Outrage at toll road hikes

By Thabiso Thakali Time of article published Feb 5, 2011

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Within months, Gauteng residents will have to find hundreds, even thousands, more rands every month just to get from home to work and back.

Yesterday, the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) announced the highway toll system would come into operation at the end of June – with amounts higher than motorists had expected.

Road users will pay 66c/km – before discounts – if they are travelling in light motor vehicles on the province’s freeways.

Heavy vehicles will be charged what has been described as an “outrageous” R3.96/km, while motorcyclists will be charged 40c/km.

Experts have described these figures as a staggering 30% higher than the initial projections for the 185km Gauteng Freeway network.

These increased costs are likely to hit residents of Gauteng where it hurts. Further costs would be passed on to consumers with higher food prices and public transport fares. The poor are likely to be worst affected, say some experts.

Traffic on suburban roads could get much heavier as people “rat run” through suburbs and use alternative routes.

But Sanral believes motorists will gain more than they think – and discounts will be offered for off-peak travel

The system will use electronic-tag (e-tag) number plates. Tolls will be calculated from overhead toll points, or gantries, which have already been erected. These will recognise the e-tag of a vehicle, or its number plate. Each time a vehicle passes under a gantry, a toll is charged. The cost is determined by the distance between gantries. Money will then be deducted from a user’s e-toll account.

The system will be live on June 23.

Sanral chief executive Nazir Alli said: “When we first projected that it would cost 50c a kilometre, those were not thorough figures. Now we have considered the actual costs.”

He said that the controversial tolling system, which has been on the cards for the past three years, is needed to foot the R20 billion to improve the province’s freeways.

He touts the savings on vehicle maintenance as a plus. “If you travel on a good road the savings that you get through maintenance are greater than if you had travelled on a bad road,” he said.

Alli says if your travel costs are between R380 and R550, you would get a 15% discount and, if the value of your travel is greater than R900 at any given point in time, you qualify for 50% discount.

There are also discounts for travelling on public holidays, weekends and off-peak.

But the AA’s Gary Ronald said: “Looking forward we can see the cost to the consumer and motorists will increase in the next few months with anticipated fuel price hikes and increases in the fuel levy.

“Freight will probably carry the most of these fees paying R1.98 a kilometre for small trucks and R3.96 for bigger trucks, but also this will be before discounts are applied.”

Public transport such as the Bus Rapid Transit System would need to be accelerated to save costs.

He also expressed his concern about the “fairly significant” number of people who would use alternative routes, which are already congested and “that might lead to chaos”.

Phillip Taaibosch, the general secretary of the SA National Taxi Council, said the tolls would hit the taxi industry hard. “If we don’t see any sort of amnesty for the taxi industry, we’ll have no alternative but to recover these expenses from commuters.”

Rob Handfield-Jones said the tariffs may be the “final straw which breaks many consumers financially”.

“Considering that these tolls are actually a stealth tax levied by a privatised arm of government, it’s disgraceful that VAT is being charged on them.

“Having been taxed three times by the time they pass the tollgates, we’ll soon pay a fourth time from the inflationary impacts stemming from the massive increase in the cost of moving goods around the province.” – Additional reporting by Sheree Bega. - Saturday Star

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