Toll and trouble

Rob Handfield-Jones February 24, 2011

The only motoring story of prominence in the past week has been that of SANRAL’s new tolls. Coverage has saturated the news and we bring you a roundup of some of the week’s most important developments on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project tolls.

Afriforum’s Kriel slams VAT on toll fees

Toll and trouble

Photo credit: RandomAlex

According to Kallie Kriel, CEO of AfriForum, the levying of VAT on toll fees in effect means that motorists will be taxed fivefold. “Apart from income tax, fuel levies, vehicle licences and the toll fees that motorists will have to pay, they are also being expected to pay VAT on these toll fees,” Kriel said.

In light of the fact that the new Gauteng Highway Improvement Project is being financed by means of external loans, and that not a cent from the state coffers will be used for it, he said it was “totally inappropriate” for the State to use VAT on toll fees as a source of revenue on top of that.

SACP jumps on the bandwagon

In a widely-reported statement, the South African Communist Party criticised Gauteng’s new tolling system, saying it will raise prices of basic commodities and public transport.

“This will negatively affect working class communities and the poor, considering that they mostly use public transport,” the party’s Gauteng secretary, Jacob Mamabolo, was quoted as saying.

“Of major concern to us is the poor consultation processes leading to this new system. This has left a lot of questions unanswered as some stake-holders were not taken on board.”

Cosatu calls for toll road review

Cosatu spokesperson, Patrick Craven, said that the tolling plan was ill-considered and would disrupt Gauteng’s economy.

Craven said the hardest hit will be workers – many of whom have no alternative but to use tolled roads.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Transport proved himself remote from the realities of transport in Gauteng:

“If you don’t like the price of a toll road, hop on a taxi, a bus or a train instead,” he said.

In an apparent response to public outrage at proposed toll fees in Gauteng, Ndebele said in Cape Town yesterday that residents of Africa’s economic engine had a choice of transport modes and therefore could not complain about the price of tolls.

“It is not as if people in that province don’t have a choice… You are no longer forced to take your car and take the back roads (to avoid toll roads)… There is a very clear choice that the whole continent of Africa does not have.”

Later that day, the following news broke:

The owner of a building in Centurion that was obscured by a new toll gantry has won a high court order ruling that the declaration of a section of the N1 as a toll road was irregular and should be set aside

Judge Bert Bam also found the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) had failed to comply with the National Environmental Management Act (Nema). Bam added that Sanral was obliged to consider the provisions of Nema regarding the impact of the toll gantry on the environment.

Sanral said Nema was not applicable to toll gates, but Bam said: “Sanral’s failure in this regard is clearly a non-compliance with a material issue and requirement of natural justice, which amounts to an irregularity.”

Cosatu plans toll road strike

The Congress of SA Trade Unions in Gauteng is planning a strike and stayaway over the imminent introduction of additional toll fees in the province..

“The provincial executive committee (PEC) has resolved to fight tooth and nail this system called toll gates,” said provincial secretary Dumisani Dakile at a media briefing. Dakile announced a “programme of action” to deal with the e-toll system, to be implemented later this year

CEO of SANRAL, Nazir Alli, meanwhile defended the fact that 30% of the toll costs go towards collecting the tolls!

Speaking at a National Press Club conference in Pretoria, Alli said the country was seeking foreign direct investment, but at the same time there would be an outcry if a foreign company was given work.

“We need to make up our minds. Are we going to say we don’t want foreign investment?” he asked. ETC Joint Venture won the R6.22bn tender to operate the controversial toll system.

Alli said he believed that the tolls would have a minimum impact on inflation.

The ANC then decided that the tolls are a bad idea.

The ANC’s Gauteng provincial leaders have said they would meet their national counterparts to discuss the toll system and its impact.

Ntuli said the PEC had expressed “grave concern” about the economic and social impact of the tolling plan on Gauteng residents. It had said a “tangible” and “better high level transport system” was needed in the province and this required “significant planning”.

“We need to cushion the impact in the short term and provide a lasting solution in the long term. Everyone must be able to use public transport.”

S’bu Ndebele flip-flops after realising that signing off the tariffs was indeed a Very Bad Idea

“The bill is there. We must find a way to pay the debt so that it doesn’t bite too hard on workers and non-working people and taxi operators, otherwise it’s self-defeating,” Ndebele told journalists, ahead of his meeting with Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane to discuss the controversial road tolling system due to be introduced in the province in June.

“If it’s so hard that people are left bankrupt because of a good road, then it becomes self-defeating.”

And finally, the tolls were put ‘on hold’ pending a ‘consultation process’

This was essentially an admission of guilt that the consultation process prior to the commencement of construction was inadequate. Numerous people and organisations have pointed out that not enough research has been done into the economic impacts and affordability of the tolls.

Anyone wishing to mount a court challenge to the whole tolling system probably has an excellent chance of success, since the Minister of Transport clearly did not have adequate facts at his disposal when he approved both the proclamation of the freeways as toll roads and the toll tariffs themselves.

About Rob Handfield-Jones, the author

Rob's motto is "...cars, cars, cars..." and he's been a leading innovator in the field of driving skills training since 1989. Away from the serious stuff, Rob enjoys working on cars, writing about them and playing with them - he has numerous TV stunt-driving credits, many wins and lap records in circuit racing, and has also tried his hand at special stage rallying. He writes regularly on road safety issues for several publications and is a well-known radio commentator via his "On the road" road safety slot on Classic FM 102.7.