NATIONAL NEWS - The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) plans to challenge the constitutionality of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Amendment Act and expressed concern that the new act could be used to force Gauteng motorists to pay e-tolls.
Rudie Heyneke, Outa portfolio manager on transport, said on Friday that President Cyril Ramaphosa had assented to and signed the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Amendment Bill, which made it law.
Heyneke said implementation of this act was now dependent on the law being gazetted with a commencement date.
The act sets up a demerit system for drivers, who would lose points for traffic offences, which may result in the loss of their driving licence.
Heyneke said Outa’s concern that the new act could be used to force Gauteng motorists to pay e-tolls stems from the fact that it would make it an offence to ignore road signs, which could include those listing e-toll charges.
Ramaphosa has established a task team led by transport minister Fikile Mbalula that must report to him by the end of this month on the options with regard to e-tolls.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Southern African Transport Conference last month, Mbalula spoke of the importance of a “win-win” solution for government and society and asked “how do we meet each other halfway in this?”
Getting beyond the impasse
Outa on Friday released a 65-page position paper titled ‘Getting beyond the e-toll impasse’, which outlines the reasons for its failure and concludes that the only way forward is to scrap the scheme and decide on alternative funding mechanisms for Gauteng’s freeways.
The non-profit civil rights organisation said government has to date not appeared to take civil society’s input on e-tolls into account, adding that Outa had previously asked for a meeting on this issue with the Minister of Transport and the Presidency but had not received a response.
Wayne Duvenage, chief executive of Outa, said it was calling on the public and government’s e-toll team to read its report because it believed it would assist them in “making the decision to pull the plug and work with society on the way forward”.
Debt not the fault of motorists
Outa said the Gauteng freeway upgrade, which should have cost a maximum of R10 billion, started off overpriced at R17.9 billion and had now run up a debt of R47.6 billion.
It said the original overpricing of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) had a direct effect on the decision to toll, with Gauteng motorists now expected to pick up the tab.
The report lists funding alternatives, including the fuel levy and government grants.
Outa said the Gauteng e-toll scheme is limping along today at about 20% compliance, which is well short of the compliance levels required to service SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) bonds, and has very little chance of revival.
Duvenage said the e-toll scheme was doomed to fail long before it was turned on in December 2013 despite Sanral and Electronic Toll Collection (ETC), which administers the system, having tried every trick in the book to coerce motorists to comply.
Scheme not fit for purpose
“We now have five years of empirical evidence that the Gauteng e-toll scheme is far from being fit for purpose and the delay in government’s decision to pull the plug is costing South Africa unnecessary expense,” he said.
Outa said the most obvious factors resulting in the scheme’s failure were the poor research conducted by Sanral, combined with environmental factors such as South Africa’s poor vehicle administration systems, inadequate postal services, poor regulatory environment and public resistance.
It added that Sanral’s disastrous public engagement campaigns added fuel to the fire, combined with knowledge of the overpriced construction costs and excessive administration fees for ETC, the public’s frustration on rampant corruption and poor government leadership.
Sanral CEO Skhumbuzo Macozoma said in October 2017 at the launch of the agency’s draft Horizon 2030 strategy that the biggest intervention with strategy was to “push back” on matters of funding policy, which included e-tolls.
Macozoma stressed that Sanral’s mandate was not policy and that it did not want to be dragged into debates on how roads should be funded.