Tackling the inefficiency of the e-toll project

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Howard Dembovsky, National Chairman of the Justice Project South Africa, shares his views on the African National Congress’ policy on e-toll in a build up to the ANC National General Council 2015.

One of the most controversial and unquestionably least popular policies formulated and implemented by the ruling party in South Africa to date has got to be that of the “user pay principle” through e-tolls.

It’s now been almost two years since this policy was thrust upon the economic hub of South Africa, comprising the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Ekurhuleni and it still doesn’t appear to be working as it was intended to work.

In all honesty, is highly unlikely that it ever will.

Despite the fact that the system has already failed due to dismally poor public buy-in, government and its State Owned Company, the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) remain resolute that “e-tolls is the better way to go” and point-blank refuse to acknowledge the enormity of this blunder.

Instead, the system has come under a so-called “review” process where citizens were invited to engage and share their inputs with academics.

Extraordinarily, after initially poo-pooing David Makhura’s review panel as being wholly illegitimate, both the Department of Transport and Sanral then spent several days presenting the case for e-tolling to it.

Government and their advisors have completely failed to understand what the fundamental problem is and have thus come up with the wrong “solution”

As a result of the review panel, a “new dispensation for e-tolling” has been formulated and announced by the Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa. Multiple legislative changes are in the process of being drafted in order to shoehorn the “new dispensation” into e-tolling policy. This move has highlighted the fact that, despite all of the money that’s been flushed down the toilet to analyse the problem, government and their advisors have completely failed to understand what the fundamental problem is and have thus come up with the wrong “solution”. It seems that what they have dismally failed to understand is why it is that people are so hacked off with this entire project so perhaps someone should make this clear. The way I understand things, it is the fact that the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Ekurhuleni have been ring-fenced with toll roads which people are all but forced to use if they want to get around in the region this has caused people to reject “e-tolls.” Amongst other things, people use these highways to get to and from work each weekday, visit friends and family and in some cases, get to interviews to look for work. But what does Sanral and government do? They classify these roads as “economic infrastructure” in order to justify tolling them. The fact that this system has adopted electronic tolling (e-tolling) as opposed to physical toll plazas to collect the monies has demonised the methodology of collection rather than the fact that the roads themselves are tolled. In turn, this has masked the real problem which is tolling roads which people have to use every day. These roads differ significantly from other toll roads which link provinces to one another insofar as people don’t ordinarily use inter-provincial roads every day of their lives. In their exuberance to convince people that no matter how the citizenry views the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), e-tolling is law and you have no choice but to pay, Sanral has repeatedly engaged in exercises where they threaten members of the public with criminal and civil prosecution for noncompliance. In so doing, it has managed to firmly establish itself, Inge Mulder, Nazir Alli and Vusi Mona as the fascists they clearly are. Not satisfied with threatening people with criminal records and adverse credit listings, more recently it has been suggested that under the “new dispensation”, vehicle licence discs will be withheld if people have outstanding e-tolls. This has further solicited the wrath of motorists who are now beginning to question why it is that they are expected to pay vehicle licensing fees in the first place, when Sanral and government have gone to such great lengths to convince us all that taxes we pay don’t get spent on what they logically should be spent on. Personally, I am pretty sure that if the law is adjusted to cater for withholding licence discs on the basis of unpaid e-tolls, there are going to be a lot more unlicensed vehicles operating on our roads than ever and that’s about it. Whether the “new dispensation” now serves to convince people that tolling the roads they use every day is justifiable or not remains to be seen, but I am pretty sure that it will not. Sure, there will be some people who will feel that paying the lower tariffs constitutes less of an irritation than continuing to resist the unjust system, but there are lots of people who will not and, for as long as the system doesn’t have 100% compliance, it will remain a “SOME users pay” system. Prior to the e-tolling debacle becoming mainstream, the vast majority of South Africans didn’t even know Sanral existed. Now, there are few who don’t hate it with a passion and in a way, the ruling party is quite lucky that Sanral has acted as a buffer between the public and it. If government is wise, it will learn from this experience and come to realise that “the power of the people is and always will be greater than the people in power”. Adopting an authoritarian approach on the issue of e-tolling was a grave error its part and allowing its State Owned Company too much free reign was an even bigger error.

Related articles: E-tolls, by sabcnewsonline

– By Opinion: Howard Dembovsky, National Chairman: Justice Project South Africa