Gauteng Premier David Makhura. File picture: Paballo Thekiso

Johannesburg -

The growing levels of debt among households could be the undoing of the controversial Gauteng e-tolling system when a social impact assessment is carried out as part of a review proposed by Premier David Makhura, an expert has warned.

Tony Barbour, an independent specialist on social impact assessment, said the current debt levels in the country were so high that the additional increase in transport costs had a significant impact on how poor communities got to work or took their children to school.

He said that a socio-economic profile of an average road-user in Gauteng would show that saving time to get to work was not worth it if there were higher costs involved.

Makhura announced last week that he would set up a panel to review the impact of e-tolls and invite new proposals on how a lasting solution could be found.

“We must all move from the premise that we need good roads in our province to support economic development,” he said.

“How we finance such infrastructure must be deliberated upon and agreed.”

Makhura is expected to announce the composition of the panel, its terms of reference and their time frames, within which it would report on the matter.

He said details were still going to be outlined but that the decision was “thought through” and there had been serious discussions on it.

He added that too many people were not paying e-tolls and that the government had to find measures to ensure this did not jeopardise the financial position of the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) and the creditworthiness of the country.

Barbour, who has assisted the Western Cape government with an impact assessment study in its battle with Sanral over tolling, said the agency had assumed that improved roads would improve economic activity.

“Household debt levels are that over 60 percent of households are in debt, which means they are struggling to pay,” he said. “They are vulnerable to any type of external shock which toll tariffs bring.”

Figures released by the National Credit Regulator in March showed that the num-ber of consumers with impaired records had decreased but totalled nearly 10 million .

Impaired records refer to a consumer and/or account that is three or more payments or months in arrears, or that has been handed over or written off, or against which a judgment/administration order has been granted.

Barbour said the key issue that the review panel looking at impact assessment would have to undertake would be to profile an average road-user and poor communities that were affected by apartheid’s settlement planning that placed them far away from work and opportunities.

Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) chairman Wayne Duvenage said Makhura’s panel would have to unpack the reasoning of Cosatu, economists and Outa on the negative impact of e-tolling and the solutions they had raised.

“We have been saying that a fuel levy is the most efficient user pay principle compared to the R1.3 billion a year of e-tolling for administrative costs,” he said. “Fuel levy guarantees 100 percent compliance while e-tolling doesn’t. These roads are not long-distance roads but social infrastructure that we use every day.”

Duvenage, however, warned that a regional fuel levy would not be logical as all roads in the country were already paid for by all.

Sanral’s spokesman Vusi Mona refused to comment on Makhura’s proposed e-tolling review, saying: “Sanral won’t respond to a bureaucrat.”

He said questions should be referred to the Department of Transport.

- Saturday Star