Opinionista Wayne Duvenage 2 December 2013

E-toll rejection by the public: research confirms it

Almost 60% of the drivers interviewed in a professional study undertaken by Ipsos, over a six-week period to 21 November 2013, agreed that an alternative to e-tolling should be found to cover the costs already incurred by the e-tolling project. In contrast, a tiny 14% disagreed, while a fence-sitting 26% remained neutral. But the overwhelming majority was clear: abolish e-tolls.

Against that backdrop, it is no wonder that 42% of the sample interviewed indicated they had not purchased an eTag and nor did they intend to do so, while only 38% said they intended to get an eTag, or had done so. Clearly, if only 14% felt e-tolling was the right way to extract funds from society to pay for the freeway upgrade, then most of the 38% who indicated their intention to get an eTag were doing so under duress. This was further confirmed in a press statement made by the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI) last week, wherein their president, Neren Rau, clearly stated that while businesses are urged to get their eTags due to compliance with the law, this recommendation was being made under duress and that SACCI does NOT agree with e-tolling as the funding mechanism for the GFIP.

International history shows us that tolling projects, especially those of an electronic tolling (e-tolling) nature, suffer and are prone to failure if they do not have the committed acceptance and buy-in to the scheme by the public at large. This is generally happens when there is a lack of trust in the system, caused by poor transparency and high costs related to the project. In the case of Gauteng’s freeway tolling project, these issues have been highly prevalent as a result of a meaningless public engagement exercise, secret contracts (blanked out pages), many examples of misleading and false information and the competition commission’s exposure of high road construction costs through collusion. Add to this the fact that the Electronic Tolling Company’s JV won the tender of the e-toll collection at a cost to society of R8,4bn for the first five-year period (with a part thereof being capital costs over eight years), which indicates that well over R1bn per annum will go toward the administration and management costs before roads are paid for.

Never during our new democracy have we witnessed such a united and massive outcry of rejection from all sectors of society against a government policy decision, as we have witnessed on the Gauteng e-toll decision. Labour, business, faith based organisations and the public at large have denounced the plan and yet this clearly means nothing to the authorities, who have decided to forge ahead regardless.

Toll Graph 01

The real concerns, though, are the unintended consequences that may emanate from a stand-off between the people and the state. SANRAL have managed to convince the authorities that sufficient numbers will come around to the idea of e-tolls and they should not to relent on the scheme, regardless of this massive rejection and insufficient eTag take-up. Their strategy has been to provide selective information on eTag sales and business statements, to create the impression of a general buy-in whilst, at the same time, trying to create uncertainly and fear in the minds of the road users buy not providing clear and concise steps of how enforcement will take place, all of which is designed to coerce and pressurise the public into coming on board.

Toll Graph 02

But these tactics are generally shallow and become exposed and further exacerbate the negative consequences that potentially arise from situations of this nature. They merely heightened the anger of the citizens against the state, which could lead to more people exploring ways to circumvent the system, bigger defiance campaigns, clogged alternative routes, destruction of property (heaven forbid), a jammed legal process with summonses and more court action, etc. This is turn does not bode well for the system’s workability and leads to potentially lower credit ratings and questioning from the international community on just how in tune our Government is with introducing policy that is rational, manageable and has the acceptance of society.

Toll Graph 03

With all the evidence stacked against them, one has to ask: what really lies behind this decision? Just because an elected government has the ability to force a policy into law, that doesn’t make it right to do so. Adding further concern for the authorities must be the knowledge that further court challenges will arise on the lawfulness of SANRAL’s conduct, because the Supreme Court of Appeal has expressly not ruled on these issues raised during OUTA’s court challenge. The technicalities of “lateness” on which the courts decided to hang the past legal challenges, will not apply in the event of a summons for non-payment and OUTA has made it clear they will ensure all their findings on the unlawful conduct of SANRAL throughout the e-toll decision making process, will be heard in the first qualifying case.

Who will the authorities blame for the eventual failure of e-tolling? Their critics, those who have vowed to defy the process, SANRAL (the architect of the scheme) or themselves for being fooled into accepting the plan?  DM

Graphs by Ipsos.

Gallery

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