Controversial new toll-road fees for Gauteng, set to take effect in June, effectively “punish” people who drive to work, the National Consumer Forum (NCF) said on Monday.
The tolls would be unavoidable for most, NCF chairperson Thami Bolani said in a statement.
“In effect, the new toll charges being sprung on commuters are penalising those people who faithfully report to work each day to keep our economy going.
“It is completely unacceptable to slap such high tolls on city highways on which commuters are forced to travel each day.”
Bolani warned that the tolls would see drivers diverting on to back roads, creating traffic chaos.
“With the prices of basic items like petrol, food, municipal services and electricity already threatening to sink many households, tolls at this level will be an unbearable burden for most families.
“Imagine asking a single mother who earns R2 000 or R3 000 a month, and must travel from her home in Soweto to her job in Centurion every day, to come up with another few hundred rand in increased taxi fare,” he said.
In a country without a proper public transport system, such tolls were quite simply an abuse of consumers’ rights to affordable services, he said.
In a separate statement on Monday, the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the province said small and medium businesses, and the general public, were going to be the “big losers” when the controversial new toll-road tariffs were implemented.
“While estimates of the knock-on effect of the toll on transport costs run as high as 20%, one must never forget that the big losers in this whole equation are once again the small, medium and micro enterprises, and Joe Public,” said DA MPL Neil Campbell.
He said recent reports that the Gauteng toll system was to be run by a mainly foreign-owned consortium were hardly surprising. “This government has long since lost any idea of the ramifications of its policies on the small-business person and the public, and often seeks out overseas companies rather than looking for local opportunities outside of their close cronies.”
Large corporations in the province would be able to recoup the tax part of the toll when they filed their VAT returns, and claim all the toll fees against tax when they filed their returns every year.
“The real problems will arise for the ordinary motorist or the small business person, who is either not allowed to claim the toll fees back from tax, or who is not a VAT-registered vendor,” he said.
Gauteng’s roads and transport portfolio committee would be meeting the South African National Road Agency Limited (Sanral) later this week, and would demand from them an explanation for the “lack of transparency and consultation” regarding the new fees.
“The battle of the toll roads is only just beginning,” Campbell said.
Business Unity South Africa (Busa) on Monday said it was seeking a meeting with Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele on the toll tariffs.
“Busa accepts the need for effective road infrastructure funding and supports the principle of a toll-road system, but there needs to be proper consultation to ensure that it does not exacerbate unemployment, or worsen the quality of life of poorer South Africans,” it said in a statement.
Gauteng generated a third of the country’s GDP, making the toll fees an issue of great national importance.
“It will raise the costs of doing business in South Africa even further beyond what could be considered competitive for a developing economy wanting to compete globally.
“Those who can least afford it will be hit the hardest … Busa has been unable to get a clear picture of the new tariffs structure and its implications for business, as Sanral indicated it was not in any position to disclose the necessary information,” it said.
Lobby group AfriForum said in a statement later on Monday that it had asked Sanral, in terms of the promotion of Access to Information Act, to reveal “all information used to calculate the new toll tariffs”.
AfriForum said it wanted to have the information examined by experts in order to determine why the tariffs were “excessively” high.
In a recent announcement, Sanral said ordinary citizens would be expected to pay as much as 66 cents a kilometre in tolls. — Sapa