E-Tolls: A dogfight on the cards
On Tuesday, the rebels find unexpected partners in their crusade against e-tolling. The SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry says there’s so much confusion the launch must be delayed. The SPCA joins in. Cosatu threatens the “mother of all protests”. But Sanral continues preaching to the (mostly) unconverted. It’s been an interesting 24 hours, as ALEX ELISEEV explains.
Have you given much thought to what effect the new e-tolling fees will have on the SPCA and its missions to rescue stranded and abused animals?
No? Well, not many people did until yesterday afternoon, when the animal welfare organisation publicly joined the resistance.
The reasoning seems sound: The SPCA relies on donations and subsidies to get by and already battles to make ends meet. Now it has to dig even deeper into its pockets to travel to accident scenes where animals are involved, or to places where neglect or abuse is taking place.
The organisation says it’s often called out to deal with dogs, horses, donkeys and even wild animals on Gauteng’s roads and highways.
It goes on to say that it asked Sanral for its vehicles to be excluded, but received no joy.
“It is ludicrous if not downright immoral that our hard-earned cash will be used for the purpose of paying tolls,” the SPCA’s Christine Kuch fumed. “We believe our organisation serves the public and animals in our country with dedication and commitment, and the funds that we would save will be ploughed back into uplifting animal health and welfare.”
Kuch concluded: “The NSPCA supports all initiatives to prevent the payment of toll fees.”
Until now, those fighting against e-tolling have mostly been trade unions, political parties and various transport organizations (even though there was that strange camel at that failed protest along the N1 highway).
At the same time, the South African Chamber of Commerce & Industry has gone as far as calling for the process to be halted.
It says there is now so much confusion and uncertainty that “this makes a clear case for delaying implementation until there is clarity.”
The chamber also raises its concerns about the “policing” aspect of the regulations, which are currently being reworked by Sanral. Business Unity SA echoed the call. This new wave of opposition comes just days after Sanral published a new set of tariffs and revealed heavy penalties for those who didn’t register for e-tags.
In some instances, motorists could land up paying six times the discounted price and three times the normal rate.
The move immediately drew fire from the opposition, which called it a desperate move to force people to register. Reference was made to the fact that only about 320,000 e-tags have been sold, accounting for about 10% of road users in the province, according to the AA.
But yesterday Sanral continued to deny these allegations, with its CEO Nazir Alli fielding questions on Talk Radio 702.
He denied suggestions that the carrot approach had been substituted with a stick made up of stiff penalties. Alli said the extra costs would cover the administrative side of sending bills, collecting cash and chasing those who fail to pay. He said these costs had been on the table since the project’s inception in 2007.
He also asked people not to read too much into the e-tag figures, arguing that one account could, for example, cover several drivers in a family.
Alli described a legal challenge against the system – due to start next week – as “unfortunate”, but said Sanral was ready and would let the courts decide.
“As far as the legal case is concerned, it is a bit unfortunate that people have taken that particular route so late in the day,” he said.
The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance is behind that challenge, and hopes to interdict the launch by convincing a court that consumer rights are being violated and there has not been enough public consultation.
The National Consumer Commission is also involved, and has been asked to look at the regulations and the new fees.
And finally, Cosatu has finally beefed up its threat of further protests by announcing that it will call on its two million members to mobilise.
“We are confident that we will be joined by many thousands more angry residents and motorists who support our demand for the scrapping of these tolls," the federation said.
The protest would prove to be the “mother of all protests” it vowed, saying rallies, marches and vigils would begin next week Monday. The main strike will take place on the day e-tolling is due to go live: April 30.
“In the end, it is the pressure of the masses which will force government to back down,” Cosatu’s Patrick Craven said. “People power has brought down governments in North Africa, it can surely stop this assault on our living standards.”
Whatever happens, the days leading up to the launch are now likely to turn into a dogfight. Just as well the SPCA is on board. DM