Gauteng freeways are no longer free, they come with a cost, Deputy Minister for Transport Jeremy Cronin, a communist for as long as he can remember, said wryly.
His was the task on Thursday to sell the reduced tariffs for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project to journalists and the public during a media briefing in Pretoria on Cabinet’s meeting the day before.
Government spokesman Jimmy Manyi crooned: “This is a big win for the people on the ground, for the workers. This is to ensure that the real downtrodden masses of our people are really looked after”. The masses who risk their lives in taxis, that is.
“Will we have a broad consensus?” journalists asked Cronin about the reductions. “I doubt it. Tolls are very unpopular. We talk about freeways but they’re not free, they come with a cost.” R2 billion to be precise. Transport workers union Satawu is already threatening to strike, while the AA has also predicted civil disobedience on the matter. Cosatu in a statement expressed “shock and anger” that they weren’t consulted and have done what it does best: threaten strike action. Afriforum, in character, threatened to take court action while the FF Plus, which has previously unleashed the potent weapon of online petitions, also vowed to oppose the toll tariffs.
Tolls for light vehicles are down from 49.5 c/km (66 c/km initially) to 40 c/km, if you’re a biker you’re five cents per kilo richer (24 c/km), medium vehicles (class B) will pay R1/km (down from R1.49), and “longer vehicles” (class C) R2/km (down from R2.97).
There are also discounts for those with e-tags, regular commuters, and those who travel outside rush hours.
Cronin said exempting taxis and buses from tolls won’t deplete the budgets, because they made up only two percent of the total traffic (and a near 100% of the trouble were they to decide to block the roads to protest the tolls).
The tolls were supposed to have been charged in June already, but because of a huge public outcry – including Cosatu voices – shortly before the local government elections, government agreed to review it.
Fortunately for Cronin, the Gautrain had recently started running, and some journalists were still happily purring from their trip from Johannesburg to the press conference.
To all those in Cape Town smugly laughing at us up here, we may yet have the last laugh. Cronin, himself a Capetonian, told the laid-back journalists who were following the briefing by video link in Cape Town (and who asked how the tolls will be levied and enforced – like, duh) that their turn would come.
Talking about enforcement though, Cronin said he got a fine recently for a car he had sold long ago, which means he’s keenly aware that the system, which will collect toll fees by scanning e-tags and number plates, isn’t perfect.
Cronin couldn’t say when the tolls would happen, but very helpfully added: “The answer is, soon”. DM
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