Outa makes headway in e-toll case

By SAPA Time of article published Apr 25, 2012

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A bid to stop e-tolling made headway on Wednesday when the High Court in Pretoria ruled the application was urgent.

Judge Bill Prinsloo agreed with the applicants, the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa), saying: “The widespread public interest and the protesting... should persuade me to hear the matter.”

He said lawyers for the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral), National Treasury, the transport minister and Gauteng transport MEC did not convince him that Outa's application was an abuse of the court. Tolling is scheduled to start on Monday.

In his argument on why the system should be scrapped, Alistair Franklin for Outa said the e-tolling system was so unreasonable that no reasonable person would decide to put it into effect. He said there were disproportionate costs.

“Collecting costs are exceeding the cost of improvement (of the roads).”

Outa had a prima facie case, said Franklin.

The minister of transport had to explain the justification for the “bizarre” decision to resort to tolling to recover the cost of the Gauteng freeway improvement project.

According to Sanral, the tolls would cost about R21 billion over 20 years. However, the minister had denied the correctness of the figure, said Franklin.

“Decision-making powers have no explanation for it (the amount).”

He said Sanral had also not addressed the figures in its responding affidavit submitted to the court.

Franklin said Sanral misled the transport minister in claiming a viable public transport system would be put in place before the e-toll system commenced.

Outa was arguing that enforcement of the tolling scheme would be “practically impossible”. Sanral estimated that one million vehicles would use the road a day, and that seven percent of motorists would not pay. Franklin said this meant that 70 000 people a day would be non-compliant. It was impossible for Sanral to issue 70 000 summons and implement them within seven days.

The matter would continue on Thursday.

Earlier on Wednesday, Afrikaner lobby group AfriForum's application to be admitted as a friend of the court in the case was dismissed. Prinsloo said a tariff publication on April 13, which AfriForum was attacking, was not before him.

It was part of the supplementary affidavit dealing with the amendment to tariff exemptions, filed by Outa, which he struck from the court roll on Tuesday. Prinsloo said the application was launched at a very late stage. It was inappropriate for a friend of the court to introduce new contentions based on fresh evidence, he said.

Legal teams for Sanral and National Treasury had opposed the admission of AfriForum.

Sanral's lawyer Bruce Leech said he took issue with the fact that AfriForum was aligning itself with Outa in opposing the tolling system. He said a friend of the court had to assist the court, and not take sides.

AfriForum lawyer Greta Engelbrecht said the lobby group should be given the chance to make submissions that were relevant and useful.

AfriForum was asking the court to consider whether the publication of the e-toll tariffs on April 13 complied with Section 27 of the SA National Roads Agency Limited Act. It wanted the court to look at whether the classification of vehicles was warranted.

“They (AfriForum) must not be admitted because they can't assist on the issues presently in front of the court. She (Engelbrecht) wants to expand the scope of the issues with something new,” Leech said.

National Treasury's lawyer Jeremy Gauntlett agreed with Sanral. Both asked the judge to dismiss AfriForum's application and award costs. Prinsloo said costs would not be awarded.

The Congress of the People on Wednesday backed the court action.

“The biggest battle is... ensuring that the intended implementation is stopped. This will begin to teach lessons to the government that the will of the people supersedes the rule of the thumb (sic),” it said in a statement. - Sapa

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