E-tolling has undergone and passed the thorough and rigorous tests of justice and constitutionality, says Jackson Mthembu.
Johannesburg - Today, 3 December 2013, marks the introduction of the tolling system for the roads built as part of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Plan. These roads, which are currently a network of more than 150km, are part of the only 19% tolled roads in South Africa as compared to more than 80% of our country’s roads that are funded from the national fiscus. Since they were completed at the start of this decade, these roads have been used and enjoyed by motorists with significant benefits to the province and its people; boosting economic growth, social development and creating a myriad of economic opportunities.
The African National Congress is grateful to the almost one million South Africans who have already bought their e-tags and committed themselves to work with government to even further improve our world-class and sophisticated infrastructure. Infrastructure that all of us are in agreement has lightened the burden of traveling time and road safety, providing much-needed time to motorists to do the things they would rather do than sitting in traffic. What remains a point of disagreement is not that the roads have indeed been improved, but rather the funding model that has been adopted.
The ANC is aware of and appreciates the dissatisfaction of many road users with regard to the implementation of the e-tolls. Part of this dissatisfaction arises from the lack of an integrated, safe and reliable public transport system, which would allow motorist options when confronted with the introduction of the user-pay principle as in the case of the tolled roads. Others feel that the burden to the taxpayer is already cumbersome and therefore the introduction of the e-tolls will significantly prejudice an already cash-strapped taxpayer. It is because of these and many other varied and legitimate concerns that the ANC government has, since 2008, been involved in consultations with various stakeholders on the implementation of the e-tolls. The tolling of roads is a globally accepted funding model based on the user-pay principle. The justness, constitutionality and appropriateness of the funding model has been tested, deliberated upon and defended on a number of public platforms including amongst them our respected courts, the multiparty legislatures and many public hearings. E-tolling has undergone and passed the thorough and rigorous tests of justice and constitutionality.
Upon hearing the concerns of our people, significant concessions were made including amongst them the exemption, through totally scrapping tolling fees, for public transport, which is used by the poorest and most vulnerable in our province. Government has also established significant discounts for registered users and made commitments to cap the costs payable by a user per month thus providing an opportunity for planning and certainty. The Gauteng government, for its part, has also built and upgraded more than 200km of alternative non-tolled roads in Gauteng. Amongst others, the Bus Rapid Transit system and the Gautrain have been introduced and there is a massive drive to upgrade our rail network. While accepting the limitations and opportunities presented by the e-tolling project, the ANC encourages South Africans to support the long-term vision of world-class infrastructure that critically contributes to moving our country and continent forward. To this end, the ANC calls upon motorists in their numbers to register for their e-toll accounts so as to take advantage of the benefits of being registered including discounted rates for frequent users. The ANC further calls for restraint from all members of society against mobilising for lawlessness as it relates to the e-tolls. Extensive consultations have taken place around the funding model of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Plan and concerted effort made to resolve the mutual challenges identified. The e-roads are a significant contributor to the unlocking of greater economic potential of the country and the region. We all have a part to play.