A retrospective look at e-tolling in Gauteng

The 3rd of December 2014 marks the anniversary of the implementation of e-tolls in Gauteng. The 1st anniversary – not its birthday, because it was somewhat stillborn and has failed to materialise into the “masterpiece” and “better/only way to go” everyone, including but not limited to the highest court in the land was told it would be.

Amidst the repeated threats of dire and life-altering/ending consequences levelled at motorists for not complying with these unjust laws enacted to compel compliance, ordinary folk got angry, dug their heels in and didn’t run off to register with SANRAL. They then went further and refused to pay.  In essence, the practice of hurling rocks and burning tyres was replaced with tightly zipped wallets and the occasional drive around the GFIP by groups of defiant, fed-up and cash-strapped citizens. Banners slung over bridges on the freeway saying “hoot against e-tolls” produced a daily tumultuous, trumpeting symphony of horns.

Compliance is and remains very low and essentially, very few outside of the realms of big business and government departments have registered with and more importantly, are paying SANRAL. The “user-pays principle” is effectively the “some users pay principle” and the uncollected revenues are building by the day, just like was predicted and warned by OUTA, JPSA and others.

It’s a crying shame that the warnings and attempts to halt the e-tolls egg from being scrambled resulted in little more than the enrichment of lawyers and a materialisation of most, if not all of the warnings presented by OUTA, JPSA and others. It’s a fact that Courts are interested in what the law says and unfortunately, it’s also a fact that the law and the practical implications thereof can sometimes be worlds apart.

It’s also a shame that what looks good on paper and what happens in reality doesn’t always equate to the same thing. The policy of e-tolling, just like Marxism, looks great on paper but fails to take the human factor into account. Funnily enough, both share a common “enemy” which they like to call  “bourgeois society” and it would appear that the pro e-tolling lobby’s belief that anti e-toll sentiment was merely an attempt to protect privilege has backfired because, in actual fact e-tolling affects everyone with a motor vehicle – not just the rich.

And then came the e-tolls review panel and a ray of hope suddenly peered through the cracks in the system; but not without a concerted attempt by all sorts of naysayers to discredit it and label it a sham. Amongst the most vocal about the illegitimacy of the panel were SANRAL, the Minister of Transport, the ruling and opposition political parties.

Despite the claims of illegitimacy, Premier Makhura and the panel stood their ground and all of the critics – bar none ended up making submissions to the panel – with SANRAL taking up the lion’s share of the time afforded by the panel to individuals and organisations to present their case.

Now that the panel has delivered on its mandate to provide the Premier with its report and recommendations by 30 November, the ball is firmly in the court of the Premier and the Gauteng Provincial Government to do something constructive with it. But this too has not come without criticism and people simply can’t wait to get their hands on that report. Some have even launched renewed criticism – labelling Makhura’s decision to study and discuss the report with his Provincial Government before releasing it publicly as representing “secrecy” and lending credence to their view that the entire process was a self-serving sham.

It’s hard to blame people for distrusting anything surrounding e-tolling, given the history of the dictatorial railroading of it into existence and the repeated misinformation – otherwise referred to as lies – that’s been forthcoming from SANRAL.

One thing is for certain though – e-tolling has failed to raise the money to pay the investors in this scheme and ultimately, no matter what the political ramifications of this happen to be, a realistic financial solution to the problem has to be forthcoming. If that solution results in an increase or decrease in votes, will depend on what political solution is – or is not reached.

- Howard Dembovsky is the Chairperson of Justice Project South Africa

Amendments to e-tolls regulations published for comment

JOHANNESBURG – The Minister of Transport has published various amendments to the “e-Road” regulations in Government Gazette 38257 of 28 November 2014 for public comment. The closing date for comments on these amendments is Saturday 27 December 2014. 

Amongst the proposed amendments is a requirement that “foreigners” must now “comply with the provisions relating to the payment of toll in accordance with that made known in the Government Gazette that apply to toll tariffs on the GFIP toll roads and the Conditions for payment of toll published by the Agency in terms of section 27(1)(b) of the Act.”

This proposed amendment categorically implies that persons driving motor vehicles registered outside of South Africa have, up to the time that this provision takes effect, been exempted from the so-called “user-pays principle” on the GFIP. 

The other amendments published in this Gazette for comment apply to the timeframes in which SANRAL is compelled to issue an invoice to both, registered and non-registered or “alternative” users. This period is to be extended from 32 days to 60 days; however the “7 days grace for payment” applicable to the tariffs for registered etag users and registered VLN users as well as the “7 days grace for payment” applicable to standard tariffs has not been adjusted. 

The 51 days period referred to by the Minister of Transport in her budget vote speech on 15 July 2014 has therefore been extended to 60 days. It must be noted however that there is no compulsion for SANRAL or its contractors to wait for a further 53 days to elapse after the 7 days grace period has expired before issuing an invoice through their contacted-out Violations Processing Centre (VPC).

As unregistered users of the GFIP will attest, invoices and SMS messages to cough up the alternate user tariff started on Friday the 13th of December 2013, 10 days after the introduction of e-tolling on the GFIP. The assertion of the Minister in her budget speech wherein she said there will be a “further extension of the payment period to avoid the VPC process that would negatively affect vehicle owners” is therefore not altogether true. 

The final amendment contained in this Gazette is one compelling SANRAL or its agents to “establish and keep a register to record all transactions of day-pass users and alternate users” as opposed to just doing so for registered etag users and registered VLN users. This amendment implies that no obligation has existed for SANRAL or its agents to establish and keep a register to record all transactions incurred on the GFIP – only those that were incurred by registered etag users and registered VLN users. 

Justice Project South Africa will be submitting its comments to the Department of Transport with respect to these proposed amendments and will, amongst its comments, again be questioning what mechanisms have or will be put in place to ensure that owners of vehicles registered outside of South Africa comply with these regulations. 

The way we see it, there are only two ways to ensure that this happens. One is to detain and prohibit them from leaving the country without paying their e-tolls and the other is to seek extradition orders for foreign vehicle owners who don’t pay within 120 days of passing under a gantry. Neither is a particularly practical solution and the question must be asked: 

“What will happen if a ‘foreigner’ returning home cannot pay? Will that person be jailed until they have paid their ‘debt to society’ or will they be allowed 60 days to pay prior to an invoice being issued to them and upon failing to pay within 120 days, be extradited to stand trial?” 

The publication of this Gazette two days prior to the handover of the e-tolls panel report further goes to demonstrate the contempt with which the Premier, his e-tolls review panel and citizens are held by the Department of Transport and SANRAL.

JPSA congratulates e-tolls review panel

JOHANNESBURG – Justice Project South Africa wishes to extend its hearty congratulations and profound gratitude to Professor Nkondo and the Gauteng e-tolls review panel established by Premier David Makhura for meeting its deadline to deliver its report on time, by 30 November 2014. 

We eagerly await the publication of the full report once the Premier and the Gauteng Provincial Government have had a chance to review its contents, as do we await their recommendations to National Government. 

Whatever is contained in that report, it is notable that since the e-tolls saga first commenced, this has been the FIRST and ONLY truly democratic process surrounding e-tolls; despite the assertions by SANRAL that it had complied with the minimalistic legal obligations imposed on it in such processes. 

Whilst no-one can pre-empt what is contained in that report, what recommendations will result from it, or what action will be taken, it is our sincere hope that when the final recommendations are presented sanity will prevail and the dictatorial attitude and stance of SANRAL and company will finally come to an end. 

We maintain the view that e-tolling is a dismal failure in every respect and that whilst roads infrastructure must be paid for, there are far more efficient and less burdensome ways to collect the funding required – without alienating the very people who make the existence of SANRAL and Government possible in the first place.