What the applicant [the alliance] tried to do is to solicit information that the cost of tolling is very high. This is a matter of concern,” he said. “At the moment, their case contradicts itself.”

The Constitutional Court found the Pretoria High Court had not considered the separation of powers between the high court and the executive.

On April 28, the high court granted the interdict to the alliance, ruling that a full review be carried out before electronic tolling could be implemented.

The interdict prevented Sanral from collecting e-tolls.

Sanral and the Treasury had said the delays in implementing e-tolls had prevented the payment of R21 billion incurred in building gantries.

Members of Cosatu were in the public gallery on Tuesday. The trade union federation is opposed to the implementation of e-tolls.

Unterhalter said the alliance should pay legal costs if the application failed.

Final arguments would be heard on Wednesday. – Sapa