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E-tolling remains firmly on citizen's shoulders

Lynley Donnelly

Government has stuck to its guns on the "user pays" principle and placed the cost of paying for controversial e-tolls squarely on Gauteng residents.

Government has stuck to its guns on the

After the tariffs were gazetted on Thursday, members of the inter-ministerial committee on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project gave details on the implementation of e-tolling at a press briefing in Pretoria.

The news comes despite remaining objections to e-tolling from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). 

The federation had – along with the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance – remained opposed to the user-pays principle during discussions with the inter-ministerial committee dealing with the matter, transport director-general George Mahlalela said.

The state had decided against proposals for scrapping e-tolling and using the increases in the fuel levy to pay for the road upgrades. 

Transport Minister Ben Martins said in a statement that using the fuel levy would "mean that every car owner in the country would pay, even if they don't travel on these roads."

"This would ultimately have direct impact on the cost of transportation of goods and services throughout the country and lead to inflationary pressures," he said.

"In South Africa, taxes generated through the fuel levy are not sufficient to address infrastructure requirements."

The base tariff for light vehicles was gazetted at 58c/km, while e-tag users in light vehicles will pay a discounted 30c/km. Registered e-tag users in medium to heavy vehicles will pay 75c/km while those in heaving vehicles will pay R1.50/km. 

Fees will be capped at R550 per month for drivers in light vehicles. Exemptions would be granted to public transport vehicles as well as emergency vehicles. 

Time of day discounts has also been proposed for drivers willing to travel outside of peak hours. 

But the state could not say definitively when e-tolling would kick in. The public still has 30 days to comment on the tariffs drafted in the gazette, while a court review of the project is set down for November. Pending the outcome of the review, it looks likely that e-tolls could begin by the end of the year or the beginning of 2013. 

The tariffs were not "carved in stone" Martins said. He gave the assurance that inputs from the public during the 30-day consultation period would be given "all due, serious consideration".

Funding Sanral The advent of e-tolling, along with over R5-billion paid out of the national budget in February, was sufficient to see the South African National Roads Agency through for the year, said the treasury's Marissa Moore.

The delays in e-tolling have placed serious strain on the agency's finances. 

Auditor General Terence Nombembe recently said Sanral's status was a going concern should e-tolling not commence to pay for the extensive upgrades.

Sanral's debt had risen to R58-billion following a reduction in the originally proposed tolling fees which was announced in 2011.

"There is, at this stage no need for additional funding," said Moore.

The system based on the current tariffs would pay for itself, she said. 

But should further reductions in the tariff be announced after public consultation the, this could change.

"This could impact on what we make available to Sanral to cover their debt and operation and maintenance costs," said Moore.

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