E-tolls hot potato gets bailout promise — beginning with R23.7 billion

Finance minister Enoch Godongwana announced that the national and Gauteng provincial governments have agreed to contribute 70% and 30%, respectively, of the South African National Roads Agency’s (Sanral) debt and interest obligations.

Their contributions would cover the entirety of the funding impasse resulting from uncertainty surrounding the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), which includes the controversial e-toll system.

While presenting his 2022 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement Speech, he also proposed that the government makes an initial contribution of R23.7 billion from the national fiscus.

“The uncertainty surrounding the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project continues to have a major negative implication for road construction in the country,” Godongwana said.

“To resolve the funding impasse, the Gauteng provincial government has agreed to contribute 30 per cent to settling Sanral’s debt and interest obligations, while national government covers 70 per cent.”

It will then be up to project stakeholders — the Gauteng government, Sanral, and the Department of Transport — to decide on the fate of e-tolls.

The Gauteng provincial government will be responsible for the costs of maintaining the associated 201km road network and interchanges.

“Any additional investment in road will be funded through either the existing electronic toll infrastructure or new toll plazas, or any other revenue source within their area of responsibility,” Godongwana said.

The minister also announced that the National Treasury is tabling a Special Appropriation Bill to provide additional funding to Sanral and other state-owned enterprises.

“Funding to SOEs will now come with strict pre- and post-conditions. Pre-conditions mean that SOEs will need to comply with these conditions before they receive government support, not after,” he said.

Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi and finance MEC Jacob Mamabolo have indicated that the province is keen to end e-tolls.

Mamabolo caused a stir in May 2021 when he said that e-tolls were as good as scrapped.

“We are already in the post e-toll period. An announcement is imminent,” he said.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula quickly responded with a media statement saying that the future of e-tolls had not yet been decided.

However, Lesufi said yesterday that he expects Godongwana’s speech would confirm the end of the controversial tolling scheme.

“…That this history and this chapter is closed permanently and we don’t have to talk about e-tolls again in this province.”

Finance minister Enoch Godongwana

Sanral had previously proposed shifting e-toll accounts to a “mobility account” that could be used for public transport payments, licence disc and driver’s licence renewals, and parking payments.

“In this process, the e-toll account becomes a ‘mobility account’ that can be used nationally for payment of fares in public transport services, facilitating integrated fare collection and management,” Sanral’s annual report for 2022 reads.

“In addition, road users can use their mobility account and the toll customer service centres to renew vehicle and driver’s licences, pay for parking at the airport and commercial parking garages, [and] gain access to secured areas such as offices and security estates.”

Sanral added that South Africans would also soon be able to make payments for fuel purchases from their Transaction Clearing House (TCH) account.

The roads agency explained that the under-collection of e-tolls in Gauteng is a significant financial burden, requiring substantial government assistance over its past three financial years.

However, Sanral appears to have backpedalled on its plans to transition e-toll accounts to the one-account system, at least with respect to public transport.

On Tuesday, 25 October 2022, Sanral announced its Integrated Fare Management System — essentially a public transport card on which travellers can load funds.

“The principle aim of the integrated ticketing solution is to eliminate the use of cash, reduce operating costs and improve fare collection efficiency,” Sanral said.

“While the country’s public transport system needs improvement, the integrated ticketing solution option will make for smoother, efficient travelling.”

Sanral’s Northern Region project manager Siveshni Pillay explained that the safety element of public travel without a need to carry cash is a significant motivating factor for the initiative.

“Despite high public transport usage and reliance, there exists huge disparities in service delivery and integration between various modes of transport,” she said.

“The system will allow a commuter to use the same “prepaid” card to pay for a ride on a taxi, bus or train, forming an Integrated Public Transport Network.”

“The administration and management of cash fares, with the concomitant security issues make fare collection onerous. The National Department of Transport’s account-based ticketing solution solves this,” Pillay added.

She explained that a ticket value balance will be stored on the card, and holders will have the option to top-up their funds. Pillay added that cardholders can choose between remaining anonymous or registering a personalised account.

Pillay said future development could include fare structuring based on the different modes of transport, such as flat fares or distance-based and eventually the ability to charge a traveller once for a journey that uses the services from more than one transport operator.

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E-tolls hot potato gets bailout promise — beginning with R23.7 billion