The secret way South Africa’s toll fees are calculated

The way in which South Africa’s national toll road fees are calculated is a mystery, OUTA CEO Wayne Duvenhage has told MyBroadband.

South Africa has an extensive network of tolled roads, with major highways including the N1, N2, N3, N4, and N17 all covered by toll gantries.

These tolled roads are managed, maintained, and developed by the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL), as well as several long-distance concessionaire companies – including Bakwena, TrAC, and N3tc.

While it’s evident that toll fees are required to fund the maintenance and improvement of roads, there appears to be no indication of how the prices charged to motorists can be justified.

This is because neither SANRAL nor the concessionaires provide detailed information about how toll fees are calculated.

One assumption would be that they base the price on the distances of the roads.

However, a quick comparison between toll fees on the different highways showed there was no direct correlation between the distances and the prices of the toll fees.

For example, the nearly 1,400km stretch of N1 toll road between Johannesburg and Cape Town would cost a Class 1 vehicle R191.50 for a one-way trip, translating to around 14 cents per kilometre.

Meanwhile, the 468km on the N1 toll road to the north of Pretoria all the way to Beit Bridge border post would incur R273 in toll fees for the same class of vehicle, equating to about 58 cents per kilometre.

The table below compares the distances and total one-way fees for a class 1 vehicle on South Africa’s various tolled highways.

Road and route Toll gates Operator Distance Total price
N1 – Johannesburg to Cape Town Grasmere
SANRAL 1,373km R191.50
N1 – Pretoria to Beit Bridge (Zimbabwe border) Pumulani
SANRAL and Bakwena 468km R273
N2 – Durban to Port Shepstone Oribi SANRAL 123km R31
N2 – Durban to Empangeni Thongathi
SANRAL 163km R74.50
N3 – Johannesburg to Durban De Hoek
N3tc 498km R251
N4 – Pretoria to Komatipoort (Mozambique border) Diamond Hill
TrAC 406km R272
N4 – Pretoria to Lobatse (Botswana border) Quagga
SANRAL and Bakwena 289km R143
N17 – Krugersdorp to Oshoek Gosforth
SANRAL 370km R116.50

From the above, it is clear that distance is not the only factor considered in the price determination.

According to a 2014 FAQ document from one of the concessionaires – Bakwena – there are several calculations taken into account when determining the fee motorists have to pay, including:

  • The value of the fuel and time savings that consumers enjoy when travelling on a toll road.
  • The capital expenditure on the particular section of the road is calculated over the concession period.
  • The affordability for the road user is taken into account.
  • The traffic volumes in the particular sector are also considered, as high traffic volumes on a particular stretch of road require higher maintenance for that section.

No logic behind fees

Exactly how the above criteria factors into the overall equation is a matter of pure speculation, however.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) is of the view that SANRAL is the custodian of determining toll tariff hikes, which are then gazetted and approved by the Minister of Transport.

OUTA CEO Wayne Duvenhage believes the current way in which South Africa’s toll fees are calculated is neither sensible nor fair.

“These toll tariffs have largely been increased by inflation – sometimes more – every year and the compounded effect has become extremely expensive,” Duvenhage said. 

“They [SANRAL] lack transparency or the ability to provide society with their fee calculation model, along with the issue of inconsistent toll pricing per km,” Duvenhage said.

He noted it was unclear how these tariffs and their annual increases were justified.

“Your guess is as good as ours. There does not appear to be rational thinking or logic in the determination of these tariffs,” Duvenhage said. 

“The Durban-Gauteng corridor is much busier than the Cape Town-Gauteng route, and one would think the N3 route tariffs would be lower than the less frequented routes. Yet it’s quite the opposite,” he added. 

Getting transparency over revenue

Duvenhage believes it is important that South Africans are provided with information on the extent of funds flowing from tolled routes to the concessionaires, and that inflation-based increases year-on-year are not reason enough to apply tariff hikes.

As such, OUTA lodged a formal PAIA request back in July to compel SANRAL and the concessionaires to provide it with the revenue generated on these routes.

“Transparency on the money flows and covering of capital costs needs to be forthcoming and SANRAL doesn’t understand or agree with this view,” Duvenhage stated.

This was after SANRAL ignored a written request for information on a recent contract concluded between SANRAL and N3TC, one of its toll road concessionaires.

OUTA believes there is a possibility that concessionaires could be benefiting from excessive profits, part of which may require credit to the road users in reduced toll fees or returns to SANRAL.

According to the organisation, SANRAL has indicated the annual returns it receives from the three concessionaires are minimal and have remain unchanged for many years.

“This would indicate that little is being done in the annual evaluation of the concessionaire profits, leaving us with a suspicion that the public may not be receiving a fair share of return from these contracts,” Duvenhage said.

“During the past 10 years, the toll tariffs charged by the concessionaires have increased by approximately 80%, yet SANRAL has received a fixed amount. Something doesn’t add up,” Duvenhage said.

MyBroadband contacted SANRAL for comment on how toll fee calculations are done but did not receive feedback by the time of publication.

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The secret way South Africa’s toll fees are calculated