View from the top of a Highway Gantry on the N3 near Southgate Mall Picture: Timothy Bernard 14.02.2011

ANGELIQUE SERRAO

THE GAUTENG open-road tolling system is here to stay – and the proposed top tariff of 66c/km for ordinary cars will more than likely not change.

This is according to the Department of Transport’s steering committee report, which was sent out to various organisations who had made public proposals against the toll fees.

Earlier this year, Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele scrapped the tolls until a public participation process could take place following a huge public outcry. Hearings were held and the steering committee, made up of government employees from the national and provincial departments of transport and the SA National Roads Agency Ltd (Sanral), wrote up the report.

Last week, the Department of Transport said there would be another round of consultation after the report was given to the minister. The final decision on the e-tolling is expected at the end of next month.

The report does not say what the toll tariffs will be, but it defends the calculation used to determine the original tariff of 66c/km.

The document goes into detail on why the open tolling structure was decided on as the best strategy. It defended the proposed toll tariffs and, one by one, dismissed every proposal made by civil society organisations.

There are no recommendations or alternative suggestions in the report. Sam Monareng, spokesman for the transport minister, said this was because it still needed to go through another round of consultation, and was waiting for recommendations and input from Ndebele and Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane.

Monareng said the tariffs were not a “forgone conclusion”.

The document looks at the economic impact on Gauteng, quoting a study done by the Graduate School of Business of the University of Cape Town saying the project would benefit both individual road users and the province economically.

“The tolling of the GFIP (Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project) cannot be cancelled. The improvements have been made and the benefits of these improvements are being enjoyed by road users,” the report says.

On the proposal that the fuel levy be increased by 20c/litre to repay the loan for building the roads, the steering committee said the government could not ring-fence this money because it goes into the national fiscus.

The report said there was a backlog of R149 billion in road maintenance and would mean that over the next eight years, the fuel levy would need to increase by 92c/litre, plus another 25c for Gauteng’s roads, resulting in a fuel price increase of R1.53 a litre.

The cost of building the roads, the toll system and intelligent transport systems amounts to about R20bn.

In previous stories, The Star has revealed that the cost of building and operating the tolls over 10 years is closer to R14bn. The cost of building the roads came to R17.5bn.

The DA’s Jack Bloom said he found this disingenuous because the report did not go into details on the real cost of the project.

“There is an inconsistency. Are we paying R20 billion or is it, in fact, R31 billion? That’s the crux of the issue: are we paying almost double just to operate a tolling system?” asked Bloom.

“The cost of operating the tolls is almost as high as paying to build the roads. It begs the question: did we go for this expensive tolling system because someone could make money out of this?”

Under the public transport section, the report admits there are no dedicated public transport services to certain major areas.

The report then systematically dismisses all public proposals made at the hearings in April.

In particular, it used the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town to analyse a study done by the Road Freight Association and AfriForum to dismiss a report on how the tolls would increase the cost of living in Gauteng. Economist Mike Schussler wrote the original report.

The business school said Schussler’s report did not look at any figures to show the situation if the roads had not been upgraded.

“This is a key omission from the report, which makes the rest of the findings one-sided and unbalanced,” the business school said.

When looking at Schussler’s analysis on how the tolls would increase the price of bread, the steering committee said: “It will be recognised that while poorer people do have a larger share of food in their overall consumption, they also consume other things.

“A more scientific approach would have been to have looked at the overall spending patterns of people at different income levels rather than just their consumption of food.”

AfriForum’s Kallie Kriel said they stood by their report and believed there was room for a substantial reduction in the toll tariffs.

Avis CEO Wayne Duvenage was upset by the steering committee’s report, saying the government could ring-fence the fuel levy if it wanted to, and there was no reason to include the backlog of all roads in the analysis.

“The smacks of private companies profiteering from national roads, which is really wrong,” Duvenage said.

“It’s time for the public to participate en masse against this.”