Johannesburg - Just in time for the Easter holidays and long weekends, roads agency Sanral is increasing its toll fees.
Although the government’s new financial year starts in April, the new tolls all kick in from March 1, which means they will be in time to catch holiday traffic over two long weekends in March, Human Rights Day on Monday, March 21, and the Easter weekend which starts on Friday, March 25.
In notices published in Government Gazettes this week, the new fees will apply to all toll points on both national routes and the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project. The notices show only the new fees, not the percentage of increase.
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) said the increases were between 2 and 8 percent.
“This is not an increase, it’s an adjustment,” said Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona on Wednesday morning.
He could not say what percentage the increase was but did say Sanral’s principle was to match the increase in CPI (consumer price index measures changes in the price level of a basket of goods and services bought by households).
“We look at CPI for the previous 12 months and adjust according to that. We don’t adjust more than CPI,” he said.
CPI increases over the past year ranged from 4.4 to 5.2 percent.
Mona confirmed all Sanral’s tolls across the country were increasing, except the controversial tolls in Swartruggens in North West.
Mona dismissed suggestions that the increase was timed from March 1 to catch long weekend traffic, saying this was the usual time of year for Sanral increases.
He said it was the first increase in the Gauteng e-tolls since they were launched in 2013.
“If you don’t do that, then the value of what you are collecting diminishes,” said Mona.
Outa criticised the increases.
TOLL ROADS = CASH COWS?
“We are disgusted that Sanral and the Department of Transport have this attitude and approach of continuously applying mandatory annual increases to all toll plazas in its growing toll network, whilst the use and income generated by the various tolling contracts have serious questions, about which Outa is busy conducting intensive research and investigation,” said Outa chairman Wayne Duvenage.
He accused Sanral of enriching private entities at the cost of consumers, saying toll concessionaire contracts could run for up to 30 years, yet the capital outlay for the initial construction of a toll road was a fixed capital cost.
This means the effective bond repayments on tolled roads decreased every year, he said.
“However, in the case of Sanral’s conventional toll tariff structure, the toll fees keep increasing every year for the entire 30-year period, regardless of whether the capital amount has already been repaid, and far beyond the cost necessary to maintain the road.
“Toll roads have therefore become enormous tax-driven cash cows with guaranteed income for periods of up to 30 years for toll concessionaires and their connected companies,” said Duvenage.
He said certain construction companies owned large stakes in the tolling concessionaires, in effect acting as decision-makers for construction and maintenance contracts awarded by the concessionaire on the tolled routes they managed.
“Our research shows that toll contractors are able to award maintenance and construction contracts to themselves and/or their affiliates at inflated prices, driving up the costs, which the concessionaire justifies it has to recoup through its toll charges to the public,” he said.
WHERE ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
Outa also raised concerns about the abolition of the previously legislated requirement that there be alternate routes to toll roads.
“We have received numerous complaints from affected communities alongside tolled roads,” he said.
Sanral’s funding splits the money from the government for non-toll roads from the toll operations, so these are run as separate matters.
But Duvenage said the law had also been amended so that toll revenue did not have to be used on the specific toll route on which it was generated. “This enables revenues that are generated from one conventional tolled road, to be utilised on other projects or areas within Sanral’s expense base,” he said.
He called it a “diabolical and unjust” situation.