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Government officially scraps disastrous e-toll system

Government officially scraps disastrous e-toll system
An e-toll gantry in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / The Times / Daniel Born)

It’s finally official. Gauteng motorists can now breathe a sigh of relief following the government's official announcement and gazetting of its decision to scrap the disastrous Gauteng e-toll system, more than a decade after it was first launched.

Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga said stakeholders including Finance minister Enoch Godongwana and Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi had reached an agreement to delink the e-tolls from gantries on midnight of April 11, 2024. 

“This will effectively bring the urban e-tolling in Gauteng to an end. However, the ring roads that were part of the scheme shall remain the national roads,” she said in a statement released on Thursday afternoon.  

For several years the Gauteng government has been under pressure from residents to scrap the system and, over the years, had made many false starts to putting an end to the system.

Key sticking points were the differences on issues related to the user-pay principle of debt related to the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), past capital expenditure costs and yearly maintenance costs.  

Chikunga did not go into the specific details of these issues except to say, “parties agreed to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) to formalize alternative funding solutions for the GFIP debt repayment and deal with the backlog of maintenance and rehabilitation costs”.  

Sanral’s debt stood at more than R42-billion as of 31 December 2023. 

In a previous agreement, the Gauteng government had committed to paying 30% of the debt. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Inside the Gauteng government’s scramble to end the e-toll system 

Last month, during the annual budget for Gauteng’s sixth administration, Finance MEC Jacob Mamabolo said the Gauteng government had approached financial institutions to raise money to settle 30% of the debt. 

It remains unclear whether the Gauteng government will be able to secure the funds it requires to pay for 30% of Sanral’s debt and the required annual R3-billion to maintain the 201km infrastructure in light of the province’s already stretched purse.

The disastrous system faced pushback from the business community, motorists and trade unions and also gave rise to the launch of civil society organisation, Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) in 2012 which legally challenged the scheme. 

On Thursday night, Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage welcomed the government’s decision.  

“It has been a long road, but today we can officially celebrate the end of e-tolling in Gauteng,” said Duvenage.   

“Bad laws need to be treated in a manner that sends the government back to the drawing board, and one such avenue is civil disobedience. Fortunately, the general motoring public stood strong and collapsed the system,” Duvenage said.

Lesufi’s spokesperson, Sizwe Pamla, suggested that the premier had been vindicated, having made multiple unfulfilled promises to scrap the system previously. 

“It’s really the fulfilment of a promise and commitment the premier made in February in the state of the province address. Now that the gazette has been passed, it means that officially in law, they have been discontinued.”  

E-toll roads in Gauteng make up one percent of Sanral’s national network. The Gauteng road network is in desperate need of restoration, which will be costly. 

According to Sanral, 85% of Gauteng’s roads are beyond their design life cycle and need significant investment into maintenance. Where funding for this exercise will come from remains a mystery.    

Once again, Chikunga’s statement was unclear on this. “Parties were unambiguous on the fact that the user-pay principle remains a government policy and commit to continually engage and work together to explore adequate and stable funding solutions for road construction, maintenance, and upgrade to support economic development.”

Chikunga added that stakeholders were unanimous that terms needed to be set in black and white on the MoA for the province to contribute to the backlog of maintenance and rehabilitation costs.   

One of the most pressing questions around the de-linking of e-tolls was whether motorists who had paid or continue to pay for the scheme will be reimbursed or not. Another question is what will happen to the gantries. Lesufi’s office has repeatedly insisted that they will be used as a crime-fighting tool.  

Last month, Sanral’s spokesperson Vusi Mona could neither confirm nor deny this. 

“The e-tolls infrastructure is a significant asset which is able to assist with improved mobility, road safety and other transport-related services on Gauteng’s freeways. Sanral is committed to working with all stakeholders in this regard,” he said.   

Chikunga echoed Lesufi’s sentiments. “Parties also emphasised the fact that the government was already far advanced with its plans to repurpose the e-toll infrastructure to improve mobility, road safety, and combat crime,” she said on Thursday. DM

 

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  • Derek Jones says:

    The first of many fight backs against legalized corruption. Thanks to Wayne and OUTA, well done what a great victory for South Africa.

    • Sue Malcomess says:

      I have to disagree. The etoll system was well run and I don’t believe ever proven to be corrupt but if one never supported it, how’s would you know? Citizens will be able to thank OUTA and Co again and again and again each time they navigate through the potholes or inadequate roads because their organised resistance has collapsed what was a good project. Can OUTA and the Gauteng government please explain how GOOD roads will be financed. People: there is no such thing as a free lunch. Everything has to paid for. Either by money, time, effort or inconvenience.

      • Steve Roskelly says:

        I think we all know that Sue: there is no free lunch. The problem is we were all being double-taxed and who knows where the money would have gone!!! I would rather navigate some potholes than know my money has gone to thieves and then potholes appear anyway!!!! Don’t fall for their promises – it’s all a ruse and they’ve done it so many times before. We need far better solutions and management of our assets.

      • andrew farrer says:

        wake up sue! corruption from the begining. the roads and gantries built were charged at more than double market price. the dodgy (?) austrian company selected to collect the tolls was fleecing a huge % of every rand paid over, and likley a huge amount of that was kicked back to the anc.

      • D'Esprit Dan says:

        Sue, it was corrupt to the core from the start: there was no public consultation, thr price we were/are ultimately going to pay is 4 times the construction cost and the bulk of that money is being shipped out of SA to Austria, where the technology supplier hails from. Moreover, most of SANRAL’s road infrastructure is in good condition, possibly outside of the provincial roads that have been foisted on them because of corrupt ANC provincial governments not maintaining roads at all. Sanral’s mandate is national roads only – the potholed disasters we are forced to navigate on a daily basis are the purview of Lesufi and his puppet in Joburg, Gwamanda. Not Sanral.

      • Geoff Krige says:

        I think we all understand that infrastructure has to be paid for. But there are two major problems with tolls in general, and e-tolls in particular.
        First is that for many older motorists, tolling represents triple payment for roads. When I started driving, all road construction and maintenance came out of the general taxes I paid. Then the fuel levy was introduced supposedly to be ring-fenced for road construction and maintenance and the road accident fund, without any reduction in general taxes. Then tolls were introduced, again without any reduction in either general taxes or the fuel levy.
        Second for ordinary motorists toll fees include an extremely high subsidy for the trucking industry. Heavy trucks require far more expensive road construction, and cause hundreds times more damage than cars. This means that for every R 100 we pay for tolls, something like R 98 is a subsidy for the trucking industry.
        So tolls are not a user-pays system. They are a system whereby ordinary motorists pay 50 times the actual cost, and they pay it three times.

      • Kevan O'Donnell says:

        Sue, soe, no corruption. Which tree do you call home?

    • Grumpy Old Man says:

      Yup Derek, I agree with you. Big Up to Wayne & OUTA but the fact is that this still needs to be paid for. If you take into consideration the cost of road infrastructure maintenance together with the cost of Gautengs portion of the debt settlement; if you also take into consideration the estimated cost of the provinces water infrastructure maintenance backlog (+_R 70 Billion) – this all has to be paid for!
      The Province is essentially bankrupt – the credit ratings of the cities are on a downward trajectory – and the financial burden of all of this has to fall somewhere.
      It is beyond comprehension how Lesufi can take credit for something that is going to put the Gauteng province into an even deeper financial hole – whilst service levels continue to deteriorate

      • andrew farrer says:

        but, if they go back to the corrupt tenders and re-cost them to the market price at the time of the build, then scrap the inflated costs and all interest on those . . . would bring the amount down to less than half. Then arrest the sanral board and exco from that time and the anc polititions who facilitated it and let them rot in jail

  • Ian Steuart says:

    The gantries could be used to install permanent speed cameras. Reduce dangerous driving and bring in some revenue for road maintenance.

  • Jane Lombard says:

    Yeah it was a long road, and it sure took its toll 🙂
    Thanks OUTA

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      What remains Jane is the daylight robbery of paying 4 toll gates in one route and same on return, we pay taxes why extra tax on the roads, Prasa spent billions on tall trains in a corrupt deal, transnet , SAA are under the same department that coined the toll system to cover the corruption, it was a dream scheme that can be very difficult to audit.

  • andrew farrer says:

    Wow, shows just how worried anc are about loosing gauteng & going under 50% nationally in May!

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      I think the horse has bolted on this one already, given that for once the middle finger on offer was from Gauteng motorists to the sleazy government that forced these corrupt tolls on us. Also, in the run-up to the elections, Lesufi must be forced to show us where the money will come from to pay Gauteng’s portion – simply giving us a load of BS isn’t going to cut it. Given that very few private citizens paid toll fees, it’s an election non-issue, although it’s nice to see how desperate populist Panyaza, the mini-Malema is getting!

  • Malcolm Tucker says:

    “The deputy director-general of public finance at the National Treasury, Mampho Modise, told MoneyWeb: “Gauteng has agreed that that debt should and will be collected”, adding that a process of how to do this was under way.”
    But any debt older than 3 years will already be prescribed, and they will have only 3 years to collect recent tolls , so how much can they collect?

    • Grumpy Old Man says:

      Malcolm, forget etoll’s – its a single line item of a massive financial disaster!What we all need to focus on is the bigger picture financial position the Province finds itself in! If you consider the total estimated cost of the Provinces infrastructure backlog and compare this with the revenue the Province is able to collect you will find their is a significant revenue shortfall!
      This can only end up going one way – that is, we the residents paying more! What makes me seethe is that we have a Premier writing this debt off and that debt off – financing a child militia (that will absolutely no material impact on reducing crime) all with the sole purpose of returning himself to power.
      Even if we didn’t have corruption in this country we still have ourselves a bunch of individuals making ‘spending’ decisions they are ill qualified to make. This is why you find National Treasury taking active measures to try centralize financial decision making (a bigger indictment on Cadre deployment is difficult to imagine)

      • Thinker and Doer says:

        Excellent post, thank you! The government, and Premier Lesufi at the provincial level, are focusing on populist promises in desperation, promising more expenditure that cannot be affirmed, while being incapable and unwilling to take effective action on the fundamental crises that we are facing, high among which is infrastructure generally. It is infuriating! The taxpayers end up paying for all of these pie in the sly promises and write-offs. Premier Lesufi continually spouts all sorts of ridiculous and unaffordable programmes.

  • Samuel Ginsberg says:

    Now do the same for TV licenses. Give up flogging that dead horse already.

  • Les Thorpe says:

    Well done Wayne (and OUTA). Your perseverance on this matter is highly commendable. Now we await disclosure of the next government multi-billion rand scam.

    • Peter Relleen says:

      Yes, very well done, Wayne.
      I admire your perseverance.
      But, as you well know, there is more ANC corruption to tackle around every corner.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Well done OUTA! This is just another anc election ploy. We will soon have that despicable clown Mabula mouthing off his usual hit vacuous air that the anc were always at the forefront of fighting for the scrapping of the toll roads.

  • Robert Pegg says:

    The tax we pay on every litre of fuel and the annual vehicle license fees, should be used for road infrastructure, but are they ? My bet is most of these taxes go into paying for our bloated government.

    • Gavin Hillyard says:

      Quite right. It should be ring-fenced, but it just goes into the big pot from which it is siphoned off by crooked incompetents. SA Inc. needs a new engine. No good tinkering with the carburettor. We can only pray for meaningful change post the 29th of May. We can’t afford 5 more years of ANC disaster.

  • District Six says:

    Yesss! We all pay fuel levies on our petrol. Add 10c and pay the debt. No gantries, no expensive postal accounts to be administered and sent via post, no over-blown administrative processes, no building infrastructure and personnel to draw from it. No foreign companies collecting tolls at 80% of capex.

    Put the solar batteries and cameras into traffic lights where they are needed! Then drivers won’t have to depend on untrained vagrants to direct the chaotic traffic!

    • Helen Lachenicht says:

      If you have an accident due to following directions from an untrained vagrant, your insurer may decline to pay damages!

  • Dave Barnes says:

    Refunds? You must be joking. Those who diligently paid can say goodbye to their money.

  • William Stucke says:

    A transparent attempt by the ANC to pretend that they are the “good guys” before an election.

  • Johan Buys says:

    I can name two dozen laws/regulations that I don’t agree with.

    I’m glad the toll rubbish stops but it is blatantly wrong that x % of people paid what the law requires and y % did not.

    Want to protest? Then don’t drive on tolled roads. Inconvenient? Well suck it up, protest requires sacrifice.

    We need to choose whether we are a nation of laws or not. It seems we are not.

  • Maciek Szymanski says:

    I was going to buy an eTag when the whole thing started and stopped at one of the expensive service centres that were built near the highway. Only to be told that you could not buy it there but in a convenience store…

  • Prav Tulsi says:

    Grow up people, SANRAL is a joke and honeypot for corrupt ministers.
    Our roads are screwed
    Denel is buggered
    Transnet is a joke
    SAA ???
    Post Office : Wheres that?
    Just a few. And they say together we will do more> Ja more taxes and fuel levies

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