The administrative burden of e-tolls on consumers is disproportionate, says Alana Bailey, spokesperson for civil rights movement Afriforum.
The organisation is compiling a body of evidence in this regard and has invited motorists to send them detailed accounts of their e-toll battles.
Bailey says Afriforum has received many complaints from motorists who have been notified of outstanding tolls. “Most of them are prepared to pay, but have not received the detailed statements they need to verify the outstanding amounts.”
Steven Roux*(27), a retail manager who lives in Pretoria and works in Kempton Park agrees with Bailey. Moneyweb disclosed his e-toll dilemma before here: ‘E-tolls to consume disposable income – Schüssler.’
Roux registered as an e-tag user to limit his exposure to the e-toll maximum of R450 per month. He is using the prepaid top-up option, since he is reluctant to allow the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) access to his bank account by debit order.
When he checked his e-toll account on the Sanral-website last week, he was shocked to see that the transactions for December 30 and 31 have already been sent to the Violations Processing Centre (VPC). Those before and after that date seem to be in order.
Roux is very concerned, since tariffs of more than five times the norm for registered users will apply once transactions are transferred to the VPC.
Upon calling the e-tolls call centre he was told that the money on his e-toll account ran out on December 23. Seven days later on December 30 when the grace period lapsed, the new transactions were sent to the VPC.
The operator advised him that his e-tag should have beeped twice to inform him that the funds on his account have run out. This didn’t happen – it beeped three times. He was advised that the e-tag is faulty and he has to go to the e-tag customer centre to exchange it free of charge.
This doesn’t make sense to Roux. He believes that they should have referred the transaction of December 23 to the VPC and thereafter every subsequent day when the seven-day grace period for that day was exceeded.
Nevertheless he wanted to settle the account before it escalated further. This was impossible, since the es call centre couldn’t help him with VPC matters. He has to contact the VPC directly, but that call centre closes at 17h00.
Roux has spent 27 costly minutes on his cellphone trying without success to be compliant. Last week he had to go to the Customer Centre, which is problematic, since his conditions of service state that he is not allowed to leave his place of work during the day. His employer also frowns on long telephonic conversations he’s had during work hours, in a bid to sort out e-toll matters, which he considers to be a private affair.
“It is overwhelming,” Roux says. “I am trying to be pro-active and responsible, but costs just escalate and I am still in trouble!” He made a payment onto his e-tolls account, but the VPC account is separate. He does not have the details of that account and can therefore not settle it for the time being.
Another Moneyweb reader, a lawyer who has to stay anonymous for professional reasons, has been battling just to correct his address on his VPC account – he is obliged to ensure his details are correct in terms of the e-toll terms and conditions. “There is no functionality to change the address on the VPC account website. I had already changed my address on my e-tolls account a number of weeks prior to registering my VPC account. I initially called the e-tolls call centre and was told I needed to speak to the VPC call centre. The phone system requires you to log in to your VPC account. I must have spent upwards of four hours trying to get through to them, never being successful.
“After finally getting through to the VPC call centre, I was told that they couldn’t change my details and I should go to a customer service centre. I duly did so and was informed there that they couldn’t change it either and that I had to approach the traffic department who would change it. That is quite clearly a load of bollocks.
“I sent them a complaint email setting out the problem and late last week received a reply saying that I needed to go to a customer service centre. Round and round we go.
“A final note is that whenever I have spoken to anyone connected with e-tolls, they very rarely grasp the issue and I have to painstakingly hold their hands through what should be elementary queries. For example, it took me nearly twenty minutes to explain to them that I wanted to change my address. It was a frustrating and baffling experience.”
Prof. Marinus Wiechers, retired law expert, says apart from political efforts a civil action group like Afriforum may also address the disproportionate administrative burden by approaching the court for a declaratory order to enforce the constitutional requirements for an open, transparent and responsive government.
“They will need to collect evidence and ask the court for specific relief, for example to extend the hours of the VPC call centre.”
He says this mechanism was used successfully by the Treatment Action Campaign to force government to supply anti-retroviral medication to pregnant women.
Bailey says the seven day grace period is unreasonable, especially for companies with big fleets and staff that are constantly on the move. Extending this can go far to alleviate the burden on motorists.
She has asked motorists to send their accounts of administrative problems with e-tolls to email@example.com.
Sanral’s press office has indicated earlier through its service provider Meropa Communications that it “is very difficult for the press office to respond to road user enquiries as the relevant information is only available through our e-toll system which we (press office) do not (have)access to. Kindly redirect the query to the Call Centre.”
*Not his real name.