Quagga Centre in Pretoria. E-tolls stores in malls across Gauteng were quiet on Wednesday, 27 November 2013 ahead of the arrival of the controversial electronic tolling of the province's highways next week. People who were interviewed expressed anger and confusion ahead of its implementation next Tuesday, after several failed attempts in court by civil society groups to have the system canned.

Whether or not you get an e-tag, Sanral will not lose out says Tony Bagnall.

John Clarke, speaking on behalf of the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa), indicates that new research conducted by his organisation indicates that as many 71 percent of motorists have not bought an e-tag.

Presumably the corollary is that 29 percent do have tags. While this was up from their December 12 survey last year of 15 percent, he felt it was insufficient and said that upwards of 85 percent compliance was necessary for success.

Actually, I think it is not so much the level of compliance that will determine success. It is the amount of revenues that are collected. If I assume Clarke’s “compliance” to mean registered, tagged and in credit, then the last thing that SA National Roads Agency Ltd needs for success is to get such a high level of compliance. Why do I say this?

If you take a look at the gazetted tariff structure (Regulation Gazette 10057, vol. 581, No. 37038 dated November 19, 2013) for Gauteng e-tolls, it is highly illuminating. For every rand you would pay as a compliant user, you would pay almost R2 if not tagged – and that is only if you pay within seven days of the gantry pass. If you wait for an invoice and hold off paying as long as you can, the R2 balloons to R6 and there is no monthly cap either.

This means that the 71 percent untagged users will be paying somewhere between twice and six times the amount of a compliant user.

Take the mid-point of four times as a point of departure. If Sanral is successful in upholding its gazetted tariff structure and enforcing payment, the non-compliant 71 percent will generate revenue equivalent to 284 percent (4 x 71 percent) of compliant users. Add that to the current compliance level of 29 percent and you have 313 percent – over three times as much revenue as would be achieved by even 100 percent compliance.

There are some “ifs”, “buts” and “maybes” attached to this. For example, some of the 71 percent non-compliant users may simply avoid the tolled roads, a few will pay within seven days and only be charged double. Some will minimise their usage etc.

However, the bottom line is that since the non-compliants are paying much more than the compliant 29 percent, you only need a few in order to sustain the revenue stream required by Sanral. If 85 percent is what they need and 29 percent are already there, the difference is 56 percent needed but only a quarter of that of non-compliants, namely 14 percent.

From this it stands to reason that Sanral do not want you to comply as long as they can force you to pay the higher tariffs imposed by non-compliance. To me, this is the crux of the whole issue. When the first court case comes up and the gazetted tariff structure is subject to legal scrutiny, if it passes such scrutiny intact, then the campaign of defiance is lost and you may as well go get a tag. This would then be the only way to minimise your costs (and the revenues of Sanral).

For this reason it is absolutely vital that such a court case is defended by the finest legal minds that can be mustered. The arguments will be as complex as the tariff structure and they will be further complicated by the mushrooming of cloned number plates. I know very well that the punitive tariff is unfair. I also believe it to be unjust. I can only hope that it can be shown to be illegal.

Tony Bagnall

Modderfontein, Edenvale

The Star