SANRAL control centre in Midrand. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

Johannesburg - Irate Capetonian Louis van Biljon received a text from the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) about his overdue e-toll bill of R87 for a vehicle that last travelled on Joburg’s highways 18 months ago.

Another motorist was in for a shock when a text informed him of R456 in outstanding e-toll fees, but Sanral could not provide proof he had passed through its gantries.

A Joburg motorist, Samantha Ferreira, who is not e-tagged, enquired with Sanral’s call centre about her outstanding bill and was informed it was R470. Minutes later, she was transferred to the violations processing centre (VPC) and was told the outstanding amount was actually R350.

Another motorist, Brian Ndlovu, told the Saturday Star that he had bought an e-tag three years ago, but had not registered it. But Sanral told him his vehicle was compliant and only charged him R10.96 although he passed through several gantries on successive days. He had never installed the tag in his car.

These are just some of the angry complaints from motorists across Gauteng – and beyond – that have dogged the “chaotic” and controversial system that was switched on exactly a month ago after several failed court bids and protests across Gauteng.

The growing list of incidents is painting a picture of a system that appears to be in a crisis, says the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa).

Outa says it received numerous messages last month from motorists alarmed by calls from the e-toll VPC demanding payment for e-tolls.

Outa is now compiling a dossier to be sent to the public protector.

At this early stage, the system is “creaking under the weight of a costly, cumbersome and unworkable administrative process”, according to Outa.

“Sanral is trying by hook and by crook – and now by ‘spook’ – to scare and intimidate road users who have not tagged up, to serve the system even though the system is failing them,” says John Clarke, an Outa spokesman.

But Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona has downplayed motorists’ frustrations.

“The easiest way for us to resolve motorists’ queries is if they contact our call centre, not your newspaper,” Mona said.

“There are two agendas here: There are the motorists and there are those opposed to the system that want to create an impression that the system is failing, but I can assure you that it’s not. We are one of the best state-owned entities. We have a service-level agreement on resolving queries and we monitor that.

“Anyone who is in doubt of our efficiency needs only to the look at the national roads. This is not Malawi, to repeat what the President said.”

Mona said the issues arising from e-tolling customer services were being conflated with opposition to the system.

If motorists were not registered for e-tolling but claimed they could not afford their bills, the first step was for them to acknowledge the debt. An agreement on how to pay could then be entered into.

Meanwhile, confusion also reigns over whether e-tolling offences are decriminalised in the jurisdiction of Joburg and Tshwane where the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act is in place.

The Justice Project SA’s chairman, Howard Dembovsky, insists the act makes provision to deal with non-payment of tolls.

“Therefore if Aarto is applied to speed fines on the respective freeways then (it) applies to all minor infringements such as non-payment of toll fees,” he said.

But Thabo Tsholetsane, the chief operations officer of the Road Traffic Infringement Agency, the custodian of Aarto, said issues related to e-tolling “were not really road traffic offences” and were dealt with under the Sanral Act.

The questions around whether this was creating two parallel pieces of legislation dealing with similar issues had been anticipated. He conceded this might be creating confusion.

An independent transport and traffic law consultant, who did not want to be named, said it was not uncommon to have two or more laws dealing with similar offences.

“Technically speaking, motorists can be charged criminally for disobeying the Sanral Act. The Criminal Procedure Act allows prosecutors to charge a person under an act (in terms of) which he could be found guilty.”

Clarke added that Outa was still proceeding with its test case for the eventual summons for the non-payment of e-tolls. - Saturday Star