File picture: Karen Sandison

As more than 2 000 bikers from across Gauteng clogged two of the province’s highways on Saturday in a challenge to the e-toll system, the bell also seemed to toll for road users in KwaZulu-Natal.

Speaking at a breakfast meeting that was held in Durban on Friday, KZN Department of Transport acting director-general Mathabatha Mokonyama said that their aim was to “reiterate the fact that the user-pay principle applies to road infrastructure development”.

Mokonyama’s speech comes in spite of the recent assurance by KZN Premier Senzo Mchunu that there would be no additional toll roads, although the National Department of Transport has not ruled out the possibility.

When asked about more roads being tolled in KZN, Mchunu, in an interview with The Sunday Independent’s sister paper, the Sunday Tribune, last week, said: “We are strictly opposed to further tolling in the province, both as a party and as a government.

“We think that we are too heavily tolled as it is, and that is not just election talk.”

But on Friday Mokonyama said that the “user-pay” principle represented a fair and precise way of paying for transportation facilities.

“Tolls link the benefits for the road user with its fees by charging users only in direct relationship to how much of the road they use,” he said.

Mokonyama said there was a myth that tolling was tantamount to double taxation.

“The fact is that, while a tax is levied on everybody, tolling fees are charged only to the beneficiaries of a particular piece of road,” he said.

Mokonyama said the decision to toll or not to toll any major route was not up to his department.

“As to whether roads will be tolled in other provinces, the decision to do so lies with roads authorities in those areas.”

Durban, which is one of 12 cities in the country now implementing Integrated Rapid Transport, which involves world-class infrastructure, and whose funding model requires tolling, is also at risk of e-tolls.

However, Mokonyama would not elaborate, except to say that the department had learnt from the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project experience that public participation was the key.

“It’s key, especially with regard to introduction of new systems, products and services,” he said.

The revolt against the e-tolls in Gauteng continues.

The latest protest on Saturday, which started at 9am, was organised by civil rights group Bikers Against E-tolls, and stretched for 12.5km.

The protest went on to the N1 north and N3 south.

Similar protests were held in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, King William’s Town, Durban and Bloemfontein, according to Bikers Against E-tolls leader James Sleigh.

Sleigh said the next protest would be held next month.

The group drove through the UV-lit gantries and are challenging the government to prosecute them.

“From our point of view, they put in place the most bizarre system. The numbers don’t add up, and we will never finish the bill for these gantries in the next seven years,” he said.

Joburg metro police spokesman Wayne Minnaar said the protest was peaceful and incident-free, and lasted about two-and-a-half hours. - Sunday Independent