Don’t be fooled by e-toll rhetoric

The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) released a press statement on 9 September 2014, saying that there are many benefits to e-tolling which are being ignored in the current debate about the user pay system.

Sanral said that it has “research which shows that the Gauteng highway network is beneficial for motorists”.

“There are cost saving, technological, and fiscal benefits which led us to believe that tolling remains the best and most sustainable way to pay for the upgrading and maintenance of this national road,” said Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona.

Mona said that it was regrettable that the current dispute around the system has halted further upgrades on the network which will eventually negate these benefits.

“We don’t want to be scaremongers, but the reality is traffic volumes are again building up and we fast approach unsustainable congestion levels which will cost the Gauteng economy,” said Mona.

He added that previous studies conducted by the Automobile Association and the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry revealed the huge costs for both motorists and the economy associated with congestion.

Don’t fall for the rhetoric

In its statement, Sanral is trying to create the impression that road upgrades and e-tolling are one and the same thing. The reality is very different.

No one is disputing the fact that road upgrades are necessary, and that it is beneficial to motorists.

In fact, even Sanral’s biggest critics – the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) – said it “supports the upgrading of all our cities’ freeways and highway infrastructure”.

What is disputed, however, is the use of e-tolling to fund these upgrades. Outa, for example, said that using e-tolling as a funding model is “irrational and unreasonable”.

“E-tolling means that users will pay not only the expense of the road construction, but additionally they must suffer the heavy and unnecessary burden of this specific toll collection system,” Outa said.

There are many more efficient ways to fund the Gauteng road upgrades, including using the fuel levy.

The question is therefore not whether the Gauteng road upgrades are necessary, but rather what the best funding model is for these upgrades. This is, after all, what the e-tolls review panel is trying to establish.

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Don’t be fooled by e-toll rhetoric