Middle class likely to foot the bill
Ordinary vehicle users will be the “cash cows” for Gauteng’s new tolling system – and the poor won’t be exempt either because they will foot the bill for increased food costs.
On Thursday, the government bowed to political pressure from the taxi industry and the commuter bus sector, and exempted them from proposed toll tariffs for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.
However, motorcyclists, light and medium vehicle commuters, and trucks will have to pay, albeit less than was proposed initially.
Cabinet spokesman Jimmy Manyi announced on Thursday that the cabinet had approved a revised tariff structure after a announcement in February was met with outrage.
According to the new tariff structure, motorcyclists (Class A1) will pay an average of 24c/km, light vehicles (Category A2) 40c/km, medium vehicles (Category B) 100c/km, and “longer” vehicles (Category C) 200c/km. Taxis and commuter buses (excluding tour operators) will not have to pay to use the expanded freeway system.
The new tariff structure uses an e-tag, an electronic billing system that will automatically deduct funds from a pre-paid account when a registered vehicle passes through one of the gantries.
Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin said on Thursday that the government had revisited the tariff structure “after the public outcry” in February, and conceded that “perhaps the planning (for the introduction of toll fees) was not as good as it should have been”.
He said the government had “restructured” its R20 billion loan over a longer period to accommodate the announced tariff reductions.
Manyi described the new structure as a “victory for the people on the ground”, but Automobile Association spokesman Gary Ronald said the exclusion of public transport from the system would leave “the usual suspects” footing the bill.
“If the public rally together and stand firm in the face of tolling by not registering for e-tags, and flagrantly disregarding tolling costs and (the) consequential fines, will the authorities have the wherewithal to manage a disgruntled 5 million motorists?” he said.
The Department of Transport has not announced when the toll roads will come into effect, as the toll fees will first have to be gazetted before an announcement on the commencement date can be made.
One player that is celebrating the cabinet’s news is the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco).
Spokesman Thabisho Molelekwa said the taxi exemption came after intense engagements with the Minister of Transport.
But news that taxis and buses will be exempt from toll fees has not pleased everyone.
Ronald said the fact that car users have to pay is a form of discrimination.
“It will leave a sour taste in the mouth for many people, because making some people pay and not others is not entirely fair,” Ronald said.
He said what was more concerning about the impact of the toll roads is that companies would be forced to increase their prices to cover costs and this would affect everybody.
The cabinet’s announcement has had little impact on how the South African Allied Transport and Allied Workers Union feels about the tolls.
Satawu spokeswoman Reagoikanya Molopyane said they still wanted to strike if the toll roads went ahead.
“We stand by our words. We will have no choice but to mobilise our members and call on Cosatu for a national strike,” Molopyane said.
She said the tolls would hit truck drivers and small business hard and, to cover costs, businesses would start retrenching workers.
“This will have an impact on food prices. It’s nice that the buses and taxis will drive on the freeways for free, but they will be the only ones using this fancy road. The rest of us will drive on suburban roads avoiding the tolls,” she said.
DA MPL Neil Campbell said they welcomed the toll exemptions, but were worried that the fees would simply increase each year.
“We are still in the dark about the real costs of operating the e-tolling system, which is possibly as high as R14 billion over eight years,” said Campbell.
“This really seems to be excessive, and will be difficult to implement in a situation where many people are hard to trace and many licence plates are fraudulent.”
Kallie Kriel, CEO of Afrikaner civil rights group AfriForum, said it was outrageous that the burden to finance the toll roads now lay with ordinary motorists.
He said the situation is worse because salary-drawing motorists would not be able to recover their toll expenses from their taxable income, compared to transport companies and taxis.
Kriel said taxpayers were already overtaxed and toll fees would mean ordinary motorists were taxed five-fold.
He said AfriForum would request its legal team to investigate the possibility of legal action against the “unfair way in which ordinary motorists are discriminated against in the… new tariff structure for Gauteng’s toll roads”. - The Star