Sanral e-toll ads mislead SA public: ASA

The Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa has ruled against Sanral on three complaints brought forward about e-toll advertisements, due to a lack of evidence to support the road agency’s numbers.

The complaints were initiated by Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) Social Media consultant Rob Hutchinson, and a consumer Mrs Sheleen Long.

The first complaint was against Sanral’s claims that if Gauteng’s 2.5 million road users were e-tagged, over 80% of the commuters would pay less than R100 a month, while the second and third complaint tackled Sanral’s claims that 1.2 million road users were e-tagged, and that the e-tolling system was making the Gauteng freeways safer.

In all three cases, the complainants raised the fact that Sanral has not issued any proof to back up its claims.

The complaints

In the first complaint, Sanral issued adverts trying to convince road users that under 1% of e-tagged road users would reach their cap (R450) and over 80% of e-tag holders would pay less than R100 a month.

Based on readily available commuter stats, the complainants calculated that Sanral’s figures are incorrect:

“Relying on figures obtained from the Gautrain website, it would seem that most of more than 300,000 people who use highways to commute from Pretoria to Johannesburg and vice versa, would pass six gantries a day, resulting in them ultimately reaching their capped amount every month,” the complainant said.

“Even if one assumes that only 200,000 of these 300,000 commuters reached their cap, it still suggests that 20 million people have to make this particular commute each month to match the less than 1% claimed by Sanral.”

Based on these calculations, it was suggested that more than 10% of road users would hit their cap (as opposed to the claimed 1%) and less than 8% would pay below R100 (as opposed to 82.83%).

Sanral was also called out in the second complaint for failing to provide any proof for its purported 1.2 million e-tags sold, saying that figures released to the media showed that only 250,000 road users were tagged (excluding government vehicles and rentals).

The third complaint refuted claims made in Sanral adverts which stated that e-tagged road users had “recognised the benefits of the improved roads…keeping the lights on and the cameras watching over you…” – implying that the system was somehow an additional safety measure on the roads.

Sanral’s response

In response to the complaints, Sanral “lamented” that people were believing data from sources other than itself for e-toll related information, according to ASA documents.

The ASA requires that any statistical claim be backed up by verified, independent evidence. Sanral said that it was waiting for a full report from its independent auditors and requested an extension.

Sanral missed the extended deadline and the ASA was forced to uphold the complaints, finding the claims by Sanral in its radio and print adverts to be unsubstantiated.

The ASA also ruled that the cameras were clearly not “…watching over you…” as a safety measure, and that it created a “misleading impression, and exaggerates the functionality and the purpose of the cameras” since “they serve no safety purpose and are merely used for billing purposes”.

On all three counts the ASA found Sanral’s advertising to be unsubstantiated and misleading and ordered Sanral to withdraw the advertising “with immediate effect” and has instructed that it “must not be used again in its current format unless new substantiation has been submitted, evaluated and accepted by means of a new Directorate ruling.”

Outa statement

Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) spokesperson John Clarke said that the rulings are “a demonstration of the importance of active citizenship and challenging that which appears to be untrue.”

“We and many others did not believe Sanral’s claims in their advertising campaign when they were made months ago. These ASA rulings are significant because they once again portray Sanral as an organisation that lacks transparency and cannot be trusted with their misleading advertising and PR campaigns.”

“We regard this as a serious matter for a State Owned Institution. Sanral is not simply purveying propaganda, but using tax payers money to desperate measures to broadcast factually incorrect information.”

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Sanral e-toll ads mislead SA public: ASA