The truth about e-tag sales figures

Over the last two years, the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) – the organisation which is behind e-tolls – released numerous e-tag sales figures. These figures are absolute nonsense, argues Outa chairperson Wayne Duvenage.

The controversial e-toll system is set to go live by the end of the year (2013), and to make the system work, Sanral will need 90% compliance from 3.5 million registered motor vehicles – i.e. people buying a pre-paid e-tag.

Sanral said that 600,000 e-tags have been sold, but Duvenhage disputes this figure.

“The figures that Sanral is putting out there, trying to create the picture that people are rushing out to buy e-tags, are absolute nonsense,” Duvenhage said in a Carte Blanche interview.

“These numbers were bouncing all over the place. We just don’t trust the integrity of Sanral, which in my eyes is shot.”

What Sanral claimed

A good way to assess the accuracy of Sanral’s e-tag sales claims is to look at a chronological breakdown of the numbers over the last two years.

  • 7 November 2011 – 0 – The e-toll account registration and the distribution of e-tags for Phase-1 of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) has kicked off, Sanral announced (article link here).
  • 13 March 2012 – 320,000 – Sanral Chief Executive Officer Nazir Alli said that so far, more than 320,000 Gauteng motorists had registered for e-tolling (article link here).
  • 19 April 2012 – 500,000 – Alli said that the implementation date could not be delayed as it would result in additional cost, adding that the number of registered motorists has increased to 500,000 (article link here).
  • 20 April 2012 – 250,000 – According to Sanral, about 250,000 e-toll tags had been bought by week of 20 April 2012, and about the same amount of e-toll accounts registered (article link here).
  • 23 April 2012 – 500,000 – More than 500,000 e-tags have been distributed to motorists around the province ahead of the launch date on 30 April (article link here).
  • 26 April 2012 – 501 245 – 501,245 e-tags had been sold so far (article link here).
  • 15 November 2012 – 500,000 – Sanral said that at least 500,000 e-tags have been sold to motorists and fleet vehicle owners in Gauteng (article link here).
  • 15 February 2013 – 500,000 – “To date about 500 000 tags have been sold with e-tag sales slowly increasing every month,” said GFIP manager Alex Van Niekerk (article link here).
  • 11 April 2013 – 600,000 – To date, there are approximately 600 000 e-tag registrations (article link here).
  • 8 May 2013 – 600,000 – Sanral was not able to supply the latest figures on e-tag sales, but Alex van Niekerk, senior project manager for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, said the last figure was estimated at around 600,000 (article link here).
  • 8 October 2013 – 600,000 – Sanral CEO Nazir Alli said 600,000 e-toll tags were in circulation (article link here).
  • 12 October 2013 – 608,000 – Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams said there are around 608,000 motorists who have already been tagged, which she said was not a small figure (article link here).

The numbers do not make sense

The numbers supplied by Sanral and government about e-tag sales do not make sense.

Firstly there is the glaring problem of the e-tag number dropping from 500,000 on 19 April 2012 to 250,000 the next day, and back up to 500,000 three days later.

If one assumes that the 250,000 figure was somehow misunderstood or misquoted, the extremely erratic growth in the claimed e-tag sales figures just do not make sense.

Sanral and government's e-tag sales claims
Sanral and government’s e-tag sales claims

According to Sanral, sales went from 0 to 500,000 in the first five months, and then remained unchanged for nearly a year.

It then increased by 100,000 (from 500,000 to 600,000) in two months, and again remained unchanged for the next 6 months.

There is no reason for this apparent acceleration and then stagnation of sales, which sheds doubt on the accuracy of the figures.

Monthly e-tag sales (claimed)
Monthly e-tag sales (claimed)

True e-tag sales estimate

Duvenhage explained that most of the e-tags given out to date are to the leasing and rental companies, and then some to other fleet companies and municipalities. He estimates these numbers to be no more than 50,000 to 70,000.

“The public would have purchased a maximum of 40,000 to 50,000 e-tags. At best there are 120,000 to 150,000 e-tags out there, and not all of these are in cars today,” said Duvenhage.

This is a far cry from Sanral’s claimed 600,000 e-tags sold. “These are my estimates, and Sanral will no doubt scoff at these and denounce my views with much song and dance,” said Duvenhage.

E-tag sales estimates: Sanral vs Outa
E-tag sales estimates: Sanral vs Outa (15 October 2013)

Sanral mum on the numbers

Sanral was asked for comment on its strange e-tag sales numbers, but the company did not respond by the time of publication.

More on e-tolls and e-tags

To e-tag or not to e-tag?

What if you don’t pay e-tolls?

Be a good citizen and buy an e-tag: cabinet

E-toll prices: what some might pay

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The truth about e-tag sales figures