The Gauteng government recently said it is confident that e-tolls will soon be no more.
“I have been assured by President Cyril Ramaphosa that a lasting solution has been found and an announcement by the President is imminent,” Gauteng Premier David Makhura said.
Gauteng roads and transport MEC Jacob Mamabolo agreed, saying he is expecting a ground-breaking announcement to be made regarding e-tolls.
The e-toll system has been extremely unpopular since its inception, and this has resulted in many Gauteng residents not paying their outstanding e-toll fees.
The e-toll system has a long and controversial history in South Africa since it was implemented in 2013 by Austrian company the Electronic Tolling Company (ETC), and the 7-year experiment is unlikely to be missed by many South Africans.
This is how the e-toll system has progressed from its inception to its current form.
Transport Minister Dipuo Peters announced that the Gauteng e-toll system in Gauteng would go live on 3 December.
Nazir Alli, CEO of Sanral, said those who did not comply with paying toll fees would be prosecuted in the normal manner.
“We will follow a debt collection process. You will get a letter saying you must pay within seven days,” said Alli.
“If you then do not pay, then a first reminder and if need be, a second notice will be sent to you. If you then continue not to pay, only then will you be served a summons.”
The DA announced it would go to court to have the law that allows e-tolling declared unconstitutional.
“We are of the view that the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill (e-tolling Bill) was incorrectly passed by Parliament and signed into law by President Jacob Zuma,” said spokesperson Mmusi Maimane.
The DA’s argument was that the law was incorrectly passed by the National Assembly as it was tagged as a Section 75 bill (debated in Parliament only) and not a Section 76 Bill (debated in Parliament and provinces).
However, this application was shot down by the Western Cape High Court.
This was due to the respondents’ arguments that the amendments had not made vital and substantial changes to provinces and had therefore been tagged correctly.
Reports surfaced that the Gauteng government was relooking the e-toll project.
“We have had long discussions in the ANC Gauteng and in government…There is still dissatisfaction with the funding model,” Gauteng roads and transport MEC Ismail Vadi told the newspaper.
“We are taking a second look at the matter.”
Gauteng premier David Makhura confirmed that the e-tolling system would be reviewed in his State of the Province Address.
Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) chairperson Wayne Duvenage welcomed these comments and supported Vadi’s views that other funding models are more efficient ways to pay for road upgrades.
“The e-toll scheme comes at a huge administration cost – over R1.3bn per year – and will never achieve high compliance, as Sanral is now learning some six months after launching the scheme,” said Duvenage.
“Every day the fiasco continues is a burden to society.”
Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona explained that this was because the company acted according to its shareholder’s (government’s) directive.
Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said unregistered motorists in Gauteng owed Sanral over R1 billion.
DA MP Manny de Freitas said this showed that motorists continue to reject e-tolls.
“Considering the system only came online in early December of 2013, the level of overdue payments acts as yet another indicator that motorists’ on South Africa’s roads continue to reject the system,” he said.
The advisory panel began public consultations to solicit new views on the impacts of e-tolls.
“The report of the panel to the premier at the end of November will be in the form of analysis and recommendations grounded in substantial evidence,” said spokesperson Thabo Masebe.
ANC sources reportedly told The Times that the e-toll advisory panel had recommended that the system be scrapped.
The sources said that the panellists believed the system would harm the Gauteng economy and further damage the national economy – ultimately impacting the poor.
Gauteng Premier David Makhura did not disclose the results of the report, instead claiming that this would be done early in 2015.
Makhura announced that the e-toll system would not be scrapped.
Instead, Makhura announced “major financial relief” for motorists, as well as a “hybrid funding model” which would be made up of contributions by the national and provincial government.
“The provincial government is part of the current consultation process… to develop a better dispensation which will mitigate the negative impact of the e-tolls on the people of Gauteng, especially the middle and lower-income groups,” said Makhura.
“I am confident that the new dispensation should provide major financial relief to motorists while simplifying the payment system to make it easy for road users to pay.”
DA MPL John Moodey said it was clear that the people did not want a hybrid system of toll collection.
“In the review panel’s final report it became abundantly clear that e-tolls were forced onto the citizens of Gauteng with limited consultation,” he said.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that e-toll prices would be decreased significantly.
The tariffs for light motor vehicles would be reduced from 58c/km to 30c/km, said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa also said that motorists would have to pay their outstanding e-tolls upon the renewal of vehicle licences, which he believed would create “a solid link between road users and the e-toll systems.”
Outstanding e-toll fees would be discounted by 60%, and users in arrears would have six months to pay.
Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) said that the public could not have their licence disc renewals declined because they have outstanding e-tolls, as processes had to be followed before this could be implemented in legislation.
Sanral communications manager Vusi Mona had also said that “the required changes to enable the withholding of licence discs for e-toll debt have not been made.”
“The fact is that this legislative change will have to be published for public comment prior to enacting it and at that time, it will be vigorously challenged by JPSA,” said the JPSA’s Howard Dembovsky.
The Sunday Independent reported that the e-toll project was on the brink of collapse, with Sanral CEO Nazir Alli being blamed for the situation.
E-toll collections for the month had totalled R60 million – compared to Sanral’s monthly bond repayment of R260 million.
The publication quoted sources close to the e-toll project, who said that the ANC was losing votes in protest over the e-toll system.
FF Plus parliamentary spokesperson on transport Anton Alberts reaffirmed how poorly the e-toll system was working, claiming that the e-toll system could not even cover its operating expenses.
Alberts said that in September 2015, income from e-tolls declined sharply again – and an operational loss of R6 million for the month was registered.
“The lifeline of R700 million that deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa handed e-tolls in June of this year has hardly had any effect before the e-toll ship started sinking again,” said Alberts.
The government released proposed amendments to the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act which would essentially make those not paying their e-toll bills liable to a traffic fine.
The new legislation aimed to make it a crime to not “comply with the directions conveyed by a road traffic sign by using a toll road without paying the toll charge”.
The DA criticised the timing of the proposed amendments, calling them a “sneaky December holiday move [that] fails the real spirit of the public comment test”.
The opposition party added that it would be preparing its objections to the amendment, and would file these before the deadline.
“[This proposed change is] also potentially unlawful as a court adjudicating an infringement will have no proof that an accused ever received such a notice,” the DA added.
The Automobile Association (AA) highlighted an announcement in a Government Gazette that e-tolls were set to rise in price by almost 5% from 1 March.
“We are making motorists aware of these increases as the information does not appear on Sanral’s e-toll website, nor are we aware of any Sanral customers being directly informed thereof,” the association said.
The AA also called upon Sanral to be more upfront about information such as these price hikes.
“Try and win over support, rather than relying on other organisations such as ourselves to inform the media and the public,” said the AA.
Sanral announced that road users who had “persistently refused to settle their e-toll debt” would possibly receive civil summonses in the following few days.
It said that the first set of civil summonses were being delivered by sheriffs in different jurisdictions of Gauteng.
“The summonses will also include higher value summonses of mostly companies. Due to the amount owed in these cases, the summons has to be managed by the High Court,” said Alex van Niekerk, Project Manager for the GFIP.
“The decision to issue summonses comes at the end of an extensive period of communications between Sanral and vehicle owners who neglected to pay outstanding debts – it is a natural conclusion to the process,” Sanral said.
Sanral CEO Skhumbuzo Macozoma threatened to lay criminal charges against members of the public who had not paid their e-tolls as Sanral sought to ramp up e-toll collections.
Sanral also had plans to obtain default judgments against those who had ignored summonses for outstanding e-tolls.
These measures were heavily criticised by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), who claimed that Sanral had previously agreed to implement a test case on the matter.
“Sanral is now attempting to circumvent this agreement by pushing for civil and criminal charges,” said OUTA.
Outa said it had expected that the test case would result in Sanral having no case against anyone – criminally or regarding defaults.
Outa confirmed that it had called off its test case it had been wanting to launch in partnership with Sanral.
The test case would have been argued by Sanral and Outa to set a precedent on the payment of e-tolls, with the latter arguing that the merits of the entire system will not succeed in a court.
However, Outa accused Sanral of delaying the test case while simultaneously sending out thousands of summonses to the public to try and earn a pre-emptive victory.
“This means the first case which Sanral may bring to court, could very well be one that falls outside of Outa’s knowledge. We believe Sanral is aiming for such a case, so as to try to obtain a win in court on a poorly defended case,” said Outa.
Outa said that even if such a case was heard and ruled in favour of Sanral, it would not necessarily be precedent-setting.
The group argued that the facts and arguments put up by an Outa-assisted member of the public are likely to be “different and more comprehensive.”
Gauteng Premier David Makhura said that e-tolling had not worked and he would be meeting with President Ramaphosa to conceptualise an alternative funding model.
Outa welcomed Makhura’s statement and said it was preparing a submission for the Minister of Transport and the President.
This would show how negatively e-tolls have affected the public, as well as the Sanral budget, and would also propose alternative funding models.
President Ramaphosa’s spokesperson told Rapport that the president was actively trying to solve the e-toll issue.
“E-tolls are high on the president’s agenda and he expects there to be a definitive answer regarding government policy on the matter as soon as possible,” said the spokesperson.
Sanral had at the time issued 8,000 summonses, and Outa claimed it was disgraceful that Sanral continued to issue these summonses when it was clear the system was on its last legs.
“Sanral is spending millions of rand on legal costs to terrorise people, while the entire system will be scrapped in the next few months,” said Outa.
Sanral said it would no longer be pursuing e-toll debt through the courts.
This followed an initiative led by President Ramaphosa regarding the issue of e-toll payments.
The suspension of debt pursuance included historic debt as well as summonses that had been applied for from 2015.
“No new summonses will be applied for. This decision will be constantly monitored by the board and reviewed according to prevailing circumstances,” said Sanral.
Despite no evidence that e-tolls were close to being cancelled, David Makhura said the Gauteng government’s view on e-tolls had not changed.
“We remain determined to ensure that e-tolls are not part of the future of our province,” said Makhura.
“We are even prepared to contribute something as the provincial government to ensure the e-tolls are scrapped. There is no turning back.”
A report by the City Press claimed that the government had proposed that funds meant for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) be reallocated to bail out the e-toll system.
According to the report the Department of Transport wanted to divert R2 billion that was meant to improve rail systems to instead help deal with Sanral’s losses.
This followed R3 billion being reallocated the same way the previous year.
The debt owed on the system totalled over R40 billion, while motorists owed over R11 billion in unpaid e-toll bills.
Sanral’s integrated report for the year ended 31 March 2019 showed that it had disregarded over R1.8 billion in outstanding e-toll bills.
This was due to the company assessing how much money it could reasonably expect to receive as a result of many motorists rejecting the e-toll system.
Sanral raised an impairment of R10.04 billion on its e-toll business and said it relied on government assistance to fund the e-toll programme.
The agency received a R439-million grant from the government in addition to a R5.75-billion non-toll grant, which assisted it in addressing low e-toll revenue.
Sanral said that until a resolution regarding e-tolls had been passed by the government, its e-toll portfolio would continue to receive government support.
The Gauteng government said it was confident that e-tolls were on their way out, and expected a major announcement from President Ramaphosa soon.
In his 2020 State of the Province Address, Makhura said the Gauteng government had made a strong case to the national government regarding the withdrawal of e-tolls.
However, the Electronic Tolling Company’s e-toll management contract has recently been extended to the end of the year – casting a shadow over any possible changes.