The Gauteng toll road tariffs could be revised. But it's the cost - and not the principle of user-pay roads - that is up for discussion.
Yesterday, George Mahlalela, director-general in the national transport department, acknowledged the public outcry over the recent announcement that it would cost up to 66c/km to drive on Gauteng's toll roads.
“People are saying this is too much, so, through consultation and engagement, we will relook at the tariffs,” he said.
Mahlalela's apparent back-tracking follows widespread condemnation of the proposed toll tariffs, which have been endorsed by Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele but been criticised by political parties and the Gauteng provincial administration under Premier Nomvula Mokonyane.
Mokonyane and Ndebele were expected to meet today to discuss the issue.
During her state of the province address yesterday, Mokonyane said the Transport Ministry did not consult the provincial government over the costs of the toll.
She said the proposed new toll would have a negative effect on motorists' finances, and she hoped that her meeting with Ndebele would yield “alternative options”.
“As government, we are not opposed to the idea of tolling as a cost-recovery mechanism. However, we are concerned at the manner (in which) it is to be implemented, including the pricing and its impact on the economy of our province,” she said.
But while the national transport department was open to new discussions, they were adamant that consultation with the previous Gauteng cabinet took place four years ago, when “everything was agreed upon”.
Mahlalela said the new provincial cabinet members were also in possession of the agreement.
“The minister was handed a report on this by the previous minister. That is what happens,” he said, adding that it was not fair to expect the minister to brief Mokonyane on something she should have had a report on.
Mahlalela said provincial cabinet members were part of a task team that was regularly briefed on the project.
“What is confusing is the issue of the tariffs. People have said they have not been consulted on those,” Mahlalela said.
He said their calculations were based on the same terms as someone who has secured a bank loan.
“Like a loan, if what you pay is too high, you can renegotiate the terms of the payment. That is what is happening now. People are saying this is too much, so through consultation and engagement we will relook at the tariffs,” he said.
However, Neil Campbell, a DA MPL and member of the standing committee on transport in Gauteng, said they were never approached about tolling fees.
“We have never been consulted. The first time we were consulted about the matter was last Tuesday, when the CEO of Sanral (SA National Roads Agency Ltd), Nazir Alli, came to see us and said the issue was a political decision. He said we must not fight with him, but with Sbu Ndebele,” Campbell said.
Alli was not available for comment yesterday.
Last week, Sanral announced that the decision on tolls in Gauteng was made in 2007 while Mbhazima Shilowa was premier.
The cabinet approved the project in mid-2007. Initially, a proposed fee of 50c/km was put on the table.
Sanral gave a detailed account of how the project evolved:
- In 2005, it had approached then minister of transport Jeff Radebe with the project proposal;
- An inter-governmental (all spheres) work group had agreed to the project principles;
- The Department of Transport, Sanral and the Gauteng government had played a leading role in compiling a document, “Gauteng Network Integration Process: Proposal for a Gauteng Freeway Improvement Scheme”;
- This report was concluded in May 2006.
According to Sanral documents, several other interactive sessions followed with metropolitan authorities and the Gauteng provincial government. According to the documents, the project was presented to the Gauteng province in May 2006 and August 2007.- The Star