Bad roads are 'costing South Africa billions'

Poor road conditions added an estimated R3,8-billion to transport costs in South Africa annually, the SA National Consumer Union heard on Friday.

This did not only affect vehicle owners, Piet Myburgh, director of the Southern African Bitumen Association, told union members in Pretoria. About 80% of goods and passengers were transported on the roads, he said.

“The consumer absorbs these costs to a large extent.”

As roads deteriorated from a very good condition to a very poor one, vehicle operating costs soared by about 40%, according to Myburgh.

In 1997, 20% of the country’s roads could be described as being in a poor or worse condition. This figure was growing and now heading for the 50% mark, he said.

The tons of freight transported per kilometre increased along with economic growth.
South Africa was aiming for a growth rate of four to six percent.

“Can you imagine what impact that will have on the roads? If we allow our asset to degenerate, we will not have that growth,” he warned.

“We spend 60 to 70% of what we need to just to keep the roads intact.”

The amount spent on roads was R14-billion less than that contributed to the state’s coffers every year in the form of fuel taxes, licence fees and tolls, Myburgh said.

Expenditure on roads increased from R4,7-billion in 2002 to R5,8-billion this year. In real terms, this represented only a two percent increase, he said.

Of the money allocated, between 30 and 40% was used for overheads and salaries.

“We have only begun to understand the key role roads play in other areas like health and education,” Myburgh said.

Some people have died because ambulances had to travel through the veld or on poor roads in Limpopo. Some children in KwaZulu-Natal had to walk “all day” just to get to school “as no self-respecting taxi would travel on those roads”, he said.

His association had commissioned the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in 1998 to establish to what extent road conditions contributed to accidents.

If was found that road conditions played a role in 20% of accidents. In half of that road surface conditions were at least partially responsible.

Political decision-makers ought to realise that deferring expenditure on the roads only increased the costs, Myburgh said. Consumers should lobby for an adequate allocation for roads, he added. - Sapa

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